Undermining global society’s institutions and rules may have short term benefits for some – cheating can win and it does shore up autocratic regimes. But isolation from the international community has demonstrated disastrous consequences in isolationist, unprepared and anarchic responses to the pandemic, writes Patrick Taran, President of Global Migration Policy Associates.
The COVID-19 pandemic – rather the reactions to it – have manifested worldwide the dismissal of international solidarity, of transnational economic, social and political cooperation, and of protection of human rights. Discarding these foundations of international community guts the very ability of our one world to overcome the human and economic devastation wrought by the pandemic. Disruptive reactive measures to COVID-19 reveal disarray in the very notion of global society, not least the unleashing of what the UN Secretary General called a “tsunami of hatred”.
At the same time, governments and other actors more openly flaunt established international normative values, regulatory measures and institutions. Equally disturbing, some governments are seizing the opportunity of panic and political disarray to paralyse the United Nations and call for its “radical reform” or replacement.
Measures that add up to national isolation and withdrawal from commitments to international law and institutions present a clear and present danger of disintegration of international community. Weakening these norms and institutions sabotages the ability of the world to meet the deepening challenges it faces to peace, the environment, and human welfare – indeed survival, threats only resolved collectively though cooperation and solidarity under rule of law.
Singularity of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Compared to other contemporary global pandemics, the numbers of corona virus mortality remain modest in many countries. In contrast, the big four pandemics, seasonal influenza, malaria, tuberculosis-TB, and HIV and AIDS, each caused 400,000 to 1.5 million deaths worldwide in 2018.
But COVID-19 is singular in rapidity of simultaneous transmission globally, ease of mass transmission within communities, and absence of neither effective treatment nor vaccination nor cure, as well as its appearance worldwide in just four months after the first reported fatality in January 2020. It remains singular in the large proportion of infections and attributed deaths in developed countries of the global North. It has affected global elites in government, business, sports and culture far more visibly than any other contemporary pandemic. COVID-19 also revealed a singular lack of preparedness worldwide, despite ample warnings and recent test cases of SARS, MERS and Ebola.
Immediate fear-driven responses to COVID have been mass confinements and lock-downs of populations, shut-downs of all but the most “essential” economic activity and restrictions of social contact as well as of movement in most countries worldwide. Of particular note is the prevalence of closure of borders, stopping international movement of people – and goods. Some countries restricted exports of health materials and equipment, while repatriation of nationals abroad and deportations, expulsions and exclusion of ‘foreigners’ are ongoing worldwide.
These measures add up to globalized national isolation, disintegrating a large part of the world’s economic activity and trade dependent on international sourcing, supply, multi-country production and assembly as well as marketing, distribution and use or consumption of goods and services. That global activity is also highly dependent on mobility and migration of workforce and skills, particularly in critical sectors of health, food production, construction, transport, and others.
Concern is rising about where a large part of the world’s food will come from over the next year as millions of migrant workers are blocked from travelling to farmlands in Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Portugal, Russian Federation, South Africa, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, the USA, to name only a few. Each of these countries is dependent on seasonal workers from abroad for agricultural labour, food production and processing, work that natives – other than some internal migrant farmworkers – remain unavailable, unable, unwilling and unqualified to do.
At the same time, widespread shortages of health workers already undermined healthcare in many countries while ageing populations needing more health care – never mind the pandemic – are growing worldwide. Reliable projections indicate 9 million more nurses will be needed worldwide than available by the year 2025. International recruitment for immigrant nurses has already depleted national health care systems in developing countries in all regions.
Huge sectors of many national economies: food production, air and sea transport, construction. hospitality and tourism are dependent on international mobility of resources, goods, labour and skills. The looming crisis is the breakdown of existing companies, systems and cooperation to move goods and people—while the waves of bankruptcies and failures are just beginning.
The Big Risks
Rupture of normality opens space for closing space. The pandemic is treated as an opportunity for the powerful, providing a plausible justification for imposing control measures and expanding restrictions on rights and freedoms as well as of movement – along with corresponding surveillance and enforcement policing. The conditions of fear and social isolation coupled with enhanced surveillance and policing also impede social organising – whether unions, civil society or community associations – and diminish protests and contestation.
The pandemic is being seized as the perfect storm opportunity to weaken and blow away normative and regulatory constraints of international law and institutions – and the institutions themselves.
However, responses to a resurgent coronavirus and to future pandemics will be worse as international solidarity, cooperation, regulation and institutions are discredited and dismissed.
Isolationist responses to COVID coupled with weakened international standards and institutions coincide with global inability to address global warming with consequent rising sea level, more devastating storms, sustained flooding, massive fires and desertification rendering ever larger areas of arable and habitable land neither – resulting in growing human displacement, reduced food production and greater scarcity of potable water for the world’s population.
In tandem, warfare, weapons proliferation, and instability will proliferate as conditions worsen while international laws and institutions for peace, non-proliferation, human rights and sustainable development are disabled.
Only organized cooperation, solidarity, joint action, cooperative research, sharing of emergency materials and coordinated recovery measures will sustain populations, overcome the global recession, and identify prevention and cures for the malady itself.
Reasserting the primacy of the universal values of the international community is essential: human rights, equality, inclusion, solidarity, cooperation, and collective welfare/well-being.