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Wars Aren’t Won with Peacetime Economies

Since launching his war of aggression in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has described his barbaric project as a confrontation with the entire West. But while Western governments have responded politically and diplomatically, they have yet to do what is needed economically.

NEW YORK – Politically, the G7 and likeminded countries around the world have adopted a war footing to stop Russian aggression. Russian President Vladimir Putin violated the most fundamental principle of international law by launching an unprovoked attack on another member of the United Nations – an institution created explicitly to prevent such aggression. The dangers of appeasement should be obvious. Even a little empathy should make us shudder in horror at the prospect of having to live under Putin’s rule.

It is a peculiar war. While Putin has described his project as a confrontation with the entire West, Ukrainians alone are doing all the fighting and bearing the full brunt of Russian attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure. Meanwhile, Europe and America have provided economic and military assistance, and the rest of the world has been dealing with the war’s fallout, including higher energy and food prices.

But it is a mistake to think that the war can be won with a peacetime economy. No country has ever prevailed in a serious war by leaving markets alone. Markets simply move too slowly for the kind of major structural changes that are required. That’s why the United States has the Defense Production Act, which was enacted in 1950 and invoked recently in the “war” against COVID-19, and again to address a critical shortage of baby formula.