How Autocracies Can Weaponize the Broken Global Supply Chain
Updated: Feb 8
There is the real possibility that the global food supply chain could collapse if lockdowns remain in place and cross-border trade is blocked which will put many countries in an unspeakable predicament on how to feed its citizenry. More ominously is the possibility that many of illiberal democracies (de facto autocracies) may use this pandemic crisis as a pretext for a once-in-a-generation opportunity to suppress or even literally eliminate their real or imagined rivals based on political affiliation, racial, ethnic and/or religious minorities.
Because the world’s borders are shutdown it would be like “shooting fish in a barrel” to achieve these aims. The rest of the world is too preoccupied in saving their own citizens with its rapidly diminishing resources.
Already many governments, notably autocracies are using the pandemic as the perfect cover for rounding up rivals and dissents while suppressing/punishing ethnic and racial minorities within their borders. By controlling the food supply and logistics for use as weapon provides them a case insidious plausible deniability in arguing that the majority are suffering too despite the fact that the inequity of food distribution and access are widened during this crisis.
GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY
An overview of this is the following chart entitled The State of Global Food Security by The Economist Intelligence Unit, 23 March 2020 and presented by Statista, an online statistical service.
This discriminatory food distribution has been practiced openly in the Maduro-led Venezuela in which his supporters received monies and access to food 9albeit paltry) vs. anti-Maduro supporters who were literally being starved to death unless they decamped to Colombia or Brazil. Since the pandemic forced lockdowns worldwide, the inability for Venezuela to sell oil has pushed Venezuela’s food crisis to the brink even for Maduro’s supporters.
This fall into the abyss is supported by The Economist Global Food Security Index 23 March 2020 and represented by Statista, which ranks Venezuela last as # 113 of 113 total countries behind war-torn countries like Yemen, Haiti, Congo and Chad justification for classifying it as a failed state.
Since Modi came to power the world’s largest democracy has been run more like an illiberal and sometimes autocratic country with draconian policies against minorities, specifically aggressive attempts to legally marginalize Indian Muslims and the documented tacit approval of violence against them through the inaction by law enforcement during civil unrest. It’s a tactic to suppress a restive minority actual or perceived threat to the government that, if continued, could unleash a pandemic pogrom.
Under this leadership Indian Muslims have been demonized and marginalized, with an attempt to deny or strip them of their citizenship making them refugees within own country. The growing anti-Muslim sentiment promoted by the Modi administration in India has already intensified with them as the scapegoat for Covid-19 transmission. They have been reduced to nothing more than political cannon fodder.
Whether by default or design, India’s Muslim minority are highly vulnerable to being denied access to food supplies even if they have the resources to pay.
A quick-read yet comprehensive primer on the India’s agricultural operational dynamics can be reviewed in my earlier published article 17 April 2020 India: Bracing for the Covid-19 Viral Contagion, and underscores its dependency on labor in which agriculture accounts for 15% of GDP but because of its labor-intensive structure it makes up 50% of the workforce.
As articulated in the Financial Times article 22 April 2020, India’s Coronavirus Crisis Hits Country’s Farmers and Food Supplies since the 24 March lockdown through 3 May, migrant have workers returned to their home villages. For this reason crops are not being harvested forcing some farmers to stop harvesting and transporting crops. Sadly against a bumper crop, the cost of harvesting greater than the wholesale selling price.
According to The Economist Global Food Security Index 23 March 2020, India ranks 72 of 113; with respect to specific categories: Affordability 70, Availability 61, Quality & Safety 85.
The following is a chart Where Most Indians Are on Lockdown provided by Down to Earth Magazine 23 March 2020 and presented by Statista.
According to the 2011 Indian census there are about 172 million Muslims in India who comprise 14.2% of the total population. To put this in perspective the Indian Muslim population is half the total US population. The following chart was created from the data from the 2011 Indian census of Indian states where Muslims are a majority or have a significant presence.
There are seven Indian states where Muslims are a majority or significant part of the total population in those states.
Historically minorities in autocratic and similarly governed countries are vulnerable to direct or indirect food starvation whose situation is exacerbated during periods of dwindling resources, poor harvests, import restrictions, and logistics for delivery of foodstuffs to hard-to-access regions to where they’ve been forcibly relocated.
The question is whether the pandemic and concurrent recession are the accelerants for increasingly governmental discriminatory action that could backfire and result in heightened communal violence.
[Originally published 26 April 2020].
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The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.