Crimea crisis could trigger new global conflicts

Published: 20 March 2014 at 11:54

Anglia Ruskin experts study implications of rising food prices following Ukraine unrest

The current crisis in Crimea could trigger further unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, according to researchers at Anglia Ruskin University.

As part of its Global Resource Observatory project, Anglia Ruskin’s Global Sustainability Institute is investigating how fluctuations in the price of food can lead to global conflict.

Ukraine plays a vital role in global food supplies and was expected to become the world’s third largest exporter of grain in 2014.  However, political fallout following the vote in Crimea and the increased tension between Russia and the West has raised questions of Ukraine’s ability to guarantee a reliable supply of wheat and corn.

So far the volume of Ukraine’s exports has not been affected by the instability, yet the mere threat of disruption has impacted the market.  Global wheat prices have increased by 13 per cent since the beginning of March.

The price of wheat commodity futures (contracts that will be delivered in the future) traded on the Chicago Board of Trade increased again yesterday, and experts at the Global Sustainability Institute believe that the exposure of the Middle East and North Africa to spikes in food prices mean the consequences of the events in Crimea could cascade globally.

A variety of factors, such as political regime and social tensions, will influence if a country falls into unrest.  However, a trigger event such as food shortages, coupled with costly imports, often precipitates conflict.  

Surges in global food prices in 2008 and 2011 have been recognised as a factor in the unrest across North Africa and the Middle East.  As prices spiked, violence erupted in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Libya, Tunisia and Bahrain.

More than three years on from the start of the Arab Spring, the region remains vulnerable to the global price of food.  In addition to the Ukraine situation, extreme climatic events such as the cold weather experienced in North America this winter and droughts across Brazil could also have a major role to play.

Dr Aled Jones, Director of Anglia Ruskin’s Global Sustainability Institute, said:

“The threat for the coming year is that, should global crop production be impacted by severe weather, as we have seen increasingly in recent years, the impact of the crisis in Ukraine could result in a major supply demand imbalance in global food trade.
“This would trigger major volatility in the price of food.  If this happened, already fragile countries could further destabilise.”

The Global Resource Observatory project has produced a series of maps to show resource risk across the world, and these will be published in a special report next month.  The project is now developing a model to explore the likely global dynamics that will influence resource risk trends over the next five years.