The new US director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, last week proclaimed that instability caused by the global economic crisis had outstripped terrorism to become the country’s biggest security threat.
But for finance ministers from the G7 rich countries, who gathered in Rome on Friday of last week, there is a rival problem – protectionism.
They worry that measures taken by states to shield their economies from the global crisis will have the effect of putting up trade barriers and encourage a climate of state support for ailing industries.
President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package unveiled last week includes a provision that insists US infrastructure projects use iron, steel and other goods made in the US.
The US is not alone. France, Italy and Spain have all recently pushed through aid to “their” car making multinationals, while insisting that jobs remain in the home countries.
World leaders are crying foul at measures they see as protectionist when applied by others – while busily bringing forward similar measures at home.
The double-speak at the Rome summit reflects a growing sense of panic among the ruling class that the measures they have introduced to stave off the crisis have so far failed.
Germany now expects a 9 percent contraction in its economy over the coming year, with car production being hit especially hard.
European Union officials are now warning that vehicle manufacturing across member states will have to be cut by a quarter in order to recover profitability.
The dilemma facing the leaders of each state is whether to join a “subsidy race” in a bid to keep car firms producing in their countries, or whether to allow factories to close and risk a social explosion.
Over recent months the car industry in Britain has proved especially vulnerable to closure threats.
It is unlikely that the government here will be prepared to bail them out as the vast majority of car firms in Britain are owned by multinationals based overseas.
This week BMW joined the long list of those that have slashed production by sacking 850 workers at its Cowley plant in Oxford.
Along with the subsidy race, manufacturing firms are also hoping to introduce another race, to the bottom – for wages and conditions.
Instead of accepting job losses, our unions should fight every closure and redundancy.
In this battle workers in Britain could link up with workers across Europe, seeing them not as enemies and competitors, but as friends and allies.