Economic warfare has been around for a long while and has been used by world powers to gain leverage in world affairs for a very long time to meet national interests. For some reason, this subject has not gotten much attention in international news media. One wonders why? As a beginning point we’ll consider a definition of Economic Warfare used by the Roosevelt government. It defined this type of warfare as follows:
The battle of economics: It is a war of commerce and shipping, of barter and buying, of loans and agreements, of blacklist and blockade. It is starvation for our enemies and food for our friends… It means fighting the Messer- schmitt before it is a Messerschmitt, fighting the tank before it is a tank, smashing the submarine before it can go to sea. It means preventing the Axis from getting raw materials. It means getting raw materials for our production (quoted in Medlicott, 1959. p. 51).
Source: Journal of Peace Research, vol. 28, no. 2, 1991, pp. 191-204
‘Economic Warfare’ and ‘Strategic Goods’: A Conceptual Framework for Analyzing COCOM* by Tor Egil Førland, International Peace Research Institute, Oslo
According to the same journal article by Tor Egil Førland, that definition was later modified by the US Department of Defense to include ‘aggressive use of economic means to achieve national objectives’ (US Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1974, p. 118).
Summary historical evolution of Economic Warfare
Economic warfare in olden times was waged before actual conventional warfare. It was used to weaken one’s opponent before conventional war. Comparing finances with blood as a metaphor, Economic warfare was a way to bleed ones opponent before actually fighting with them. It was also used to bend an opponent to the will of the aggressor. It involved cutting off a country’s main channel of food or energy supply. An example is the blocking of trading routes. Later it developed into annexing whole nations by imperial powers to meet national interests of their home countries. Home countries needed raw materials to feed their home industries or the industrial revolution and hence developing nations suffered colonial rule. Till today many countries suffer the fallouts of that system of brutality. In more recent years, Economic warfare could be described as being carried out through policies such as the economic structural adjustment programs, inequitable international trade policies, blacklists, blockades and embargos—all of which has done more harm than good for the globe as a collective human family.
Tor Egil Førland for example sees the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM) as “peacetime economic warfare: the Cold War successor to the blockades of the two world wars”. Based on the book “Unrestricted Warfare – Assumptions on War and Tactics in the Age of Globalization” authored by two senior Chinese Air Force Colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, economic war in the 1990s included, “the use of domestic trade law on the international stage; the arbitrary erection and dismantling of tariff barriers; the use of hastily written trade sanctions; the imposition of embargoes on exports of critical technologies; the use of the Special Section 301 law; and the application of most-favored-nation (MFN) treatment“. The authors maintain that the Asian financial crisis was triggered as a result of economic war waged by international financiers against the Tiger nations setting them back at least a decade. According to them, this war spiraled out of control when Japan and Russia got involved in the conflict hence transforming an otherwise localized financial crisis into a global phenomenon. Are their assertions true? I do not know but I was quite astonished to find out that in this book of theirs published in 1999, these two PLA Colonels predicted the 9/11 attack on the World trade Center. They wrote:
Whether it be the intrusions of hackers, a major explosion at the World Trade Center, or a bombing attack by bin Laden, all of these greatly exceed the frequency band widths understood by the American military. The American military is naturally inadequately prepared to deal with this type of enemy psychologically, in terms or measures, and especially as regards military thinking and the methods of operation derived from this. This is because they have never taken into consideration and have even refused to consider means that are contrary to tradition and to select measures of operation other than military means.
Now though I cannot substantiate their allegation about the Asian financial crisis and its connection to Economic warfare, the record of history now proves that they were right on the money with regards to other things penned in their book which has since transpired like the major attack on the WTC. For what its worth these men got the attention of the federation of US scientists and hopefully the government as seen by the report sent by the US embassy in Beijing.
In conclusion, Economic Warfare is not a myth. It exists but like all warfare, most of its stratagems are shrouded in mystery for security reasons. Developing nations are well acquainted with this kind of warfare. Ghana was subject to it in the Nkrumah and Acheampong regime leading to the “Ye ntua” saga. Many times, justly democratically elected governments on different continents have been toppled simply by application of some of these economic warfare strategies. The aim of the strategy like a Boa Constrictor is to strangulate an economy until the point where citizens out of economic frustration or hardship revolt against a governing regime because of the financial lack and resulting lack of confidence generated as a result of the warfare. Thank GOD those days are behind most of sub-Saharan countries although there still remains much work to be done.
In future posts we will consider how Economic Warfare may have possibly been waged in recent times. It is been noted as one of the possible contributing factor to the current financial trough which the entire globe finds itself in.