Abdel Rahman Shalgham
Former Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs

Wheat And Bombs

Entire continents are being reshaped and redrawn, with the groans of their peoples’ pains and their trembling with fear. Shifting global conflicts are being fought in several regions across the globe. Arsenals have diversified and involved a wide variety of belligerents and political leaders, as well as officers of divergent ranks. Napoleon once said "An army marches on its stomach;" what do the people march on, then?!

In the aftermath of the Second World War, in which tens of millions fell, as soldiers or hungry or sick civilians, the United States established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with its European allies. This military alliance joined by many Western European countries had unprecedented capacities. The Soviet Union, the other victor of WWII, emerged as a Communist force antithetical and hostile to the liberal Western countries ideologically, politically, and economically.

It swiftly worked on extending its military power beyond its borders, bringing Eastern Europe into its orbit through the Warsaw Pact.The Second World War, and all the destruction and horror that came with it, created fears of the other.

These fears became the terrifying general commanding the minds of leaders in the East and West. No one considered establishing alliances or blocs around wheat, barley, corn, medicine, or education. Indeed, while the United Nations did establish organizations and agencies for food, health, culture, and education, the sums allocated for these ends were minuscule compared to the budgets of these two military alliances. War came to dominate the minds of world leaders, both in the East and the West.

The leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, shuddered on the day US President Harry Truman issued the order to drop the two nuclear bombs on Japan. Stalin slapped his forehead as it dawned on him that his ally, the man who had taken Roosevelt’s seat, was a new wartime leader with a horrific weapon that was difficult to fathom. Stalin made possessing this terrifying new weapon his priority, and achieved this goal a few years later. As the great powers raced to get their hands on this new weapon, dedicating their brightest minds, as well as laboratories and factories, to build it, millions of people were dying of hunger and disease, and illiteracy remained rampant in the colonies and poor countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

In the early 1950s, a different kind of world war ignited. Although it was dubbed a "Cold War," it heated up on the Korean Peninsula. The allies of yesterday faced off in a conflict that was anything but cold. Partition was the solution. Asia had entered the furnace of this ideological and political struggle. Another conflict was being fought on its soil, fought this time by those who had allies together to defeat Hitler, Mussolini, and the Emperor of Japan. The Vietnam War sketched a new explosive map for the continent. The rivals were not fighting for fields of rice, wheat, barley, or corn. Rather, they were waging an ideological war of fear. Having triumphed over the fascists and Nazis of the Axis, Western capitalism set its sight on global hegemony. Meanwhile, Communist ideology believed that the new human era of advanced industry heralded proletarian dominion by the global working classes. A formidable force with more citizens than any other, Communist China, shifted the balance politically, economically, and most dangerously, militarily. The United States dominated Japan, which had been the major military power in Asia and had pushed the US to join the Allies following its attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor, and lost its top spot. Communist China came to threaten the West’s influence in Asia by allying with its Communist predecessor, the Soviet Union. Vietnam became the grand arena in which the old and new global powers fought it out.

Weapons are the pens writing the scripts of power and redrawing the lines of the world’s ever-changing maps.

As this global conflict raged on, marginalized populations continued to suffer. They were ravaged by poverty, disease, and illiteracy, as the major powers raised their military spending, and used their scientific and industrial capacities to produce new, complex weaponry. The world split into two blocs, but along different lines: one the hand was a wealthy bloc pouring billions of dollars into arms manufacturing, and on the other was a bloc brimming with poverty and hunger. An unspoken formula was born. The rich used their resources for war, producing mountains of weapons every day, while the impoverished dreamt of grains of wheat, rice, and corn.

This tragic state of affairs has become a chronic feature of life on this planet.

Today, the whole world is following the Russian war in Ukraine. We watch the missiles, bombs, casualties, and weapons, and we hear the voices threatening to expand the scope of the conflict. The West is sending military and financial support to Ukraine, and Russia makes statements that aggravate the conflict. However, impoverished populations follow, with anxiety and frustration, the news about Ukrainian and Russian wheat shipments that the hungry in countless countries are awaiting. Nutrition is the decisive weapon in humanity’s battle with life.

The Russian war in Ukraine has impacted the entire world, including wealthy nations. Inflation has hit everyone's pockets, both in the East and West. Wheat has become a silent bomb threatening families’ homes. Russia held a summit with African leaders in which it promised to deliver aid shipments carrying wheat to some African countries. However, the maritime routes are unsafe, arming Russia with pretexts not to. The United States also held a summit with African countries, promising 55 billion dollars in aid and investments in the African continent. However, the volume and speed of US military and financial aid to Ukraine is of a different scale to that promised to African leaders.

The bombs targeting ports from which grains are exported amid the Russian-Ukrainian war have hit the hungry bellies in Africa, which is now plagued by poverty, drought, terrorism, and political instability. This a world war between wheat and bombs.