Wheat Diplomacy" Is Reshaping Power Relations Globally?
Self-sufficiency in it is a guarantee of independence, and its export means dominance, and
importing it is enough to turn into a feather in the blow of politics.
Amina Khairy is a journalist Sunday April 10 2022 15:44
The Ukrainian war reaffirms that wheat is a diplomatic tool or a political tank (Reuters)
Wars have many shades. Some are countable, others are uncountable.
The counts of killing and destruction caused by military machines remain under counting, counting, denunciation and condemnation.
Other than the counters of grain being planted, harvested, distributed and delivered to the millions of mouths waiting to fill the breath of today and tomorrow.
The light of today and tomorrow, and until further notice, is threatened by the scarcity of a loaf of bread, perhaps even more severe, as Russia’s intervention in Ukraine means, in addition to the relentlessly working counters of death and destruction, another counter that puts 30% of the world’s wheat production under the furnace of war.
This 30% has put enormous pressure on dozens of countries that depend for their bread on wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine.
Cruel bread crunch
Eight countries in the Middle East and North Africa are threatened by a severe bread crisis.
At the global level, suffering looms on the horizon in varying degrees as well as for several countries.
From Indonesia to Bangladesh to Nigeria, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, and even the European Union countries, all are affected by the threat of wheat that has been suspended from export and import.
It is true that the size of the crisis will not become clear before the passage of four months, which is the period needed to start the next harvest season, which observers are eagerly awaiting,
because the continuation of Russian military operations in Ukraine means great possibilities that the harvest will not be possible and the risks of loading, transporting and exporting, and then fulfilling export pledges,
but the indicators It does not call for much optimism, especially since the situation and prices of bread and food crops before the outbreak of the crisis was far from ideal.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, warned a few days ago that the Russian war on Ukraine had caused severe rates of hunger, and might increase malnutrition and starvation rates in several countries.
"Over the past three years, rates of hunger and famine have been on the rise.
With the Russian war, we face the threat of imminent famine and starvation in more places around the world," Fakhri said, calling for a halt to military operations that would have many long-term and severe consequences for food security for all.
Reviving wheat diplomacy
The UN expert considered hunger, starvation and malnutrition to be things that result mostly from political failure, but just as war or political failure has put the wheat needs of billions of people at risk of scarcity, this war and this failure also open the door to reviving wheat diplomacy.
A few days ago, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire went out during his official visit to Cairo to say that France will work to provide Egypt's needs for wheat over the next few months, indicating that his country will stand by Egypt to ensure it gets wheat.
In turn, the Egyptian Prime Minister, Mostafa Madbouly, said that Egypt will depend on France to manage its wheat needs in the event of a prolonged war, pointing to Cairo's reliance on its strategic relations in this regard.
This is a purely strategic and diplomatic matter.
And wheat diplomacy is not the result of the war of Russia and Ukraine, but rather the result of many wars throughout history.
Yesterday, specifically in 2020, after the horrific explosion in the port of Beirut, wheat diplomacy reared its head when the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron followed an initiative by French grain farmers.
After Macron's visit, a French farmer called his colleagues to give each of them a ton of wheat for Lebanon, and within a few days, 500 tons of flour was on its way to Beirut.
Sensations and other things
In addition to human feelings, delicate feelings, and the desire to share a loaf of bread between the able and the incapable, sharing a loaf of bread is sometimes suppressing the possibilities of terrorism, establishing a political presence, economic power and geopolitical hegemony, or staving off another force that has the ability to share a similar loaf and perhaps supplies of wheat. more.
Behind the loaf there was a logical desire to ensure France and other European countries a place and a place for it in the Mediterranean region, a region that Russia competed with a lot, and in which it did well after becoming the largest exporter of wheat in the world in 2019.
The wheat diplomacy that established Russia's feet in many Mediterranean countries, and which went hand in hand with being the largest arms supplier to the countries in the region, is the same as that followed by a number of wheat-producing countries to recover, manufacture or establish a role for it.
The new Kremlin oil
Russia's role in the diplomatic equations of wheat is not the result of its war in Ukraine.
In 2017, Russia succeeded in leading the list of the world's largest wheat exporters, surpassing both the United States of America and Canada for the first time.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that "Russia has become number one" in a press conference, he was most likely declaring that the way had been paved for Russia's ambition, for his country to play a growing role as a "great power" through food diplomacy channels.
Russia has opened vast markets for itself in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and the European and Asian continents.
This view of the Russian diplomat made some describe Russian food grains as "the new Kremlin oil."
The Kremlin's new oil has put many countries of the world, especially in the Arab region, in the crossfire of the war that is taking place thousands of miles away.
And its old oil and gas prompted many European countries to scramble to search for quick alternatives.
And if luck is on the side of Europe, which is looking for alternatives, as the approach of summer alleviates to some extent the panic of gas shortages and the possibility of citizens responding to calls for energy conservation, then calls to rationalize a loaf of bread in most developing countries may lead to social unrest that is indispensable.
Therefore, the offers of some wheat-producing countries appear on the diplomatic surface at this time to extend a helping hand to countries that have been negatively affected by the current war. Get gains or achieve spoils.
A study entitled "Wheat, Politics and Power" (2017) by the "Norwegian University of Life Sciences" notes that global grain trade is a central component of the global food system.
For many decades, the United States of America, Canada, Australia and a number of European countries remained in control of the world's grain trade, until Russia overthrew this dominance in recent years.
The study indicates that exports of surplus wheat were, during the Cold War and the years that followed, an important part, not only of America's trade, but also of its foreign policy and the aid programs it provides to certain countries.
Grain system restructuring
The study wondered whether the emerging Russian role as the largest exporter of wheat in the world would reshape power relations at the global political and food levels, in reference to the ongoing restructuring process of the global grain trade, thus reshaping and defining balances of power and diplomacy, in addition to Russia’s ability to Define a new agenda for food governance in the coming years.
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Will Ukrainian wheat repeat the "popular uprisings" in the Middle East?
Wheat... an Egyptian tale that flourished and faded
The coming years, as evidenced by the preliminary results of Russia's war in Ukraine, revealed the extent of the Russian role in the world food system.
Russia has always used food as a diplomatic tool in its relations, as well as its hostilities with other countries, as indicated by several incidents and events.
For example, Russia issued a decision banning a number of Turkish agricultural imports as part of a series of indirect “punitive” measures after the downing of a Russian fighter plane by Turkish forces in 2015.
Imports resumed two years later, i.e. in 2017, when Russia took the lead in wheat exports Globally, after Turkey agreed to allow Russian gas to pass to Europe as an alternative to Bulgaria, which refused to transit it.
Another example of wheat diplomacy was Iran. In exchange for wheat sales to Tehran, Russia received Iranian oil as part of the oil-for-food program, before the reimposition of US sanctions on Tehran in 2018.
History books are full of "wheat diplomacy".
The two classic heroines are the former (and perhaps currently) superpowers America and the Soviet Union.
In an article entitled "American Diplomacy, the Wheat Conference in 1933, and Recognition of the Soviet Union" (1966) published in the Journal of "Agricultural History", it recounted the role of wheat in shaping and directing relations between the United States of America and the (former) Soviet Union.
Wheat had proven its strategic role between the two superpowers before the outbreak of the First World War, and it continued to be like this between tug-of-war through bans and grants even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, then the awakening of Russia and its transformation into the largest exporter of wheat.
Self-sufficiency in wheat is a policy that guarantees a degree of independence.
Producing and exporting what is surplus to local consumption is a policy that guarantees all independence and the ability to impose hegemony and extend interests.
Partial dependence on imported wheat is a sacrifice of independence and a declaration of varying degrees of acquiescence here, or a willingness to be drawn there.
Total dependence on wheat imports is turning into a feather blown by politics.
Russia's war in Ukraine reaffirms that wheat is a diplomatic tool and a political tank.
Following the global food shortage crisis in 1973 and 1974, food, specifically wheat, established its position as a vital component of foreign policy, in addition to being a tool for stabilizing or destabilizing local regimes.
The argument of the use of food as a tool for domination, conflict and pressure continues, but its survival as a subject for discussion and theorizing does not mean that it should not be practiced.
The lack of bread means political unrest, not to mention it is a tool for starvation.
This means that the abundance of bread is a guarantee for the survival of regimes, and the influence of countries at the expense of others, filling the stomachs with tears, and perhaps breaking eyes.