I recently came across three news stories that are worth thinking about. The first story discussed the US government’s role in encouraging gun exports, which often lead to violence in developing countries. Here’s Bloomberg:

Last October, a recently fired police officer walked into his stepson’s nursery school in the remote northeast of Thailand and, in under 30 minutes, killed 23 children and two teachers. Panya Kamrab hacked some of his victims to death with a sugar-cane machete and shot others point blank with a pistol, including three local government employees eating lunch outside the school. The rampage, which left a total of 36 dead, ranks as the worst in Thai history and one of the worst in the world.

The killer’s gun, a Sig Sauer P365 — touted by the company as small enough to easily conceal yet able to hold 13 rounds — had traveled more than 8,000 miles from a factory on New Hampshire’s rocky seacoast to Thailand’s lush Nong Bua Lamphu province. It was part of a growing number of semiautomatic handguns and rifles exported by American gunmakers and linked to violent crimes. . . . The federal government has helped push international sales of rapid-fire guns to record levels.

Is the US government responsible for the deaths caused by the gun exports that it encourages?  Or does the blame lie with those who used the guns?

Here’s Politico:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken ended three days of meetings in China on Friday with a stark warning to China’s leadership — stop exporting materials that allow Russia to rebuild its industrial base or face U.S. sanctions.

Chinese state-owned firms are providing key components for Russia’s defense industrial base, including microelectronics and machine tools that have “a material effect against Ukraine” and constitute “a growing threat that Russia poses to countries in Europe,” Blinken told reporters in a press briefing in Beijing on Friday.

Is the Chinese government responsible for the way that Russia uses its machine tools and microelectronics?

To be clear, there’s a good argument for China cutting off exports of key materials to Russia.  But it’s also important to recognize that countries often put their own economic interests ahead of those of small countries half way around the world.  A third story explores just such a case, involving a split between the US government and Ukraine on the question of drone strikes on Russia:

The US has urged Ukraine to halt attacks on Russia’s energy infrastructure, warning that the drone strikes risk driving up global oil prices and provoking retaliation, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

The repeated warnings from Washington were delivered to senior officials at Ukraine’s state security service, the SBU, and its military intelligence directorate, known as the GUR, the people told the Financial Times. . . .

One person said that the White House had grown increasingly frustrated by brazen Ukrainian drone attacks that have struck oil refineries, terminals, depots and storage facilities across western Russia, hurting its oil production capacity.

Russia remains one of the world’s most important energy exporters despite western sanctions on its oil and gas sector. Oil prices have risen about 15 per cent this year, to $85 a barrel, pushing up fuel costs just as US President Joe Biden begins his campaign for re-election.

In both the US and Chinese cases, there is a conflict between foreign policy interests and domestic economic interests.  China’s economy benefits from exporting manufactured goods to China, and the US economy benefits from lower global oil prices.  On the other hand, a Chinese export embargo would help Ukraine by weakening the Russian defense capability, and drone strikes on Russia’s oil sector deny Russia funds that help finance its war machine.  How should these dilemma’s be resolved?

As far as I can tell, the US prefers that China is the one to sacrifice in support Ukraine.  Indeed the US government feels so strongly about this issue that it threatens sanctions against China if the Chinese government doesn’t adopt sanctions against Russia.  (Interestingly, India’s exports of manufactured goods to Russia have recently doubled in value, but the US is not threatening economic sanctions on India.)

On the other hand, when it comes to drone strikes the US government seems much less willing to sacrifice.  Even though drones are an increasingly effective weapon, we ask the Ukrainians to sacrifice by not using this weapon against Russian oil refineries.  High oil prices might inconvenience our consumers.

To be clear, I am not arguing that there are any easy answers to these questions.  Instead, I am asking people to consider how these questions would be viewed if the roles were reversed.  What if Chinese exported guns were causing mayhem and murder throughout much of the developing world?  How would we feel about that?  How would a Chinese person feel if the US government sanctioned China over machine exports to Russia?  How would Americans feel if the EU sanctioned the US because they believed our cheap energy policy was leading to global warming?

Everyone feels passionately about certain issues.  (I passionately support Ukraine’s defense of its homeland.)  But people in different countries often feel passionately about different issues.  I’m not sure its reasonable to expect a uniformity of views, and I’m not sure it’s wise to sanction everyone who differs from our perspective—especially if we exempt countries from sanctions solely because they are our “friends”.

PS.  A recent story in Foreign Affairs suggests that the Ukrainian drone strikes on Russia do not increase the global price of oil, which further weakens the US government position on this issue.