Is world leadership also under lockdown?

Cooperation and collaboration, not competition or chaos is the call of the moment


April 26, 2020

/ By / Pune

Modi and Macron should again join hands to launch a global initiative called  ‘WAVE: World Alliance for Virology and Epidemiology’

China, France and India, the terrific trio’s potential to defeat Covid19 remains dormant.

As a tsunami of an unprecedented and unexpected pandemic threatens the civilisation, we are witnessing brutal unilateralism and aggressive bilateralism by rich countries and multilateralism, the very building block of United Nations is taking back seat. The 7.5 billion strong humanity that is boasting about deep space travel into unknown universe and mega projects with AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality)  is being humbled by a new virus, a few hundred micron in size.  The modern world skilled for digital technology is totally clueless about the present ‘Viral Reality’ and suffering and suffocating  like never before.  In simple terms civilisation is facing ‘Vicious Epidemiological’ disaster of planetary proportion.

Unfortunately, the lessons learnt from lesser calamities of yester-years are all but forgotten. One of the significant reasons that sowed the seeds of World Wars I and II was rise of unilateralism sprinkled with bilateral military agreements. After the World War I, many who were witnessing the magic of industrial mass production thought that it is “the war to end all wars.” That remained a frugal-wish like the way one makes while throwing the coins in the fountains. While the coins kept accumulating in the well for next 20 years,  another fierce uprising of the nationalism sprouted viciously in Germany whose leader Adolf Hitler then roared to “make Germany great again”.

The League of Nations established exactly 100 years back, immediately after World War-I , had a basic mission of solving the disputes between countries before they erupted into open warfare through multilateral diplomacy. It did not work. The treaties and agreements were openly flouted and numerous  ‘declarations of war’ were  announced by the Allies and Axis.

It took two nuclear bombs of total equivalent of 42 kilo tonnes of TNT to end the World War II. The United Nations, an intergovernmental organisation came into being after World War II in 1945 with a global mission of preventing future wars, maintaining global peace and security,  protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid , promoting sustainable development and upholding international law. That was a tall task.

The UN Secretary General has already stated that Covid19 is the worst crisis after World War II. It is a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations, one that is killing people, spreading human suffering and upending people’s lives. The enemy is a silent virus and hence there is no declaration of war by enemy, unlike what happened in  World War II, but the accusations about origin of virus, perception about hidden motives, have the trigger points for a World War III.

We are already in the 4th month of war or may be 5th month if we consider the possibility that China knowingly or unknowingly delayed the reporting the facts and potential threat from the New Corona Virus to WHO. More than 1,70,000 civilians have lost their lives having literally suffocated by the virus. That is the worst type of suffering, equivalent to the deaths in brutal chemical warfare. The predictions are more grave and total deaths estimated to be 1.7 million in USA alone. In comparison, total deaths in USA in world War II were just about less than half a million.

On April 9, the UN launched the 2020 Financing for Sustainable Development Report (SDFR) compiled based on the feedback from 60 international agencies. According to the UN International Labour Organisation, five to 25 million jobs will be eradicated, and the United States will lose USD 860 billion to USD 3.4 trillion in labour income. The UN Conference on Trade and Development projected a 30 to 40 pc downward pressure on global foreign direct investment flows while the World Tourism Organisation saw a 20-30 pc decline in international arrival.

One can now guess the level of anger against origin of viral enemy i.e. China. There is serious risk that one powerful country may unilaterally stamp other country as enemy and could trigger noisy war of words by side-lining the real silent enemy i.e. virus. World had already witnessed thin line  between  war of words to war of weapons.

That thin-line can become front-line of the battle field unless UN plays its role skillfully. Till today except for the lip service, UN has been reduced to the reactive role by conveying the warnings but  devoid of any proactive steps to ‘prevent the conflicts , maintain global peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international cooperation, and be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations’.

In reality, the UN seems to be missing in action and paralysed. It is devoid of any  definite road-map for global solidarity  and robust coordinated response. It is indeed visible only in the side-lines with rhetoric and peace-meal announcements of the funding and aid. The United Nations Security Council is reduced to or made to remain a ‘side-lined’ spectator.

On April 2, after full three months of outbreak and 1 million deaths, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution submitted by Switzerland, Indonesia, Singapore, Norway, Liechtenstein and Ghana. It was the first text, to come out of the international body since the outbreak began. It called for “international cooperation” and “multilateralism” in the fight against Covid-19. The resolution, which was approved by consensus, and after rejection of Russian text which was supported by the Central African Republic, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, stresses that “the need for full respect for human rights” and that “there is no place for any form of discrimination, racism and xenophobia in the response to the pandemic”. The language of  the resolution is  typical  classic template of any UN GA resolution. In any case,the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly are not binding, unlike those of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Action by the UNSC, however, is still conspicuously absent since the start of the pandemic. It has been silent since the start of the pandemic because the five permanent members -the US, the UK, Russia, China and France are divided on reaching a consensus  on text to support UNSG’s appeal. Apart from the text, they are yet to produce a concrete action based solution.

While the US and China are at a loggerhead, the UK is busy in Brexit and Russia is aligning with China, while France is running between two factions to get a consensus text. As we know consensus text always dilutes the action. Calling this scenario as ‘sorry state  of affairs’ is a gross understatement considering the speed with which coronavirus is attacking its victims.

What is missing is the world leadership to ‘make things happen’. In these trying times the world should not be waiting helplessly and read about statistics of cases, deaths and recoveries. During the lockdown the world needs leadership to free them  from negativity and not just  statements of collective action, international cooperation and multilateralism as it happened in last few weeks during the UNGA, the G20 and the G7. The world needs strategic stewardship in order to go beyond talks.

Faced with a similar situation in the run up to the Paris Climate Meeting in 2015, India’s PM Narendra Modi and France’s President Emmanuel Macron came together to launch International Solar Alliance, an intergovernmental organisation to promote the use of solar energy, that benefits poor at the bottom of the pyramid. The alliance now has more than 120 members.The declaration of solar alliance helped to build the positivism for the negotiators and now the alliance is helping to meet the carbon neutrality as per schedule given in IPCC report.

It is a shame that the humanity today boasts of deploying modern technology and  predicting the  financial crisis but unable to predict the havoc of epidemic caused by virus. The 7.5 billion people on the earth have been told to handle virus themselves with nothing more than washing hands and getting stuck at home during months of seemingly unending lockdowns. Countries are  engaged in developing the vaccines  in their own labs but there is no mechanism to share the research on vaccine, preventive medicines and curative medicines. Right from the Manhattan Project of 1942-1945 and numerous other research partnerships, we know that networking of the research labs and coordinated development reduces the time and cost to develop complicated product.

Modi and Macron should again join hands to launch a global initiative called  ‘WAVE: World Alliance for Virology and Epidemiology’. Macron, like Modi is also known to take bold steps. He countered  Trump’s slogan of ‘let us make  America great again’ by his own slogan of ‘Let us make our Planet great again’. When Trump declared withdrawal from Paris Climate agreement, Macron gave a courageous open-call to American climate scientists to come to France to continue research.

In the short term, the WAVE can reduce the time for developing a vaccine and medicines for coronavirus. In the long term it could initiate action on predicting the vicious arrival of virus, its mutation and be ready for vaccines in shortest possible time. It is easier said than done, but we have examples like earthquakes and network of seismology labs from where we get information on severity of an earthquake when it happens and also help in  predicting future earthquakes at least with probabilities. The WAVE could help in setting up such early warning signals for future epidemics.  

There is strong case why President Xi should be a founder member of  the WAVE along with Modi and Macron and provide the financial aid and expertise  on virology. Firstly China would be able to counter the severe attacks from West on China’s reaction on Covid19 by creating a positive atmosphere. Second, his own people would benefit and appreciate his efforts in midst of havoc faced by the Chinese themselves. Thirdly, both Modi and Macron have a good personal rapport with President Xi. The terrific trio of Modi, Macron and Xi should meet over video conference and announce the WAVE. They have capability and potential to make it happen.



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