Considering the Use of Economic Pressures In Lieu of a Central World-State Authority to Maintain Peace

Objections can be raised that even absent a world-state to manage events, warfare could be averted through use of other means.  Primary among these other means are economic pressures, such as boycotts, tariffs, embargoes and blockades.  These tools in fact have been wielded frequently over the last 100 years, and have been most effective, although not completely effective in achieving their stated goals, when a large and important bloc of countries work together to try to enforce the economic pressures.

The history of these measures shows that to the extent the actually are effective, they can drive the target nation to desperation and lead to the very type of military action that was to be avoided through use of these non-lethal mechanisms.  In fact, they have been used to precipitate actual warfare!  A case in point is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, which was precipitated by the desire of the American government to have an “incident” to allow America to come into the war openly on the side of Great Britain.  The American government systematically embargoed steel, oil and other essential industrial raw materials and continued to tighten the economic screws on Japan during the summer and fall of 1941, in coordination with the British and the Dutch, and refused to heed requests for negotiation from the Japanese, in order to force the Japanese into the position of having to fight a war to not be totally brought to its knees by the force of the embargoes under which they were being pressured.  In this case, economic warfare preceded the start of open hostilities between Japan and the USA.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  The state of covert war will still continue; it may even take new and disastrous forms.  Deprived of other weapons the nations are bound to have increasing resort to the weapon of commercial pressure, as did Capital and Labour in their chronic state of “pacific” struggle with the limits of the national life.  The instruments would be different, but would follow the same principle, that of the strike and the lock-out which are on one side a combined passive resistance by the weaker party to enforce its claims, on the other a passive pressure by the stronger party to enforce its wishes.  Between nations, the corresponding weapon to the strike would be a commercial boycott, already used more than once in an unorganised fashion both in Asia and Europe and bound to be extremely effective and telling if organised even by a politically or commercial weak nation.  For the weaker nation is necessary to the stronger, if as nothing else, yet as a market or as a commercial and industrial victim.  The corresponding weapons to the lock-out would be the refusal of capital or machinery, the prohibition of all or of any needed imports into the offending or victim country, or even a naval blockade leading, if long maintained, to industrial ruin or to national starvation.”

The boycott was actually wielded effectively against the British Empire under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi in the attempt to achieve independence for India from its colony status under the British.  Embargoes have been used in the modern day against nations such as North Korea or Iran.  Prohibitive Tariffs were adopted in the 1930’s and led to a global freeze of commerce which deepened the Great Depression and eventually helped bring about conditions for another global conflagration.  Economic weapons are powerful, but eventually can lead to military hostilities.  They do not provide therefore a solution to the use of arms, but may actually bring about the use of arms.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 25, War and the Need of Economic Unity, pp. 220-221


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