Mackinder Forum Virtual Seminar #58: Robert A. Destro, “Through A Glass Darkly: Reflections on the Geopolitics of Food Insecurity.”

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On Sunday, May 29, 2022, 1:30-3:00 p.m., Professor Robert A. Destro, formerly Assistant Secretary of the US Department of State, addressed the Mackinder Forum Seminar on “Through A Glass Darkly: Reflections on the Geopolitics of Food Insecurity.”

Abstract: The ongoing war over the rich resources of Ukraine underscores a brutal, but under-appreciated, fact: Food is the most important of all commodities. Food is the fuel that drives the production of energy, the management of the money supply, the movement of armies, and the functioning of civil society. When, for reasons of war, natural disaster (including climate change), or political mismanagement, food becomes scarce, all geopolitical bets are off. The paradigm has shifted.

This paper argues that all three of these factors – war, climate change, and political mismanagement – have created a perfect storm for political, business, and economic leaders. It is fair to assume that many are either willfully blind, politically indifferent, or so thoroughly enmeshed in the conventional wisdom that they are either unwilling or unable to respond effectively to the obvious dangers the lie ahead. It will be too late when entire nations begin to go hungry because the supply chains on which they depend to get food from remote farm to local table are collapsing. At that point the understandably furious response will reshape local, national, and geopolitical landscapes in ways that none of us can anticipate.

The signals are in the data, and the data are widely available – if only we can bring ourselves to look. Ukraine and Russia produce over 30% of the world’s grain. Russia and Belarus are the world’s largest producers of fertilizer. Major producers like Brazil, Argentina, Australia, the United States, and Canada are heavily dependent on that fertilizer to maintain the abundant harvests that currently feed the world. Economic sanctions against Russia and Belarus thus have the perverse effort of shutting down the supply of food, energy, and fertilizer at a time when global food supplies are shrinking, either because of crop failures or because local conditions (both climatic and political) make it difficult to get crops into or out of the ground.

Biography: Robert A. Destro is Professor of Law at The Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. He has been a member of the CUA Law faculty since 1982, served as Interim Dean from 1999-2001, and as Director of the University’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies from 2017-2019. His government service includes the United States Commission on Civil Rights (Commissioner, 1983-89); Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (September 2019-January 2021), and Special Representative for Tibetan Issues (2020-21).

As Assistant Secretary, he led the State Department’s worldwide policy and foreign assistance programs on human rights and democracy issues such as free and fair elections, Internet freedom, and the growth of the surveillance state. His work on labor issues focused on State Department and inter-agency efforts to ensure that business supply chains do not include goods or services produced by slave or forced labor. As Special Representative for Tibetan Issues, he was responsible for collaboration and consultation with the Central Tibetan Authority and the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the governments of India, Nepal, and other regional powers in South Asia. Since leaving the State Department, he has served as an advisor to in trade and human rights issues in East Asia, the Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa.

Professor Destro was born and raised in Akron, Ohio. He received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1972 from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and his law degree (J.D.) in 1975 from the University of California, Berkeley. He is an active member of the Bar in Ohio and an inactive member in California.

Readings:

John S. Beddows & Dr. James L. Regens, “Dragons Must Eat: China’s Food Insecurity and Strategic Vulnerability,” Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs, Air University Press, Jan. 19, 2022: https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/JIPA/Display/Article/2903482/dragons-must-eat-chinas-food-insecurity-and-strategic-vulnerability/.

Valentina Zharkova, Editorial, “Modern Grand Solar Minimum will Lead to Terrestrial Cooling,” Temperature, vol. 7:3, 217-222 (2020): https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23328940.2020.1796243.