With COVID-19 pandemic almost convulsing the whole world, global cooperation and a collective response seems indispensable to negotiate multiple challenges arising out of this crisis. The challenges that range from public health to economic recovery, food security to unemployment demand a multilateral cooperation and global solidarity; instead of countries going solo and acting on their own. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guteress put it, “To prevail against the pandemic today, we will need heightened solidarity.’’ Unfortunately, more disharmony prevails in the world today, than solidarity!
The Pan- orld health crisis heralded by Corona Virus has in the meantime exposed the deep divisions between and within countries. The situation has been exacerbated by a deep campaign of anti-globalisation sentiment, erosion of a rule-based international order, trade and technology wars between big powers and the rise of populist leaders who reject internationalism and pursue ultra-nationalist policies for their political benefits.
The acrimony between two global powers – US and China in the midst of this crisis served to underline how geopolitics instead of cooperation remained the overarching reality. With their relations already in the downward spiral because of trade and political tensions, the latest trigger was Donald Tump’s description of the virus as “Chinese Virus” and his criticism of China’s mis(management) of the outbreak. China’s retort was to cast such comments as “racist” and issue stern warnings. It took a phone call from president Xi Jinping to Trump calling for cooperation, to calm down the tempers.
This, of course is not the only development during the pandemic to illustrate the limits to global cooperation and solidarity and how the world presents a spectacle where it is mostly every country only for itself!
This pandemic, if not Brexit, left Europe unceasingly, in disarray; hardly without any sign of cooperation visible. The European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, acknowledged: “When Europe needed an all-for-one spirit, too many initially gave an only-for-me response.” A former Danish Prime Minister put it more vehemently: The EU has “not passed the test of solidarity.” Immanuel Macron, the French President warned of EU’s collapse if it did not put forward a common response to stricken European economies.
Attempts that were made to forge global cooperation did not yield any results, apparently it seems so. The G-20 Video Summit in late March proved to be a damp-squib. It was expected that the Summit would at least, evolve a collective approach to the Pandemic as was taken in response to 2008 global financial crisis, but expectations were this time washed away.
SAARC, also once again proved to be an ‘old man on the death bed’ as attempts by Modi, to cease the opportunity during this pandemic to ‘play Big Brother’ in South Asia and implicitly evolve a joint approach to fight the common enemy was given a cold shoulder by other countries, particularly Pakistan. Once again, an opportunity for forging multilateral cooperation in times of crisis was wasted and geopolitical concerns prevailed over pan-world crisis.
The most daring attack to multilateralism during the outbreak came, as was expected from Mr. Trump who levelled a stinging charge on WHO (the multi-lateral agency dealing with Corona Virus at present), of being “China-centric” and in the same breath, called for “stopping the funding to the agency for mismanaging the outbreak”. Trump’s earlier criticism prompted the head of the global health body, Tedros Adhanom, to warn against the “politicising the pandemic” to score political points.
The global health agency was arguably caught napping in declaring Covid-19 a global health emergency and may not have moved as swiftly as the escalating situation warranted. But such unilateral action on the part of Trump at the critical moment was only the latest example of his contempt for multinational organisations. Let’s not forget, USA already stands aloof from UNHRC, UNESCO – the other two multilateral organisations which faced the same wrath from Trump as WHO.
A visibly shocked and beleaguered UN Secretary General has had to frequently remind a fractured international community about the value of multilateral cooperation for the common good. In response to Trump’s move against the WHO, he again called for unity, describing Covid-19 as “one of the dangerous challenges the world has faced in our lifetime.”
Despite these pleadings during and before the pandemic, international and global cooperation seems in tantrums, with countries giving a damn to international commitments and multilateral initiatives. What we, instead see is resurgence of geopolitical competition between the big-powers, declining respect for international rules and go-it-alone strategies of populist leaders who for their narrow political ends prefer unilateralism. The picture that emerges is an increasingly atomised international system devoid of global cooperation and solidarity with no respect for rule-based international order. Interestingly, if we are to cope the challenges in the post-pandemic world, solidarity is a must or else, a Hobbesian world order awaits us!
Nadeem Khurshidi is a Research Scholar, at AMU Aligarh