Global Commerce and Global Conflict — Yes, Global Commerce is a Positive.


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Does global trade and commerce promote peaceful international relations? My answer is generally, ‘yes.’ But it is no guaranty. I’m reminded of the fact that Germany and France during the inter-war period had huge trade connections. Of course, this didn’t prevent World War II.

      The advent of aggressive trade and tariff sanctions by the Trump and now the Biden administration (along with European sanctions) have caused this basic correlation of trade and peace to be looked at again. A recent article in Foreign Affairs by an international relations professor discusses this core issue — within current developments and offers several nuance suggestions.

My view is that the basic correlation between commerce and peace is very positive. Nevertheless, here are some excerpts from this article. Which raises some qualifications but nevertheless supports this positive correlation — with a plea for more positive U.S. trade policies focusing on removal of trade restrictions.

  • There seems to be limits of economic interdependence as a force for peace.
  • Under certain circumstances, trade relationships may serve as an inducement rather than a deterrent to war.
  • “Aggressive Commerce” — To understand how trade might increase, not reduce, the chance of military conflict, it is necessary to draw on the insights of realist theory.
  • Growing commerce increases a great power’s vulnerability to trade sanctions and embargoes.
  • Growing commerce makes states more dependent on outsiders.
  • Japan’s predicament in the 1930s as it saw France, the United Kingdom, and the United States retreating into increasingly closed and discriminatory economic realms.
  • Putin certainly understood that Europe was much more dependent on Russia than Russia was on Europe.
  • Chinese expectations for future trade, as Japanese expectations were in 1941, are a function of American policy decisions.
  • When great powers seek to use economic interdependence to help maintain peace, they face a difficult balancing act.
  • An approach should be to push China to level the playing field by ending practices such as currency manipulation, subsidies, and the illegal appropriation of foreign technology.

 Dale Copeland, “When Trade Leads to War,” Foreign Affairs (Aug. 23, 2022)

About Stuart Malawer

Distinguished Service Professor of Law & International Trade at George Mason University (Schar School of Public Policy).
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