Whistling past the graveyard

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Back in college (which is now a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – pun intended) I majored in history – specifically U.S. Civil War history – and perhaps one of the best lessons I gleaned from studying the past is just how fast things can change in world affairs; usually for the worse, with all sorts of unexpected and dire ripple effects following on.

And it’s this lesson that’s now in play following Russia’s formal annexation of Crimea this week; a part of the world that barely a month ago belonged to the Ukraine, a nation that’s already worried that Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin may yet have more designs on its territory.

By now, most folks in our industry would be right in asking what any of this has to do with trucking. Directly, of course, not much; yet in the larger economic scope of U.S.-Russia-European trade dealings, there may be consequences.

Let’s face it: all of the world’s nations are now deeply entwined by trade, especially where energy is concerned. Now, the U.S. is finally getting into a good spot where energy self-sufficiency is concerned, but that’s not the case for Europe, which relies heavily on Russian natural gas.

Right now, positive signals abound for freight growth in the U.S., but what happens to such growth if a shooting war suddenly breaks out between Russia and the Ukraine? Or how about Russia and Estonia? That’s got far wider ramifications as Estonia – along with the other Baltic nations – is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), meaning the U.S. and other NATO members are treaty-bound to render military support in case of attack.

You can bet if armed conflict breaks out in Europe, the economic blowback could be potentially huge – with any and all freight volume forecasts fed right into the shredder.

Of course, we live daily with the threat that any number of conflagrations could up-end the global economy, with the ongoing Syrian civil war being perhaps the most worrisome.

With Syrian rebels losing a key city this week to the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, that conflict’s days could be numbered. But then what? A spillover of war into neighboring Lebanon? Al-Assad is also a key ally of the Iranians; would his victory open the door to perhaps joint Syrian-Iranian operations against Iraq, which sits between the two of them?

Yet Syria is a minor player in world trade and global logistics. Could you imagine what might happen to global logistics networks if a similar-styled war broke out between Russia and any number of European nations?

An interesting video from last year aimed at residents of the United Kingdom posed such a question, albeit without the threat of war as the impetus for shutting down the great global logistics conduit:

From a global economic and logistical point of view, then the now-militant Russian bear potentially poses a big threat. And despite all the polls, surveys, and economic-data taking that indicates a rebound of sorts is in the making for the U.S. it could all very well shift into reverse gear depending on what the Russians do next.

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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