Weaponizing The Financial System: Watching For Blowback

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a news conference in Moscow, Russia, December 23, 2021. (Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Pool via Reuters )

I’ve written a bit before about how weaponizing both the dollar and, effectively, the international financial system against Russia, risks, over time, undercutting a vital U.S. strategic advantage.

I also noted this from Thomas Meaney, writing in the New York Times:

Of the 10 most-populous countries in the world, only one — the United States — supports major economic sanctions against Russia. Indonesia, Nigeria, India and Brazil have all condemned the Russian invasion, but they do not seem prepared to follow the West in its preferred countermeasures.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Walter Russell Mead:

While enthusiastic Western liberals hail the imposition of sanctions on Russia, the increased willingness of the Western powers to weaponize the global economic system horrifies leaders in many countries who think the West is too powerful already. Many Brazilians have long feared that Western environmentalists intend to block the development of the Amazon basin. They worry that climate activists might force the Federal Reserve and other Western banks to “save the planet” by imposing sanctions on Brazil. Policy makers in India and elsewhere share many of these fears as they see environmental campaigners using global economic institutions to impose their agenda on countries with different priorities.

That’s an interesting twist which had not occurred to me. While the main contribution that climate fundamentalists have made to helping Putin has rested on the advantage that they have handed him in Europe over energy supplies, this, it seems, might be something else. Then again, it’s hard to miss the way that climate millenarianism does seem to come with a strong strain of anti-Westernism too, with, perhaps, some exceptions where the Amazon is concerned, so perhaps some of the fear in countries such as India is overdone.


Mr. Putin’s claim that an overpowerful West seeks to use its economic and institutional leverage to impose a radical worldview on the rest of the planet strikes Western liberals as self-serving propaganda, but his arguments resonate more widely than most liberals understand. The Trump administration’s unilateral imposition of tough sanctions against Iran heightened international awareness of how much power the global economic system gives the U.S. But woke Democrats using economic sanctions to impose their views on climate, gender and other issues are even less welcome in many countries than Trumpian populists.

To those who share this perspective, an unpredictable America at the helm of the liberal West is a greater threat to the independence of many postcolonial states than Russian or even Chinese ambition could ever be. Chinese propaganda about the need for alternative economic arrangements that limit Western power are significantly more influential now than they were a month ago.

None of this means that the West is wrong to oppose Mr. Putin’s war (or, for that matter, to concern itself with climate change and the rights of sexual minorities). But the job of protecting world peace is harder and more complicated than many newly enthusiastic neo-cold-warriors have yet understood. What used to be called the Global South does not always share the priorities and perspectives of Yale Law School. . . .

Well no.