When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, the world was in a very different place. International transportation was slower, and the advent of the modern shipping containers that would become the backbone of global trade was more than a decade away. The only response the world had to oppose Nazi aggression was to join the physical fight.
Two decades later, we experienced the Cuban missile crisis. By this time, trade had increased tremendously, and Japan had been reinvented as an international manufacturing center.
In those days, Cuba was politically isolated due to its communist government. It relied primarily on the Soviet Union and a few friendly nations for most of the goods it needed. Because of this dependence, the U.S. maritime blockade that prevented ships with vital goods from reaching Cuban shores was a significant factor in reaching a fast resolution to the crisis and sparing many lives.
By the time we turned to a new century, much of the world’s production had moved to Asia and other distant lands. China had grown into the dominant force in world manufacturing that it is today. Supply chains had become increasingly complex, with materials and finished goods sourced from around the globe.
Today, we live in an interconnected, interdependent world. I contend that it is this global supply chain interdependency that also makes for a safer world.
We are currently witnessing the international reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Unlike the situation in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, the supply chains of today have become weapons nearly as potent as armed forces. Our interdependent economies, built on our supply chains, are a difference maker. As I write this, the fighting continues, but with a much weaker Russia and a much stronger Ukraine than when the invasion began.
Our fast-responding supply chains have rushed military equipment, medicines, food, and supplies to help the Ukrainian people in the struggle to protect their homeland. Those same supply chains have also delivered supplies needed to care for the millions of displaced civilians who have fled to neighboring countries.
At the same time, denying Russia most of its trade has severely limited that nation’s ability to conduct war, while hampering life at home for everyday Russians. Our weaponized supply chains can impact the world where other diplomacy may fail.While many decry how manufacturing has left our shores—and I agree that much of it should be brought back to reduce leadtimes—those complex, interdependent supply chains that keep our world running may be the best chance for sustaining peace. China and other nations that depend heavily on global trade should take notice not to bite the hands that feed them.