Christian Harbulot, director of the Economic Warfare School in Paris, provides an historical reconstruction of the economic balance of power between states. In this study, he demonstrates that the strategies that states put in place in order to increase their economic power – and their impact on the international balance of power – can only be interpreted through the concept of economic warfare.
According to Harbulot, the true goal of these economic clashes has so far been hidden. Therefore, there is no academic discussion or understanding of this topic that is capable of providing an effective reading of international relations. There are many factors that will potentially trigger tensions between states in the future: the crisis of liberal principles promoting a positive view of economic development and globalization as a tool for establishing peace between nations; gradual resource depletion; energy issues; challenges to the Western economic leadership posed by the process of deindustrialization and the development ambitions of emerging economies.
This perspective sheds light on the importance of recognizing the legitimacy of the concept of economic warfare and lay the theoretical foundations to analyze the economic strategies states adopt to increase their power. In Harbulot’s opinion, the principles of economic warfare can be historically retraced in the fight for survival and for the control of resources and territories. The first example of economic warfare in history is the incursions of the nomad populations aimed at raiding the wealth of sedentary populations. In modern times, the economic warfare increased its spatial scope so that maritime and terrestrial commercial routes became the theater of continuous clashes for the control of some specific resources.
At that time, maritime piracy became an effective tool to exert power. In fact, the British pirates – that were attracted by trade routes between Europe, Africa and America, became the ancestors of the British Royal Navy. Both at sea and on the ground, the economic dimension became a key feature in military and diplomatic operations. By the end of the Middle Age, some kings used the economic power in order to support their military actions. An example of this is the war between the French king Louis XI and Charles I of Bourgogne: the French king commanded his fleet to block corn and herrings supplies to the Flanders (in the kingdom of Bourgogne), convinced the bankers to stop funding his rival and encouraged the hosting of fairs in Lyon in order to reduce the money flux to Geneva, which at the time was the trade hub between Bourgogne, Germany, and Italy.
In the 17th century, the newly created states considered the security of their territory (cities and countryside) as a strategic priority. In this time, the Seven United Provinces of the North created the first model of sanctuary area, meaning the securitization of a given territory from any kind of attack from the enemy. A net of fortresses and natural barriers like rivers was meant to protect the Provinces from the attacks coming from Spain. Similarly, Vauban’s France built up fortifications along the frontiers of the newly acquired territories in the north. This defense system led to the concept of “pré-carré” (squared field) that made reference to the geometric shape coming out from the disposition of these fortifications on the map that looked like a garden, divided in different flowerbeds. From then, this term evolved to nowadays’ meaning of “external sphere of influence” from the diplomatic, military and economic point of view. In order to guarantee their territorial integrity, states also exploited the military capabilities of an allied state in exchange of economic concessions. Portugal, for instance, signed an alliance treaty with the United Kingdom in 1373 in order to get its protection against Spain’s attempt to incorporate it. If at the very beginning this alliance was set up between pairs, later on it became the framework for the establishment of British protectorate over Portugal, so that for centuries the UK offered military protection in return of financial and commercial control over Portugal. Economic warfare has always been a feature of each stage of colonization, from the Roman Empire to the maritime empires established in the 16th century that gradually acquired control of natural resources and trade routes. Human trafficking is the most evident example of how economic interest impacts power relationships. In this regard, the colonization process of North America clearly shows the overlapping of conflicting dynamics of different economic interests.
The exploitation of American settlers in cotton plantations as well as the fiscal policy and the trade restrictions applied, led Great Britain and its colonies to war. Harbulot mentions this historical case to show how the control of trade routes is a key feature of economic clashes between states. In the 16th century, before becoming an Empire built up on its maritime trade power, Great Britain was a poor country with no military power. At that time, Spain and Portugal dominated the sea routes. When the British decided to became a maritime power, they started with piracy actions threatening the superiority of the enemies’ fleets.
Under the reign of Elizabeth I, the British pirates started pillaging Spanish and Portuguese ships carrying precious metals from South America. Afterwards, the British started expanding their trade networks to Turkey, Russia, the Caribbean and Asia. Finally, in 1707 the birth of Great Britain out of the fusion between Reign of Scotland with the Reign of England, led to the creation of one of the greatest free trade area of the time and to the first model of mass consumption in the world. During the 17th century, the British tried to exploit the great trade potential of British territories overseas and established the East India Company that paved the way to the colonization of India.
The colonial aspirations of Great Britain led to a military escalation that was necessary to defeat local sovereigns opposing the British hegemony, and to face the rivalry with other European powers. Great Britain went to war with the Netherlands (1652-1784) to win the control of the main trade routes with their colonies, which was threatened by the dominant position of the Dutch company of East India. Again, the necessity of securing maritime routes, led the British Empire to many other wars like Afghanistan (1839 -1842 and 1878 -1880) in light of contrasting Russia’s expansionism in India; the opium war with Chinese Empire (1839-1842 and 1856-1860) in order to force the Qing dynasty to open up to world trade; the occupation of Egypt in order to control the strategic platform in Cairo; the Boer wars (1880-1881 and 1899-1902) to ensure strategic control over Cape Town. After taking into account the British case as an example of how the ability to control sea routes is a key asset in geostrategic clashes, Harbulot analyzes the overlapping between war and economics that became evident for the first time during the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars (1792 – 1815).
William Pitt – British Prime Minister at the time – tried to preserve Great Britain’s predominant position in international trade. His strategy aimed at controlling the sea routes and establishing an indisputable maritime advantage through the Royal Navy – which was the only British force that could compete with France’s military capacity. The British military fleet was therefore empowered with 105 ships, whereas the French one could count on only 70. While Prussia – Great Britain’s ally – was able to contain France and its allies on the continent, the British fleet weakened France’s economic potential through preventing its access to the sea routes. For the first time in history, the economic warfare became global and delineated two blocks: on the one hand, Great Britain put in place a maritime block against France; on the other hand France locked the access to British exports to Europe.
The original feature of these two blocks consisted in the fact that both states wanted to adopt economic retaliation strategies to win the conflict. For example, Russia’s withdrawal from Napoleon’s continental block triggered Napoleon’s Russian campaign, that had disgraceful consequences for the French Emperor. The overlapping between traditional and economic warfare paved the way to some mechanism for economic warfare that were kept in place even in peacetime. By the end of the 18th century, France’s industry resulted to be significantly weakened by the military efforts carried on during the revolutionary wars. Napoleon then chose the scientist Jean-Antoine Chaptal, to reform the French industry and protect it from Great Britain’s trade threats.
In addition, Napoleon instructed the National Industry Encouragement Society to detect the strength and the weaknesses of the British economy: France was willing to do everything in its power in order to fill the twenty-year gap with the British, even smuggling machineries that were illegally purchased or stolen in Great Britain. In the framework of the continental block imposed by France, Napoleon consolidated this system of economic defense through a militarization of the custom check-points (whose officers in 1815 represented 20% administrative personnel of France besides the army). Despite the costs of the wars with France, Great Britain managed to keep its advantages: the industrial revolution that had started long before compared to the rest of the continent made British products more competitive; British colonies ensured a significant supply of raw materials and British naval supremacy allowed the control of the main sea routes.
It was paramount for London to reduce trade barriers in order to export its products to Europe, therefore the British government adopted the first techniques of economic warfare peacetime. In particular, a commission led by the political economist John Bowring was instructed to negotiate with French authorities for the opening up of trade. What Bowring did in reality, was lobbying for the creation of groups supporting British liberal trade in France and using the local press to influence public opinion that was the main tool to reach this goal. It was only with WWI, though, that the principles of economic warfare were formalized.
Already in 1914, in light of the likely long duration of the conflict, the powers involved elaborated the typical practices of the economic warfare: i.e. reducing the availability of materials for the enemy’s army, and raw materials for its industry – with an extremely negative impact on the population – blocking trade and finance flows that directly hit the enemy’s food supplies. In addition, over the course of the conflict, some specific structures dedicated to the economic warfare were created. In 1915, the French Ministry of War set up a Control Section responsible for collecting necessary information to support economic warfare. Similarly, Great Britain created an independent organization, the War Trade Intelligence Department, attached to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1916, Italy set up a special office entrusted with collecting and checking economic news, attached to the Ministry of War.
These structures were coordinated by an Inter-allied office located in Paris. During the conflict, economic warfare actions became more and more targeted against international objectives and supported by military operations, which became more sophisticated thanks to the development of aviation technologies. However, in 1918 there was no general consensus between France, Great Britain and the United States about the goals to reach. Paris wanted to use economic warfare to force Germany to surrender and accept international control on its possession of raw materials, so that France could still have the upper hand. Washington was aware of the leverage the economic warfare could play to stop Germany’s economic expansion and get to a peace treaty, however its main interest was to stress the liberal principles and play a dominant role in international trade; London aligned itself with the United States while keeping its focus on its economic interests. As the conflict ended, the structures dedicated to economic warfare were dismissed but were restored after the break out of WWII. In 1939, Great Britain created an actual Ministry for Economic Warfare, with similar tasks of the dismissed War Trade Intelligence Department.
In June 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill set up a new service called Special Operations Executive – that was basically the offensive component of the Ministry of Economic Warfare – and entrusted it to conduct sabotage operations on the continent and fuel uprisings in the territories occupied by the Germans. At this stage, the interaction between war and economy shed light on the problems related to the economic warfare. However, in the second half of the 20th century, this topic was overshadowed. On the one hand, during the Cold War, Western bloc countries were keen to cover the economic disparities between them and powered their ideological projection against the Soviet bloc. On the other hand, the United States – the new global superpower – elaborated their version of the British strategy of influence and promoted the free trade theories and competition as the main model for the Western world economy.
According to Harbulot, an effective analysis of the economic warfare must consider the evolution of the methods states used to conquer territories, increase their trade and power. Over the 19th century, states preferred to conquer markets (through economic warfare) rather than territories (through traditional warfare) in order to acquire more influence on the international level. Harbulot identifies the cases of Japan and Germany because of the importance these states gave to the seek for a “vital space”, to be conquered through territorial acquisition and trade influence. In 1854 U.S. commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan to open up its ports to Western powers. However, in 1867 Mutsuhito ascended the throne of Japan and decided to reverse the established balance of power. His modernization policies aimed at filling the gap with major Western economies and hinder their leadership.
The Meiji Restoration – whose slogan was “Enrich the country, strengthen the military” – was framed in a policy aimed at acquiring a comprehensive expertise in many fields, following the example of the leading countries in a given sector. Japan also pursued an expansionistic policy through the annexation of Korea and claimed a trade protection on China – that threatened the United States’ interests in developing business ties with the country. Japan’s main goal was to establish a sphere of regional co-prosperity with East Asia countries, occupied by the imperial army. Therefore, the Japanese empire occupied Manchuria and founded the state of Manchukuo, a classic example of the reproduction of military systems invented by the Portuguese and then imitated by the Dutch and the British. The Japanese combined the model of the Company of India with the one of the American railroads to create the Railroad Company of Manchuria. This latter was in charge of the administration of Manchukuo and of the management of the Japanese occupation troops; it possessed its own police forces, a central bank and even a merchant fleet. The State of Manchukuo was test site for the new approach to increase state power through the economy.
The case of Germany is quite different. Over the course of its history, Germany constantly sought to acquire new territories to guarantee food supplies for its population, as German lands were covered with forests and difficult for farming. By the end of the Middle Ages, German settlers started colonizing the lands of East Bavaria. While acquiring new territories was not always a peaceful process because of the resistance of the local population, the expansion via sea was far easier. The creation of the Hanseatic League allowed Germany to peacefully establish its dominion on the Polish shores between 16th and 17th centuries. The battles conducted by the Hohenzollern family completed the creation of a sphere of influence at the eastern borders of Germany. The debate around the strategic advantages of territorial versus trade expansion was very popular in the politics of the Second Reich. The unification of Germany pursued by Otto von Bismarck allowed the country to acquire more influence on the world stage. However, the increasing in its power at the end of 19th century was not only boosted by the changes brought by the industrial era, but also by the geostrategic competition with the British and French Empire: the German strategic core consisted in the “Konzern” (associations of both vertically and horizontally integrated enterprises), in banks and insurance companies that challenged their European competitors.
The debate on how to handle a hypothetical geo-economic success gained momentum at the end of WWI. As a result, in 1915 Samuel Herzog published in Germany “German economic warfare plan”, which could be considered as a draft handbook of economic warfare.
In his book, Herzog listed the economic tools that States could oppose to the Reich’s enemies. Some of them are helpful to influence or control the exports during the economic warfare; some others could ensure Germany’s success against the passive resistance of defeated countries. According to the author, in order to preserve Germany’s economic assets, it is necessary for the state to exercise its control over industries that have kept the upper hand against foreign countries. In addition, the state should protect private initiative in a way that it does not conflict with national economic interests.
Harbulot focuses then on the dissimulation of economic warfare: firstly, the economic dimension acquired a great prominence in the balance of power among individuals, groups and states; secondly, he underlined the high interdependence between the economic strength and the political and military power. Nevertheless, the historic phenomenon of economic warfare has always been denied, because the political justifications for economic expansions have always been perceived as aggressive and illegal.
The negative perception of the economic war as a consequence of cupidity is grounded on Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas’ just war theory. According to this theory, States are pushed to hide their war plans for economic purposes and to proclaim their intention to spread religions, to stimulate growth of developing countries and, more recently, to promote democracy. This dissimulation attitude causes the distortion of the balance of power.
It is worth noticing that international military organisations, such as NATO, have not developed a proper economic warfare doctrine yet, because of conflicting interests among member states.
Some examples of the dissimulation of economic warfare are the domination strategies implemented by colonial empires, as well as recovery strategies of countries aiming at avoiding colonisation or at increasing their power.
Firstly, domination was dissimulated by the pretext to conquer and impose one’s religion to colonised people. Secondly, the doctrine of liberalism and the idea of increasing power through trade expansion stimulated free trade and the opening of new markets. All these factors became the justification to the foundation of new empires.
Any commercial achievement could lead into an economic warfare, which could represent a coercive instrument to use against countries that try to close their market. As to some examples, the United Kingdom implemented its “gunboat diplomacy”, in order to export its products in the Middle East and East Asia markets and in 1840-41 the Royal Navy closed the Alexandrian harbour. Moreover, during the Opium Wars, the Western countries forced an “independent country” to participate in the drug trade.
With the Opium Wars, the strategy of “economic aggression” became evident. As a result, countries such as Japan were forced to modify their plan and to implement a significant economic penetration policy (represented by the above-mentioned slogan “enrich the country, strengthen the military”) with the aim of reducing disparities with Western countries. When, a century later, at the end of ‘80s, Japan became the world’s second largest economy, the USA and Europe denounced its expansionism, as well as its economic trade’s strategy. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) even published a report on the “Japanese propaganda” aiming at hiding the protectionist measures taken by the US against other market economies, in violation of the principles of economic liberalism.
As for the recovery strategies, they focus on basic objectives and are strongly linked to geographic and cultural background. Due to its geographical morphology, Japan developed a solid maritime infrastructure, along with an industrial economy and became a model for South Korea, India, Brazil and China. In particular, South Korea opted for shipbuilding and for the creation of large private industrial conglomerates.
On the contrary, India chose to become a world leader in IT sector and pursued an education reform in order to improve science teaching. Moreover, the city of Bangalore, thanks to its favourable weather conditions, was transformed into a high-tech capital.
Brazil instead based its recovery strategy on the energetic sector, with the aim of becoming the regional leader in this field. Besides, Brazil used its soft power to claim the role of world’s sustainable development power due to its wide-scale production of electric power.
Finally, the Chinese recovery strategy was grounded on market opening, with the creation of special economic zones and the implementation of measures to attract foreign investments.
However China, as Japan did, developed an aggressive plan of foreign markets’ penetration, with the strong opposition of the United States. This triggered a debate around economic warfare in the Western world. In particular, China was deemed to become member of “normative” international organisation only in order to impose its own rules. As a matter of fact, reactions caused to a sceptic attitude against China could be considered as economic conflicts. This is true for protectionist measures on photovoltaic technologies taken by the Obama administration, as well as for the decision of the Australian government to refuse the participation of the Chinese company Minmetal in the Australian firm Oz Metal.
The paradigm of economic warfare changed after the Second World War, when the USA became the world geo-political, military and trade leader. Along with coercive methods of colonial empires, the USA expressed their economic power by pursuing a new strategy. In particular, in order to prevail over an allied country in the economic and cultural field, the United States established themselves as a superpower and managed to hold a stronger position in the hierarchy of the values, rules and arbitrages of market economy. As a result, the US imposed in peacetime to Western countries a “silent practice” of economic warfare.
Nevertheless, the availability of new markets after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the aggressive recovery strategies implemented by emerging economies modified the current stability of international economic relations. Furthermore, a growing competition, stemming from the two above-mentioned factors, pushed the USA to take into account the need of a “real” economic war. Asia’s increasing power and the EU internal market, actually undermined the supremacy that the USA had acquired by the end of WWII.
These changes in the balance of power highlight the new paradigm of the economic warfare: the relationship between ally and enemy is replaced by a direct or indirect conflict between two enemies.
Despite the fact that economic warfare was usually characterised by direct conflicts, globalisation has modified the world economic framework, both for emerging economies and developed countries.
States’ strategic interests diverge and become more and more complex. Therefore, a military or geo-political concern could be in contrast with an economic one, and vice versa. As a result, two countries could conclude a military alliance and fight for economic reasons at the same time.
Therefore, these new balances of power among States, where competition and cooperation co-exist, show that the current economic relationships are weaker than in the past. However, these changes do not reduce conflicts among states. During the ‘90s, the USA, as world leader, implemented a policy of economic security, started in the ‘70s with the introduction of Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act (that enabled the country to oppose trade barriers penalizing its exports) and Section 301 of the 1988 Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act (that enabled the country to denounce unfair practices and protect American companies from intellectual property violations).
With the aim of fighting unfair competition, the USA decided to tighten their position on trade. Despite the objections of several states, these unilateral measures are still in force and are used as leverage against the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade Organisation. Torricelli’s (1992), Helms-Burton’s (1996) and D’Amato’s (2001) laws implemented these measures and forbade thee WTO membership to the countries that were hostile to the United States. Among the countries affected by these provisions (with the exception of Cuba, covered by a US embargo since 1962), Iraq, Libya, Iran and Nigeria were rich in oil reserves. Moreover, the appointment by the Clinton administration of the National Economic Council in 1993, working jointly with the National Security Council, proved the paramount importance of the national economic security.
The USA represented a model for several countries: France, for instance, appointed a Committee for Competitive Economic Security chaired by the Prime Minister in 1995; over the course of his first mandate. President Putin strengthened the role of some State bodies on the protection of the economic resources in Russia. The economic weakness of Western countries and the increasing power of the emerging ones will probably reinvigorate tensions between developing and industrialized countries, which dominate the world economy. While developing countries are eager to increase their power through massively expanding their trades to foreign markets, Western countries tend to separate power strategies based on military and diplomatic means, from those based on economic warfare.
Moreover, the Western policy of deregulation emphasises this paradox. While European advantages decrease, in fact, emerging countries increase their competitiveness with the financial support from bank authorities, which are directly or indirectly controlled by the state.
Therefore, a competitive imbalance – that is usually strengthened by the substantial role the financial sector plays in the functioning of market economies – weakens industrialized economies. Chinese managers, instead, successfully adapted the Communist dictatorship to the rules of market economy and pursued more ambitious targets than purely making profits.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union – caused by the arms race – China elaborated the idea of “war with no limits”, by combining military and economic instruments. The crisis of colonialism and the growing power of emerging countries undermined the Western notion of ethnocentrism, which the foundation of the theory of Western superiority.
Therefore, in the new global contest, Western countries are weakened by a number of contradictions:
Liberalism and Protectionism
In the United Kingdom and in the United States economic doctrine, liberalism justified the dismantling of protectionist systems in the countries that were their top export destinations. The goal was to an increase their exports and to minimize the impact of the destination countries on international financial markets.
Delocalization vs. National Interest
In the United States there are two conflicting economic trends: one aims at opening the markets and benefiting from delocalisation, the other stresses the importance of protecting American people’s interests.
The European Union’s inability to react to the challenges posed by economic warfare.
In the aftermath of WWII, during negotiations on Marshall Plan, there has been a considerable discussion in France on some U.S. economic needs, such as the obligation to feed animals with American soya and the distribution in the French market of films coming from Hollywood. General De Gaulle, Prime Minister since 1958, pursued an independent policy against the U.S. interests: he created the oil company Elf Aquitaine with the aim of reducing dependency from the seven Anglo-American oil companies; he limited the settlement of American multinational companies; he started casting doubts on the role of dollar as reserve currency. Nevertheless, his vision was defeated by the liberal idea of markets’ openness. Furthermore, the creation of the EU single market marginalised the discussion on the role of the economy in state power strategies. As a result, France dramatically changed some of its economic structures that had previously provided the country with a significant economic power.
In particular, the Commission Permanente de l’Electronique, which in the ‘60s rose awareness on the need of developing the electronics industry, was abolished. At the beginning of 21st century, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin re-launched the debate on the “economic patriotism”, fostered by the drawbacks of emerging countries’ recovery policies. Some of them, in fact, evolved in real “fighter economies”, to fill the development gap with the West. Their offensive strategies integrated the range of techniques already implemented by Western countries in the past: collecting information via Internet, stealing patents, dumping measures, counterfeiting, metal smuggling (especially copper, whose world-wide demand is increasing).
While these unfair measures, which undermine the Western economic leadership, represent an issue for concern in the United States, in the EU they are considered as “exception that proves the rule”. Accordingly, the US adopted coercive instruments against these measures, in order to single hostile countries out. On the contrary, the European Union rarely followed this example. In 1984 the EU adopted a retaliatory measure in accordance with Section 301 of The US Trade Act, even though it was only applied six times in ten years.
In the centralized EU system, since the only competences left for Member States are national defence and public order, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany integrated the economic war paradigm in their modus operandi. France, instead, lobbied for amending the EU Treaties with the aim of improve its room for manoeuvre, but its attempts were not successful. More generally, the EU Member States proved not to be able to set up a shared strategy on this issue. As a result, the EU did not react to Putin’s measures protecting and promoting Russian industries – through state aids, customs duties benefits, and debt cancellation – and not even to the Russian threat of cutting gas supplies to Europe.
In the current international framework, the pacification process favoured by the leadership of the Western countries is weakened by multipolar geo-economic relationships and growing conflicts with emerging countries. As a result, the European Union – that does not consider economic warfare – cannot do much other than following the lead of the United States. Despite its image of cohesion, the EU is fragmented: Germany leads Northern Europe and is engaged both in increasing its power and promoting itself as a peaceful country in open contrast with its past; Southern Europe tries to solve its infrastructural problems, while post-Soviet countries are still under American, German and Russian influence.
To conclude, the economic warfare paradigm shall be taken into account in current international relations. Harbulot imagines a new political economy based on a consistent combination between state power strategies, trade expansion and territorial development. Nevertheless, these dimensions deal with three divergent interests. Therefore, the definition of short, medium and long-term priorities relies in the hands of the political power.
The new African currency
On June 11, 2019, during a meeting held in Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria, the fifteen members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided to coin – most likely within 2020 – a new African currency, whose name has already been chosen: “ECO”.
The fifteen States of ECOWAS – the association that deals above all with part of the implementation of the CFA Franc – are the following: Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cap-Vert, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Liberia, which founded ECOWAS in 1964. Later, with the further definition of the Lagos Treaty in 1975, also Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone joined it.
It should be noted that while Mauritania withdrew from ECOWAS in 2000, since 2017 the Alawite Kingdom of Morocco has officially requested to join.
However the “ECO” project, which has been lasting – at least programmatically -since 2015 and much echoes the “EURO” project, was born within a more restricted association of States than ECOWAS, namely the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ), which is composed of Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
As can be seen, said States also belong to ECOWAS, but they intend to reach an economic and monetary union very similar to the EU’s, considering that their economies are less different than those of the whole group of countries belonging to ECOWAS.
It should be recalled that the ECO launch has been postponed as early as 1983 and is currently expected to take place in 2020, but again only on paper.
Using an old formula of summer media jargon, France defines it as a “sea snake”, but we must always be very careful about oversimplifications and low esteem for friends and foes.
Hence, certainly eight ECOWAS countries shall abandon the CFA Franc, while the other seven countries their national currency.
As the final communiqué of the last meeting held by the fifteen Member States, a “gradual approach” is required for ECO, starting from those countries that show a more evident “level of convergence”.
As we all know, in the case of the EU and its Euro, the convergence criteria were price stability – which is seen as the only sign of inflation, although we do not know to what extent this idea is correct – and “healthy and sustainable” public finance, which means nothing but, within the EU, means a deficit not exceeding 3% of GDP and public debt not higher than 60% of GDP.
From this viewpoint, things are not going very well in Africa.
Africa’s debt has just slightly exceeded 100 billion euros, after Ghana recently taking out a 2.6 billion Euro-denominated loan, in one fell swoop.
In 2018 alone, African countries reached a total debt of 27.1 billion euros, but in 2017 Egypt, Ghana and Benin had borrowed 7.6 billion euros.
Nigeria will reach 17.6 billion euros of debt at the end of this year.
Ten African countries have already issued Eurobonds and there will soon be 21 of them.
It is equally true, however, that the African countries’ debt-to-GDP ratio is on average 53%, while in the 1990s and in the first decade of 2000 it had reached 90-100%.
The obvious reasons underlying the recent increase in the African countries’ Euro-denominated (and dollar-denominated) debt are the following: the consequences of the global financial crisis and the structural decrease in the price of raw materials.
Moreover, considering the very low interest level in the United States and Europe, many investors have also begun to operate in Africa.
Currently Egypt is the most indebted country, with a total of 25.5 billion euros.
It is followed by South Africa (18.9 billion euros), Nigeria (11.2 billion), Ghana (7.8 billion), Ivory Coast (7.2 billion), Angola (5 billion), Kenya (4.8 billion), Morocco (4.5 billion), Senegal (4 billion) and, finally, Zambia with only 3 billion euros.
The analysts of international banks predict that, in the future, the Euro- and dollar-denominated debt will not be a problem for African countries.
Quite the reverse. According to the World Bank, the debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to fall by up to 43%, on average, in all major African countries.
The worst standard in terms of share of Eurobonds on total debt is Senegal (15.5%), while Tunisia remains the best standard, with 6.3 billion euros of debt issued through Eurobonds.
As can be easily imagined, other variables are the cost of debt service, which has doubled in two years up to reaching 10%, and the uncertainty of the barrel price on oil markets, considering that all these countries, except Nigeria, are net oil importers.
Therefore, it is certainly not possible to talk about “sustainable” finance, even though many ECOWAS countries have a debt-to-GDP ratio that currently make us envious.
As is well-know, also the exchange rate stability – required for entering the Euro area – is one of the primary “convergence” criteria.
A 6.3% average annual GDP growth is expected for the 15-member African association, considering the expansion of oil extraction in Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and Ghana, while fiscal stability -which is, on average, about 1.7% higher in 2019 – is acceptable.
Hence, if we apply the usual Euro criteria, the new ECO currency appears very difficult, but not impossible, to be created – at least in the long run.
ECOWAS has repeatedly advocated its single currency project: it was initially theorized as early as 1983, then again in 2000 and finally in 2003. As already seen, currently there is much talk about 2020 as the possible date for its entry into force.
Certainly there is already an agreement between ECOWAS countries for the abolition of travel permits and many of the fifteen Member States are entertaining the idea of economic and productive integration projects.
Nevertheless, as far as the budget deficit convergence is concerned, only five countries, namely Cap-Vert, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Senegal and Togo can currently comply with the single African currency project, since they record a budget deficit not higher than 4% and an inflation rate not exceeding 5%.
Hence we cannot rule out that there will be convergence in reasonable time, but it is unlikely it will happen by the end of 2020.
Moreover, the levels of development in the fifteen Member States are very different.
It is impossible to even out the differences in the levels of debt, interest rates and public debt in the short term, considering that the share of manufacturing in Africa is decreasing and the economies that operate on raw materials have always been particularly inelastic.
Furthermore, Nigeria alone is worth 67% of the whole ECOWAS GDP – hence the ECO would ultimately be an enlarged Naira.
With the same problems we have in Europe, with a Euro which is actually an enlarged German Mark.
The inflation rates range from 27% in Liberia to 11% in Nigeria, with Senegal and Ivory Coast recording a 1% “European-style” inflation rate.
Certainly the CFA Franc is a “colonial” instrument, but it has anyway ensured a monetary stability and a strength in trade that the various currencies of the former French colonies could not have achieved by themselves.
It should be recalled that the mechanism of the CFA Franc, envisages that the Member States must currently deposit 50% of their external reserves into an account with the French Treasury.
However, the Euro problem must be avoided, i.e. the fact it cannot avoid asymmetric shocks.
The Euro is a currency which is above all based on a fixed exchange rate agreement.
We should also consider the adjustments made by Nigeria in 2016-and, indeed the inflation rates of the various ECOWAS countries are stable, but not homogeneous.
They range from 11% in Nigeria to 1% in Senegal.
Between 2000 and 2016, Ghana had an inflation rate fluctuating around 16.92%.
The fact is that all ECOWAS countries, as well as the other African States, are net importers.
Furthermore the West African countries do not primarily trade among themselves.
While single currencies are designed and made mainly to stimulate trade, this is certainly not the case.
The CFA Franc, however, was a way of making the former French colonies geopolitically and financially homogeneous, with a view to uniting them against Nigeria – the outpost of British (and US) interests in sub-Saharan Africa.
Furthermore, none of the ECOWAS governments wants to transfer financial or political power to Nigeria, nor is the latter interested in transferring decision-making power to allied countries, which are much smaller and less globally important.
The region could be better integrated not with a currency -thus avoiding the dangerous rush that characterized the Euro entry into force – but with a series of common infrastructure projects or with the lifting of tariff and non-tariff barriers.
The largest trading partner of sub-Saharan Africa, namely the EU – with which the ECO would certainly work very well -currently records a level of trade with the ECOWAS region equal to 37.8%.
Nigeria exports only 2.3% to the other African partners and imports less than 0.5%.
However, if ECO is put in place, this will be made possible thanks to a possible anchorage to the Chinese yuan.
This would avoid excessive fluctuations – probable for the new currency – but would create ECOWAS African economies’ greater dependence on the Chinese finance and production systems than already recorded so far.
Certainly it would be a way of definitively anchoring Africa to the Chinese economy.
From 2005 to 2018, Chinese investment increased everywhere, but in Africa it totalled 125 billion US dollars.
Africa is currently the third global target of Chinese investment.
17% of said Chinese investment has been targeted to Nigeria and its ECOWAS “neighbours”, especially to railways and other infrastructure.
Moreover, in 1994, thanks to its liquidity injections China rescued the African wages from the CFA Franc devaluation, which had halved all incomes.
Those who govern Africa will control globalization. India is now the second major investor in Africa, after China. The EU takes upon itself the disasters of African globalization, but not the dividends.
Whoever makes mistakes has to pay. There has not been a EU policy that has “interpreted” Africa intelligently, but only as a point of arrival for ever less significant “aid”.
Therefore China will bend the African economic development to its geostrategic aims and designs.
China offers interest rates on loans that are almost seven times lower than Western markets, which never reason in geopolitical terms, as instead they should do.
Massaging Scalps, Not Taking Them: The Battle between Old and New Leadership in a Globalized Economy
Much of the literature published today focuses on how to help young aspirants to climb the business ladder and become those future titans of industry we always praise and admire. This is not a criticism of these pieces more so a necessary addendum that tends to get ignored once that climb is complete and you are safely secure in the beloved and coveted “C”-suite. Namely, how do you lead once you become a C Suite Executive, whether it is operational, sales, marketing, product, administration, information technology, or any of the other diverse titles now adorned with the high “C?” Surprisingly, many seem to think that the leadership of your parents and grandparents is as valid today as it was 15 and 20 years ago. Unfortunately, such thinking is not only wrong-headed, it could very well be undermining for future executives striving to prosper once they have climbed that ladder of success. Indeed, one of the biggest problems for executive leaders today seems to be learning to embrace the new reality that the best executive leadership is far more about massaging scalps and not about taking them Wild Wild West-style.
There can be no doubt that the preferred leadership style has dramatically evolved when going from what Americans call the Baby Boomer Generation to Generation X to the now somewhat infamous Millennial Generation. There have been many complaints about how young adults today entering the corporate world not only have an inflated sense of self not backed by actual achievement but embed their early careers with a sense of business self-entitlement and demands for empathetic fairness that few ‘old-school’ leaders would recognize. Today, there are far more conversations about work-life balance, schedule flexibility, and equity success, whereas the so-called glory days of old are solely concerned with the bottom line, year-end earnings, and future projections, still of course a priority but today you need to embrace the employee and develop a culture to get there and sustain success. The approach today is more of an inside out approach to reach sustainable success, to attract and retain business, it is important to build a solid EX (Employee Experience) platform, that also attracts and retains talent. Rather than complaining about how ‘soft’ the work force has become, new executives need to recognize how the world has changed and produced a new workforce that will only perform at the highest levels with proper measurement, recognition of their work, encouragement and latitude rather than fear. Failure to acknowledge this evolution most likely signals deficiency and changes in your own leadership, not the need to change the workforce.
To be sure, this transition is not entirely complete or concretized. After all, there are still plenty of Baby Boomers occupying many of the most powerful positions in the world’s biggest multinational corporations and they were mostly the mentors and advisors to Generation X business school graduates who emerged in the early and mid-1990s. But these two generations are now standing face-to-face with a huge workforce with Millennial inclinations and as time progresses those inclinations not only grow stronger, but they start to become the de facto societal baseline for doing business. Indeed, this is no longer our grandfather’s business world. Some might think the fact that the United States currently has a President whose famous book, The Art of the Deal, was a testimony to the cutthroat, merciless 1980s-style of leadership is a refutation of this brave new soft world of business. But his overall decline in popularity in the polls and oftentimes the medias outright dismissal of his ideas on leadership, where ‘success’ is defined more by how well you manipulate people to do your bidding rather than learning how to maximize the individual talents of your workforce, shows how this kind of leadership that was considered the driving force in its day can no longer carry the day in 2019 and beyond.
This new 21st century leadership style should be seen as the positive force for change that it is, rather than a testament to how people aren’t tough enough anymore. More than anything, it is a recognition that leadership works best when it can be subtle, nuanced, and strategic when dealing with a truly diverse and individualized workforce. It is not about coddling new employees as much as it is about rejecting the old demand that everyone fit into the same cookie cutter approach to a position. In the old days, stubbornness, being overly demanding, lacking understanding, and in general just acting as a basic tyrant was seen as something of the just reward for all of the hard work you endured to get to the top. Today, it would be symbolic of how out of touch you are as a modern leader. It is no longer about getting results by any means necessary. It is about achieving in a manner that builds people’s allegiance, trust, satisfaction, and overall commitment to the company. Not in spite of your leadership but because of it – viewing the company as inside out. That is to say get the culture and strategy right inside the company first by developing the employee experience (EX) – that will translate to the customer as the company with people who care about the business and subsequently cares about their business giving a better customer experience (CX) as a result.
Becoming fluent in this new leadership style is what is going to mark the most successful leaders moving forward in the 21st century. Will there still be examples of the old leadership? Will there still be examples of such leaders running powerful companies? Without doubt, the answer is yes to both questions. But those aspiring leaders who will pin their hopes on that so as to not embrace change and not force themselves to become evolved leaders will be exemplars of a dying style and heads of demotivated companies. Those who do embrace the opportunity, who see empathy and empowerment not as necessary evils but as building blocks to high-level success and achievement, will find themselves creating the ideal triple-success: profitable results, satisfied employees, and personal advancement.
As one generation ends its executive career, a new one takes its place. Very little changed in terms of defining leadership and setting the “C-suite” atmosphere when moving from the Baby Boomer generation to Generation X. That very well might be because Generation X did not challenge or question the business world it was trained and educated in. A world, not coincidentally, overseen by the Baby Boomers. The same cannot be said, however, when we look at how the landscape has already changed as we get into the heart of the Generation X – Millennial Generation interaction. Millennials, rightly or wrongly, properly or inappropriately, have engaged the global economy not just as automatons mindlessly following the rules, but as creative beings asking questions. Inevitably, this means as Generation X heads into the final third of its executive career, the time which should be its own “C-suite” peak, it needs to ask itself what it plans to do with this new type of workforce? Will it quixotically charge the windmill in an effort to keep the playing field as it has been for the last half-century? Or will it embrace change as a welcome opportunity to prove its own uniqueness? Only time will tell but, hopefully, it will recognize the latter as a much more profitable and productive choice than the futility of the former.
BRI leads to common prosperity and development
The rejuvenation initiative of Silk Road Economic Belt was first unveiled at Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan on September 07, 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Later, the idea of constructing a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road was announced by President Xi Jinping in the same year on October 03, during his state visit to Indonesia. These two concepts, hereinafter referred to as the “One Belt, One Road (OBOR) Initiative” or the “Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)”, envision the formation of a highly integrated, cooperative, and mutually beneficial maritime and land-based economic corridors along the Belt and Road countries.
China-proposed BRI has already attained acceptability and popularity across the world. To date, 126 countries and 29 international organizations have signed 174 cooperation agreements with China under the initiative framework.
Following the conformity with 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, most particularly, the vision of financing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the United Nations (UN) has warmly acknowledged BRI agreed to incorporate BRI into its resolution in 2016 calling for all parties to participate in the mega project.
Most significantly, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was the first international organization that signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in September 2016 and a concrete Action Plan in May 2017 with China as a part of strategic partnership with BRI.
BRI has successfully proven its vision of building infrastructure of connectivity, policy coordination, unimpeded trade facilitation, financial integration, and people-to-people ties adhering to the principle of common prosperity and development. Though some critical views on so-called “debt trap” were raised on few media reports, the world has soon come to know that BRI is endowed with coherent set of principles where “win-win” situation, rather than “win-lose” or “zero-sum,” through “all-round connectivity” gets the ultimate priority. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, has reiterated, “The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative is not a geopolitical tool or a debt trap for participating countries, but a platform for cooperation”.
As for example, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of BRI, has made remarkable progress and successfully been demonstrated as a “debt reliever” rather than “debt trap” for Pakistan. Simultaneously, it has also been elucidated that the so-called “debt trap” related to Sri Lankan Hambantota port with Chinese loans as a part of BRI is a myth. The crisis of Sri Lanka’s debt repayment is mostly related to its total foreign debt, while Chinese loans account for only about 10 percent with concessional terms.
The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road envisage China’s commitment to invest heavily for the infrastructure and transport development in order to strengthen the economic capacity and connectivity among the nations within the Belt and Road. The project is largely expected to facilitate economic growth and development in many developing countries through the potential use of enhanced overland and maritime connectivity across the world.
With the vision of common growth and shared benefits, the Belt and Road construction projects have almost resulted $460 billion worth of investments since the inception of BRI in 2013, while China’s direct investment in Belt and Road countries surpassed $90 billion.
The world has already witnessing China’s expanding trade and investment ties with countries along the Belt and Road over the past five years. According to National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the total trade volume between China and countries involved in BRI has exceeded $6 trillion. BRI is also expected to add $117 billion to global trade in 2019 through higher trade volumes. The World Bank reports that BRI may reduce the costs of global trade by 1.1 to 2.2 percent and can contribute at least 0.1 percent of global growth in 2019.
BRI has also largely bolstering bilateral ties between China with her partners across the Belt and Road with shared interests and mutual benefits. The enhanced ties between China and Pakistan under the CPEC can be exemplified in this regard. Both China and Pakistan have pledged to jointly promote the construction of the CPEC and foster their bilateral ties. The tangible benefits under CPEC have intensified the relations between the two countries into a new height.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s announcement on BRI has also paved a new dimension in Bangladesh-China relations, whereas Bangladesh stands as an important partner in both the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Bangladesh formally joins BRI during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Dhaka in October 2016. The country perceives BRI as an enormous opportunity of becoming a middle-income country by 2021 and a developed country by 2041.
No wonder to mention that BRI represents an opportunity to build a new type of international relations based on the principle of multipolarism, open economy, common prosperity, mutual development, and community with a shared future for mankind.
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