February 2023

Russia must bear blame for soaring fertiliser costs

Tanya Vatsa highlighted many of the economic costs of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, including increases in commodity prices and supply chain disruptions. (‘No Winners In War’, January 2023). One area of particular concern is sharp increases in fertiliser costs. Because Russia is the largest exporter of fertiliser, this has global implications. It may well lead to much lower food production yields and that could spell an end to an era of cheap food. Almost everyone will feel the effects of that in their weekly shop. However, it is likely to be the poorest people in society – who may already struggle to afford enough healthy food – who will be hit hardest. The lesson here is to avoid becoming dependent on any brutal or authoritarian regime for an important resource.

Elanor Miller,

British Columbia, Canada

 

Bangladesh needs a long-term plan

It is a pity that the government of Bangladesh must resort to more IMF loans in order to sustain its economy, as Syed Badrul Ahsan pointed out in his article about the country (‘Politics of confrontation’, January 2023 issue). The view of the IMF seems to be that a lot of money is wasted on subsidies. These include subsidies on oil, electricity, gas and water, as well as towards the agricultural sector. The IMF suggests that these subsidies are phased out to be replaced with more spending on education and health, as well as on infrastructure.

While this is a laudable set of aims, the problem remains: how will we ensure the money is used appropriately? Unfortunately, Bangladesh remains a country with a particular vulnerability to emergencies linked to climate change and other causes. The United Kingdom is contributing an additional £500,000 (BDT 60.6 million) in humanitarian support to respond to last year’s flooding in the Sylhet region, which affected more than seven million people. It is incumbent on any country or organisation which partners with Bangladesh to ensure that no money is squandered or misdirected.

N Chowdhury

London, UK 

 

Nuclear weapons cannot guarantee peace

A recent article on moves to make Southeast Asia a nuclear-free zone (‘Nuclear Brinkmanship’, Nik Luqman, Dec. 2022) served as a timely reflection on re-emerging genocidal issues within the Asia-Pacific theatre. I was glad the article gave little credence to the so-called ‘nuclear peace theory’, which maintains that nuclear-armed states are less likely to go to war with each other because a ‘peace’ develops as a consequence of their weaponisation. It is founded on the premise that nuclear weapons are not meant to be used in combat.

However, they have been used. Indeed, upon seeing the catastrophic and indiscriminate damage of the Hiroshima bomb in August 1945 – and undaunted by the deaths of around 125,000 people –  US President Harry S. Truman ordered another attack three days later on the Japanese port of Nagasaki. This proves that a willingness to press the button sits well within the human temperament.

Emergencies arose during the Cold War between America and the USSR. While the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is well known, less familiar is a situation in 1983 when military drills by NATO forces in Europe almost led to nuclear war with the Soviet Union. If there were no nuclear weapons on account of global disarmament – or because it was illegal to produce them – the world would not have faced such threats of annihilation.

Fear is an important aspect to consider here. Even if one accepts that nuclear weapons offer a peace of sorts, there can be little doubt that they provoke extenuating levels of mortal fear. Psychology suggests that when people are fearful, they are reluctant to engage in dialogue. The art of active listening breaks down.

We should also consider the financial burden placed upon the citizens of nuclear armed states. In North Korea, for example, people experience hardship as the government invests in its nuclear programme above all other priorities, keeping the country desperately poor.

 

Dr Colin Alexander

Senior Lecturer in Political Communications, Nottingham Trent University, UK