Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Hit Them Where It Hurts: Financial Warfare

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 14, 2013


Juan Zarate spoke at UCLA today, telling us that the post 9/11 world involves financial warfare, meaning economic sanctions determines government power, and as such, the United States has the ability to hurt countries at the heart of their financial power base. Once again I am struck by the simple notion that if you know what matters to a person, a system, or a country, then you know how to control them. This is “theory of mind” at a global level. What I learned though, is that the United States has more power because they control major banking institutions and in our post 9/11 world, the banks are responsible for making sure that the money is not allocated to terrorist groups. This issue has always intrigued me, as banks are private institutions, in the business of exchanging money, and not, or so I thought, in the business of being the world’s moral compass. I am still a bit confused by that issue. Still, the basics of human behavior apply. If you strangle a country financially, you have their attention and changes can ensue. I wondered about alternative currencies, such as Bitcoins, as to whether this will be a game of cat and mouse, but unfortunately, I did not have a chance to ask my question. For every action, there is a reaction, and as such, I do not think it is as simple as strangling a country and then they comply with our demands. Yet, he did say that Iran is paying attention to our economic sanctions, and this, from his point of view, is very hopeful. I am no economist, nor am I political scientist, but as a psychiatrist, I find it interesting that worldwide warfare does not seem different than domestic, I mean marriage, warfare. In times of trouble, each side tries to get power, by hitting the other where it hurts the most. Duh. 

4 Responses to “Hit Them Where It Hurts: Financial Warfare”

  1. Ashana M said

    And yet we’ve been sanctioning Cuba for decades without any particular change in their behavior, and I think he overestimates how much Iran is paying attention (not much). Frankly, I think this is nothing more than wishful thinking. There are other, more intense motivators for human behavior than finances–and these we can’t control.

    • Yes, I was thinking about Cuba as he was speaking. As I mentioned, I was also thinking about work-arounds, like Bitcoins. I do not think it is wishful thinking, but I do think this is a strategy game on a new level. Thanks.

  2. Shelly said

    The best players are those who understand how others work. It wasn’t for nothing that John Nash won a Nobel Prize for Game Theory! I read today that the economic sanctions against Iran was costing them something like 40 billion dollars. That certainly is convincing enough to make them lay down their nuclear weapons!! Now, if we could only do the same with Hamas, Al Queida and Hizbullah, peace might have a chance.

    • Yes! I think the problem with the groups you mentioned is that they are getting financial resources and as such, they can stay in the game. The United States controls a lot of global resources, but not all of them, and as such, there is a “game” to be played. Thanks.

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