Today, we face a rather nasty armed conflict in Eastern Europe, upsetting life, commerce, and supply chains worldwide. My hope is that this will not be the beginning of World War III.
It’s not the first time, by any stretch, that such a disaster has plagued us in such a way. Therefore we need to take a look back in history—in particular at a very similar conflict that took place in 1860.
I am focusing through the lens of my native country, Austria because it played a significant role in both world wars. Earlier on, though, Austria greatly alleviated these kinds of conflicts, through trade, including the conflict we’re discussing in this article.
Looking back on history, the world was very different when this incident took place, so let us first describe that.
This conflict occurred in Syria and Lebanon, where the Ottoman Empire ruled at the time. This empire controlled considerable portions of southeast Europe, western Asia and northern Africa, between the 14th and the early 20th centuries.
Austria, at this time, was part of the Austrian Empire, which ruled over Austria, Hungary and other Eastern European states. It consisted of multiple different cultures, including the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Romanians, the Serbs and the Hungarians. In 1867, shortly after the Lebanon conflict we’re detailing in this article, the Austrian Empire became the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which remained until the end of World War I in 1918.
The Emperor of the Austrian Empire was Franz Joseph I. I had firsthand knowledge of this emperor because both my grandfathers, on my mother’s and father’s sides, sat at his table, and my grandfather on my mother’s side told me many stories of this time. This particular emperor sought in many ways to maintain peace—for example, he supported Hungary in becoming an independent nation rather than fighting a war with them. Even though Austria was partially responsible for beginning World War I, for hundreds of years the Austrian Empire was expanded not through conquest and plunder, as was the Ottoman Empire and others, but through peaceful trade agreements.
Mount Lebanon and Damascus Civil Conflict
Trade can cause conflict as well as end it, and to start with, it was a cause. Occurring in the climate already created by mounting tensions, in July of 1860, a relatively minor conflict between merchants in Damascus spread into the whole of Syria, becoming a sheer genocide. Within a week of this outbreak, thousands of Muslims entered the Christian quarter in Damascus and killed thousands of Arab Christians. 300 villages, 500 churches, 40 monasteries, and 30 schools were destroyed, and over 100,000 people fled and became refugees.
These kinds of things don’t “just happen,” of course. The setting for this conflict had been slowly simmering since 1845 through more minor skirmishes between various ethnic groups in the region. It all began with an edict many years earlier from the Ottoman Empire (which ruled the region at the time), allowing Christians to create their own schools. The Arabian language could not keep up with the advancing science and technology at the time, so the schools began teaching in English and French. Even though they were the minority, the Christians were better educated, occupied superior positions in business and government, and were more affluent. Envious of the Christian advancement, the Arabs became enraged, and conflicts began which continue to the present day.
Within a month of this conflict, Austria became part of an international effort—in partnership with four other nations—to quell the uprising, and peace was eventually restored.
Reports of the suffering in Lebanon were spread throughout the world by the media. This resulted in the very first act of international charity, in which Austria was a participant. Donations were collected throughout Europe and the U.S., and handed over to Lebanon by consuls of the countries from which the donations had come. In drawing a parallel to today’s unrest, the charity provided was not of weapons and ammunition, as with the contributions to Ukraine.
But the efforts of Emperor Franz Joseph I certainly did not end there. He became the first European sovereign in six centuries since the Crusades to visit Jerusalem, which he did in 1869 while in the area to attend the opening of the Suez Canal. To keep peace in the region—and also to solve a major problem caused by the American Civil War which closed off all cotton importation from the Southern U.S.—Franz Josef created an enormous trade agreement for the importation of cotton from Egypt. This move eventually resulted in importing 6,000 tons of cotton, placing Vienna at the forefront of European fashion creation. In addition, Vienna was blooming at this time, one of the largest cities in Europe and the epicenter of culture.
Unfortunately, France and England became jealous of Vienna’s position and began interfering with Austria’s efforts. They began to look at the Balkan countries with an eye to exploiting them, and the “Triple Entente’‘ was formed between France, Great Britain and Russia. At the beginning of World War I, the Triple Entente allied itself against what was known as the Central Powers: Turkey, Germany and Austro-Hungary. We can see, again, that disagreement over trade was at the root of what became a horrendous global conflict.
I’m not particularly eager to call myself a prophet, but the Triple Entente is very similar to the current alliance between China, Russia and India. I very much hope we’re not headed for another devastating global conflict.
Ignorance Leads to Disaster
Besides the particulars of the Lebanon-Damascus conflict itself, another parallel can be drawn to today’s unrest. One can trace cultural and religious unrest back several decades before the Mt. Lebanon and Damascus conflict erupted into genocide—but nobody was paying attention as tensions slowly grew. It wasn’t until they exploded that responsible government parties noticed and intervened.
We have a similar situation today with the Russo-Ukraine conflict. There were tensions and friction in Donbas for nine years before they escalated into all-out war. Despite the fact there were similar factors in the previous conflict we’re discussing here, once again, leaders and those responsible ignored the situation until it erupted. And once more, we have tens of thousands dying.
Protectionism Versus Free Trade
The war ended in 1918, but unfortunately, we did not learn our lessons from it as regards trade. With us today is what is called protectionism, which is the practice of shielding the domestic interests of a country from foreign competition by taxing imports. This practice continues to create conflict, which can eventually escalate into further war, as we’ve seen.
Free trade would solve such issues—and as the Austrian School of Economics tells us, parties or nations engaged in trade will not be in conflict.
We Are Interconnected
Many schools of thought tell us that we’re all interconnected. If this is true (and I believe it is), how can we demonize another nation? We are connected with them—they are part of us—and so, in fact, we are demonizing ourselves.
Recently I was in New York attending a business dinner. I began conversing with several people around the table, and two young women seemed to get perturbed when I spoke about my CRM and its relationship with trade and peace. When I asked why they were upset, one said, “We are from Ukraine.” I replied that this was fantastic, and she said, “You must be a Putin-lover.” I asked why, restating that I was just for peace—I’m not a “Putin lover.” She said, “The only good Russian is a dead Russian.”
I got very serious. I said, “You are not even 35 years old, and you are demonizing a whole nation.”
As we can see, trade has causation in either the prevention or the escalation of armed conflict. It can be weaponized either way. But it is only when trade is in the wrong hands that it leads to war.
Can we not now begin to see the errors of our ways and once again use trade to return our world to a peaceful one? We all live together on this tiny planet, Earth. There is a current best-selling book called MegaThreats: Ten Dangerous Trends That Emperil Our Future by Nouriel Ruobini. Each and every one of the threats laid out in this book—such as climate change, aging, migration, AI, and others—can only be solved by all of us in cooperation.
My product, Pipeliner CRM, is totally dedicated to survival in a peaceful world. We learn from the founders of the Austrian School of Economics that war, in the end, does not produce wealth. Nations do not prosper when they are burned to the ground. As an example Switzerland, which has always remained neutral, has quietly and steadily prospered throughout the years while its neighbors lost many entire fortunes through conflict.
As businesspeople we are, in a way, fighting “wars,” too. But our weapons are not artillery—they are ideas. We wear no uniforms, we carry no flags. We simply exist to conduct peaceful trade with others. As intense as that might become at times, it never involves loss of life or wanton destruction of homes, property and cities.
Trade and war do not coexist well; one country cannot conduct trade with another country with which they are embattled. If we focus on trade— especially with the advent of today’s global internet commerce—we could very well see an ultimate end to armed conflict. For in the long run trade is far more profitable and sustainable than combat.
Until we reach that goal, a military is still a necessity, for as we are conducting business and commerce we need to protect the infrastructure in which it occurs. As we know all too well, there are still threats from various quarters that will have to be neutralized and the protection of the free trade we so value—as for example the U.S. Navy is providing today—is still quite vital.
This brings a whole other level to your role as sales manager, doesn’t it? To the degree that you are successful, so goes your sales force. As goes your sales force, there goes your company. The more companies that are successful in trade and commerce, the better our chances for survival in a peaceful world.
It is to this goal that Pipeliner is dedicated, It is being provided to you as a “weapon” of trade, of commerce, of peace.