Gen. Christopher Cavoli, who has been nominated to be the next commander of NATO, told senators at a hearing on Thursday that he might offer military options to allow for grain to be exported. When asked about what he would do, Cavoli said that if he’s confirmed he would “provide the military options required by our civilian leaders.”
“Clearly the way we would approach that would have to be a whole-of-government approach, which may or may not include a military component,” he told lawmakers.
It’s not clear what that would entail, whether it be having U.S. troops directly engage with Russian forces or the military coming up with alternative means to ship grain. Ukraine is one of the world’s top exporters of wheat, sunflower oil, and canola oil.
Cavoli, meanwhile, noted that U.S. sanctions against Russia have contributed to worldwide grain shortages.
“The grain shortages that we’re experiencing from both Russia and Ukrainian production being unable to come out of the countries in large volumes or being sanctioned and not being sold are being felt on the African continent,” he remarked.
About a week ago, an analyst warned the United Nations Security Council that the Russia-Ukraine conflict is adding “fuel to a fire that was long-burning” and said the world only has about 10 weeks’ worth of wheat supplies left.
“I want to start by explicitly saying that the Russia–Ukraine war did not start the food security crisis. It simply added fuel to a fire that was long burning. A crisis we detected tremors from long before the COVID 19 pandemic exposed the fragility of our supply chains,” Gro Intelligence CEO Sara Menker said on May 19, according to a transcript.
Other than the conflict, which started on Feb. 24, droughts and other weather issues around the world have contributed to grain shortages.
“I share this because we believe it’s important for you all to understand that even if the war were to end tomorrow, our food security problem isn’t going away anytime soon without concerted action,” she added.
The Kremlin has said that the United States and Western countries are to blame for grain shortages. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov this week rejected recent accusations that a Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports is to blame.
“We categorically reject these accusations and, on the contrary, accuse Western countries that they have taken a number of illegal actions that led to this,” Peskov told reporters, according to Reuters.
The West, he added, “must cancel those illegal decisions that prevent the chartering of ships, that prevent the export of grain, and so on,” so that supplies be shipped out.
It appears unlikely, however, that the United States would relax any of its sanctions against Russia in the near future. In March, President Joe Biden said that there might be a food shortage triggered by the conflict and sanctions.
“With regard to food shortage … it’s going to be real,” Biden said several months ago. “The price of these sanctions is not just imposed upon Russia, it’s imposed upon an awful lot of countries as well, including European countries and our country as well.”