Against the Grain
Food Supply Disruption Emerges As A Tool As Geo-Economic Tensions Intensify
With climate change placing growing strain on the global food system, and with international tensions already heightened, the risk of geopolitically motivated food-supply disruptions increases. Worsening trade wars might spill over into high-stakes threats to disrupt food or agricultural supplies. Conflict affecting supply-chain chokepoints could lead to disruption of domestic and cross-border flows of food. At the extreme, state or non-state actors could target the crops of an adversary state, for example with a clandestine biological attack.
In these circumstances, retaliatory dynamics could swiftly take hold. Domestically, rationing might be needed. Hoarding and theft could undermine the social order. Widespread famine risk in recent years suggests that greater hunger and more deaths—in least-developed countries, at any rate—might not trigger a major international reaction. If similar suffering were inflicted on more powerful countries, the responses would be swift and severe.
More resilient trade and humanitarian networks would help to limit the impact of food supply disruption. But if trade wars were a contributing factor, then countries might seek greater self-sufficiency in food production and agriculture. In some advanced economies, this might require rebuilding skills that have been allowed to fade in recent decades. Agricultural diversification and the development of more-resilient crop variants could bolster national security by reducing countries’ vulnerability.