BELLE MEAD, New Jersey — The poor are often the victims of geopolitical boxing among the world’s most powerful states. It is rare for the impoverished to see long-term benefits from any types of conflicts. Currently, the United States, Russia and China are some of the most powerful world actors, and tensions are rising. Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, China’s indifference to suffering in North Korea and the United States’ unwieldy foreign policy are all in some way politically motivated and have caused massive problems for the poor in different parts of the world. Indeed, there are even more potentially harmful situations brewing in the South China Sea and the continued militarization in Russia.
Russia’s recent attacks in Ukraine have been unfortunate for the impoverished in the country. Ukraine’s economic situation even before the crisis was less than ideal. Corruption was rampant and the national debt was close to 100% of GDP.
Since the Russian interventions into Ukraine’s domestic problems, the economy has suffered even further losses. In 2014, the country’s GDP took a 10% hit and the value of the currency (hryvnia) against the dollar lost about 50%. To top it all off, inflation reached 19%. The poor suffer from these economic repercussions – not to mention the societal instability in which they were caught in the middle. It would be difficult to make any case saying that the poor had any piece of the fault in the situation that they now inhabit. Russia’s attempts to control the situation in Ukraine for its own benefit is a signal to western powers like the United States that Russia is attempting to make changes in its place in the world. The geopolitical jostling among powerful states has only done harm to those with little economic or political capital – the poor.
China’s relationship to North Korea is that of a big and little brother. Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, has remained in power while presiding over a population that endured a horrific famine in the 1990s and still suffers from food shortages. Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un spent upwards of $400 million on luxury goods in 2012. The most that has been done about this situation has been occasional humanitarian food aid through the United Nations and the United States. Although North Korean leadership is clearly unfit for its duties and also poses a threat to the entire region (with some nuclear capabilities), nothing substantial can be done. If the United States attempted to oust the regime in North Korea, or in any way interfere with the governance of North Korea, relations with China could quickly dissolve into a bad state. And yet, even as China protects North Korea and keeps it under its wings, it may not be accurate to say it looks out for the people of North Korea. Because of China’s loyalty to Kim Jong-un, millions of North Koreans suffer. Caught in between powers much larger than themselves, those who suffered in the 1990s famines and those who still suffer from poor living conditions, will not likely see a change in living standards anytime soon.
This trend of the innocent and impoverished being the victims of political games continues when examining even some United States foreign policies. The United States has placed economic sanctions on Russia in an effort to damage Russia’s resolve. This has cost Russia its economic strength. Growth is slow, if existent, investments are leaving the country, and trade has contracted due to the sanctions. These measures are likely to effect the poorest the most and leave even more people in a worse place than they otherwise would have been.
Last year Russia and China announced a major gas deal and soon afterwards made a move that was meant to damage the U.S. dollar’s status as the reserve currency for countries around the globe. Both these moves show a strengthening political relationship between the two countries which will likely continue into the future. Recently, the United States is seeing growing tensions in Asian waters as China begins to build man-made islands for military purposes. Russian researchers are also finding that Russia is expanding its military budget discretely through budgetary measures that are not specifically funneled to items or projects but are simply “authorized.” These signs seem to point more towards violence, tension and economic warfare than they do toward peace.
Rival global powers clashing for influence is not good for the poor. The economic hardships meant to destroy the abilities for countries to fight back end up hurting the poor, and violence and instability work by similar means. Ukraine and North Korea serve as examples to show who really loses when giants play games.
– Martin Yim