Sir Tony Brenton to Speak at University of Liverpool

16 03 2015

University of Liverpool Management School, International Business Speaker Series

Sir Tony Brenton

Tony Brenton

“Russia and the West: Doomed to Divergence?”

19 March 2015, 4pm Central Teaching Hub-LTD, University of Liverpool

Sir Tony Brenton is the former UK ambassador to Russia (2004-2008). He is also a director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, a Fellow of Wolfson College Cambridge and an advisor to Lloyd’s Insurance.

He worked for 30 years for the Foreign Office. His diplomatic career took him to the Middle East, the 1992 Earth Summit, and several periods in Russia. In addition to being involved in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, he was posted in 2001 to Washington dealing with the consequences of 9/11, the Afghanistan war and the Iraq war. In 2004, he was posted to Moscow as Ambassador. He was awarded a KCMG in 2007.

Contact: Dr Andrew Smith,

A Bad News Day

8 08 2014

I gotta stop reading news items during my lunch. In addition to the depressing news that at least five different religious groups are being slaughtered by their fellow theists in the Middle East (see video), there is the knowledge that the military-industrial complex of a liberal democracy is about to transfer a new warship over to Russia. The Russian crew are parading through the streets of the French port city where the ships has been built. They will sail the vessel back to Russia later this month.  Note how the Russian crews are not allowed to communicate with the local population when they go ashore to stretch their legs.


The shipyard that is building this weapon for Putin is owned by a company in which a third of the shares belong to the French government. This fact illustrates the dangers is state ownership. The French government agreed to the imposition of sanctions on Russia that cost privately-owned firms some sales, but when it has a bit more skin in the game, it’s business as usual. Nice one.

Ok. Here is some info about one of the religious groups in the Middle East that is currently slated for extermination by Islamists.  The sin of this group, which follows a religion that is a variant of Zoroastrianism, is that they worship some sort of peacock angle rather than Allah. At the same time, of course, we have seen the following examples of the positive role of religion in the life of the Middle East: Sunnis killing Shias; Shias killing Sunnis; Muslims killed Jews; Jews killing Muslims; Muslims killing Christians. I can see why the reflex of undergraduates is to say “religion is the root of all evil.”





Doug Saunders on Trade, Peace, and the Crimea

16 03 2014

Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail appears to be channelling Norman Angell. Saunders has just published an article in which he assures us that the diplomatic standoff between the West and Russia over Crimea will not escalate into a serious military confrontation because the economies of Russia and the EU are so interdependent nowadays.

As loyal readers of this blog will know, Norman Angell argued in 1909 that a general European war would be virtually impossible because the economies of the Great Powers were so interconnected. He reasoned that since Germany and the UK were each other’s best trading partners, war between them would be economic suicide. After reviewing the aggregate trade data, Angell concluded that since the Great Powers were led by rational individuals who cared about the economic wellbeing of their subjects, they would refrain from fighting wars with each other.

In his discussion of the Crimea, Saunders writes:

..this is nothing like a Cold War.

The USSR was a closed economy: At its 1985 peak, foreign exports and imports accounted for just 4 per cent of the Soviet economy, almost all of it with satellite states and de facto colonies. This attempt at state-run self-sufficiency failed, and led to the out-of-control foreign borrowing that contributed to the collapse of communism. But it meant that Moscow’s pre-1991 leaders saw the non-communist world only as an ideological rival and a territorial threat.

Mr. Putin may see the outside world this way, but he also has to see it as something much larger: a client and a partner, and the sole source of his regime’s sustenance.

 This is not the dark days of the 20th century, and countries such as Ukraine have no reason to be caught in a zero-sum game between powers. This crisis can be resolved, using economic and diplomatic persuasion, if we can all stop living in the past.

I’m inclined to believe in the theory of the commercial peace. (In fact, this theory informs my historical research in Canadian-American peace in the 1860s and HSBC’s relationship with German companies during the First World War). I’m also inclined to think that the dispute over Crimea will be solved with minimal bloodshed. However, I think that Saunders’s reassurance that Russia won’t fight the West because it has McDonald’s nowadays would be more convincing if he demonstrated that the similar arguments were used in the past and were then falsified by the course of events.

Norman Angell’s theory lacked predictive accuracy because he overlooked the fact that peace-or-war decisions in early twentieth century Europe were in the hands of privileged individuals, generally landed aristocrats and monarchs, who didn’t have to worry too much about grocery bills. I have no doubt that the leaders of the Western democracies care about the economic wellbeing of their citizens, since they are all seeking re-election. Their concern with preserving affluence doubtless makes them more reluctant to escalate the situation. Whether or not Putin really cares that much about the living standards of his people is a very different matter forever. A dictator like Putin may well decide to sacrifice the economic welfare of his population.

I read in the Weekend version of the Financial Times that Russian companies are pulling billions out of Western banks in anticipation of sanctions. What the impact of these withdrawals on the banks remains to be seen.

Data released by the New York Federal Reserve suggests that the Russian government also appears to be selling much of the $138.6 billion in US government debt it held just a few weeks ago. In the week ended 12 March, an astonishing $104.5 billion of Treasurys were dumped.