Geopolitics of a pandemic: Decoding Politics of Corona

16 March 2020 12:51 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}



  • (CEPI) appeals to raise US$ 2 bn to develop a vaccine to fight covid 19
  • Norway, UK, USA and Germany contributed US$180 mn for the purpose


The massive spread of Covid 19, has exposed a fatal flaw in the global security architecture. From Wuhan to Los Angeles, the virus has exposed the vulnerabilities of so-called global success stories of controlled political eco systems of China to the democratic architecture of the United States. Irrespective of the political system the virus is exposing the lack of strategic foresight when it comes to threats emerging from nontraditional security challenges. 
At the time of writing this analysis, Bloomberg is reporting a massive destruction of investor wealth, the current sell off in market capitalisation is worth US$17 trillion, which is at a five-fold increase in the rate of speed compared to the 2007 financial crisis. Thus, whilst the virus itself now identified as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), though not high in its severity is disrupting and destabilising the global economic at an unprecedented velocity. 
The world is witnessing the ultimate shock and awe of mother nature’s advanced weapon systems unleashed. A full blown pandemic, may not have the potency of the black plague in the 14th century that accounted for nearly 200 million fatalities across Eurasia, yet has the capability to spread at unprecedent rates with daily increases of infections by five-fold is a serious global security crisis. The world after this event will change profoundly and the many political and economic consequences yet to be seen.

Global Response 

The world is encountering this trans border threat at a critical moment when societies, states and national leaders have lost faith in the idea of global governance and to a certain degree to support and foster strong international institutions. 
Wuhan may have been the epicentre for China, yet Italy is becoming the global epicentre and infection rates in Europe are rapidly increasing, Sri Lanka is a victim of the European outbreak and not the Chinese one. 
Whilst China may soon declare that its battle with Covid 19 is over, the global war against Covid 19 is just beginning, with no real global alliance or a global political will to lead the counterattack. From Trump administrations denials, contradictory statements and lack of preparedness to Italy’s disappointment with EU for not supporting them at a critical time reveals a dual Achilles heal of two systems of thinking. Trump’s America first neither EUs supra regionalism seems to demonstrate a concentrated capacity to tackle, slowdown, contain or collaborate on a solution.


"Wuhan may have been the epicentre for China, yet Italy is becoming the global epicentre and infection rates in Europe are rapidly increasing, Sri Lanka is a victim of the European outbreak and not the Chinese one"

Containment vs Herd Immunity 

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) recently made a call from nation states and non-state actors to support a fund to raise US$ 2 billion to develop a vaccine to fight covid 19, the CEPI is a global alliance financing and coordinating the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases. 
Only three countries have pledged the funds which doesn’t even make up 25% of the target. Among the donors Norway announced US$3.6 million, with Britain putting in US$25 million and Germany pumping in a hefty US$157 million still making US$180 million. There is no common regional strategy in the EU, whilst there are calls for a G7 initiative spearheaded by French President Emmanuel Macron, a real response mechanism is far from being put into place. 
Britain is pondering a radical strategy not to contain the initial wave of the virus by letting the infections grow to a critical mass among the public, which will lead to what officials call the development of a natural immunity among the community called Herd immunity. This is a more longer-term strategy of protecting the Brits from second or third waves of the virus. American scientist also believe that since the Americans have no latent immunity to the virus, it will take up to 8 to 12 months for a herd immunity to evolve which means a minimum rate of 70% infections among the total population for the herd immunity to mature. 

Geopolitics and weaponised disinformation

Both China and the United States topped the list of the global arms supplier list of the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and last few years saw an intense competition for dominance with new weapons platforms unveiled by US and China. Yet it seems neither country expected to strategically calculate and prepare for threats that emanated from epidemics or pandemics. 
A three way crisis has emerged , the first is geo political in nature where US and China are clearly elevating their adversarial relationship in a war of words between officials, the high point being American secretary of State Mike Pompeo attempting to re christen the corona virus as the Wuhan fluand the Chinese spokesperson for the foreign affairs ministry, Zhao Lijian claiming that the virus was brought to China by the US military contingent participating at Wuhan Army games last year. This has created a diplomatic storm with the White House summoning the Chinese envoy. 
Meanwhile, American satellites scouring the Iranian desserts and analyst argue that there are massive burial sites of Iranian victims of the covid 19 and from the satellite imagery they claim that the burial sites are so vast that the Iranians have not been forthcoming about actual number of fatalities. 
There is clearly a new dimension to the political narrative coming out from the outbreak. There is according to American analysts a strong Iran-Russia nexus that argues the virus is man-made and it is a biological weapon weaponised by the Americans, whilst neither of the two governments are issuing such statements pro-Russian, and Iranian media outlets backed by conspiracy theory websites from USA and Britain are all engaged in a campaign that targets the US as the culprit. Certain pro Chinese propaganda machines are targeting the US with the same accusation. The American counter narrative argues that a massive global disinformation campaign is under way to undermine the US and its global standing created by its geopolitical rivals.

Sri Lanka’s response

From a small state perspective like Sri Lanka must deal with the fallout in all spheres from political to economic and on the premise that the virus cannot be totally contained. Sri Lanka can stand to benefit from support from regional initiatives, contrary to the EU, India is mooting the idea of a SAARC response while China is using its recent expertise in the battle against corona as a foreign policy plank for engagement with the virus hit nations. Sri Lankan health authorities are facing a sweeping disinformation campaign that is not totally politically motivated, yet may lead to negative consequence with a general election called and a presidency under stress from recent events, the country cannot afford to head for a governance meltdown. 
Today a seemingly invincible US President is looking very vulnerable given the way he has handled the crisis and US is even lacking basic testing kits needed for diagnosis and its flu deaths are now being attributed to Covid 19. Chinese tech giant, Ali Baba entrepreneur Jack Ma has volunteered to donate test kits worth millions of dollars to the American public to meet the shortfall. 
The strategic focus in Sri Lanka has been on curbing inbound travellers, yet we need to focus more on putting most of our resources in the public health system. The key is not elevating the treatment standards per se, but of diagnosis capabilities, the best response to a virus is based on the ability of early diagnosis and pooling that data into creating a predictive and preventive mechanism. 
To lead this the president could appoint a multi sectorial task force made out from health officials, public servants, military to diplomats. Covid 19 cannot be dealt with a nationalistic political agenda. Unlike people, viruses do not need passports and do not have international or national barriers. Policy makers in Sri Lanka need to confront realities of the situation and then devise a public health and diplomatic framework to prevent any community wide chaos whilst strengthening the health care regime.

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