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This commentary is by Narain Batra of Hartford, author of “India in a New Key” and “The First Freedoms and America’s Culture of Innovation.” He’s affiliated with the Diplomacy and International Program at Norwich University and publishes the Freedom&Geopolitics newsletter and podcast about media, culture, politics, technology, and America's global role.
Hovering all around, over death and destruction, are the vultures of war — arms manufacturers, energy companies, politicians and oligarchs, black-market traders, and human traffickers.
The Biden administration has come to a definitive conclusion that Russia’s wanton aggression against Ukraine — which has brutalized and killed thousands and thousands of innocent people and destroyed cities and towns — was not only an act of horrific war. Russia has committed war crimes.
At the Munich Security Conference in late February, Vice President Kamala Harris said, “We have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: These are crimes against humanity. And I say to all those who have perpetrated these crimes, and to their superiors who are complicit in those crimes — you will be held to account.”
The war crimes, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, included rape, “execution-style killings,” “torture of civilians in detention through beatings, electrocution and mock executions” and the deportation of “hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, including children who have been forcibly separated from their families.”
We do not know how long Ukrainians will keep suffering. U.N. agencies, International Criminal Court, and other international legal bodies would take their time to determine whether Russia committed crimes against humanity.
That said, 3,610 miles away, a muted voice from a poor country dared speak up that the war has created windfall profits for some companies.
Talking with Tanvir Gill of CNBC at the G-20 meeting in New Delhi, Bangladesh Finance Minister AK Abdul Momen said, “In this war, some companies are making runaway profit ... energy companies and the defense companies. Therefore, we will argue that those companies that are making runaway profit, they should dedicate at least 20% of the profit to those countries that are most affected, like us."
The collateral damage the war has caused on the poor countries far away from the battlefield has been tremendous.
There’s no gainsaying the fact that the war has been a big business for several industries, especially oil producers, arms manufacturers, cybersecurity companies and food supply chain companies.
The top five oil producers made about $200 billion in profit from the soaring oil prices since the Russian invasion. Bumper profits and high prices at the gas pump outraged President Biden. Accusing them of “war profiteering,” he said that unless they “invest in America by increasing production and refining capacity … they’re going to pay a higher tax on their excess profits and face other restrictions.”
That’s what he said before the midterm elections, and what he repeated in his State of the Union address, calling the record profits outrageous. Instead of reinvesting to raise production, “they used those record profits to buy back their own stock, rewarding their CEOs and shareholders.” The filthy greed of the global oil companies has global repercussions hurting the poor everywhere.
Not far behind are major arms manufacturers, for whom the Ukraine war too has been a profit bonanza. Writing in Responsible Statecraft, investigative journalist Eli Clifton said, “Shares of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics appreciated in value 12.78 percent on average in the one-year span. … The war’s outcome remains unclear, but one thing is certain: the outbreak of a major war in Europe will spur U.S. and European weapons purchases for years to come. … In other words, a humanitarian, geopolitical, and economic disaster for the world has at least one silver lining: profits for arms manufacturers.”
But when the war is over or reaches a no-war/no-peace stalemate, rebuilding Ukraine’s infrastructure would present more than a $1 trillion bonanza for American and European construction companies. And one wonders if China’s Belt and Road would keep away from it, or hustle and muscle into it to grab the windfall in spite of its condemnation of the West and its unwavering support for Russia. For China, every international tragedy is a diplomatic and business opportunity.
One might justify corporate greed and obscene war profits as nothing but good business — good for big bosses and shareholders of global oil companies and arms manufacturers. But for poor developing countries like Bangladesh, many of which have been struggling with the burden of debt financing due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the repercussions of war and sanctions have been unbearable.
According to a recent IMF report, “Bangladesh’s robust economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic was interrupted by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Rising global commodity prices, supply disruptions, and slowdown in external demand have led to a sharp widening of the current account deficit, depreciation of the Taka, and the rapid decline of foreign exchange reserves. The resulting high inflation, slow growth, and stringent measures to compress demand are disproportionately impacting the poor.”
Why should Bangladesh and other poor countries pay for Putin’s war?
Last year at the U.N. Climate Change Conference held in Egypt, rich industrial countries entered into an agreement to compensate poor developing countries for “loss and damage” caused by their emission of greenhouse gases and pollution into the atmosphere. The “loss and damage” compensation would amount to hundreds of billions of dollars.
By the same token, a similar platform needs to be created by the United States, Europe, along with big oil corporations and military contractors who have made immense profits from the war, to compensate poor developing countries, the countries that have become victims of the war as its collateral damage.