The outbreak of COVID-19 has led to gloom of a scale and reach never seen since Spanish Flu of 1918. Beyond the devastation of COVID-19, there is widespread fear that post Corona period may result in inward looking policies marking an end to globalization phase two. Some of us already see authoritarian tendencies along with intensified nationalism underway, likely to get faster in the days to come.
But still optimistic among us see Corona epidemic as the tragedy the aftermath of which is likely to unleash some positive developments at global level. Frank Snowden, Yale University historian tells that much urban life related reforms happened in Europe only after pushed in this direction by the suffering of Spanish Flu of 1918. Nobel Laureate Amrtya Sen reminds us that welfare state in Britain emerged from the catastrophe of World War I. The League of Nations also emerged from the catastrophe of war when idealism, upholding peaceful world order, was brought to the center stage of global politics. True the League failed as it could not prevent the outbreak of World War II but the efforts for finding a world body capable of ensuring lasting peace were not dumped with its failure. Search for an effective and reformed version of failed system emerged in the form of United Nations. This was quickly followed by World Bank, IMF and WTO at much later stage for different purposes. These institutions, despite their limitations and even failures on many occasions, provided a semblance of order in their respective spheres not seen before their creation.
In this background one can realistically hope that post Corona phase will see more realization for the need to ensure that manmade practices, resulting in necessary, but surely undesirable, conditions for the spread of virus are curtailed drastically. Progress on the issue of climate change has been far less than what was required. Ever since the Rio Earth Summit 1992, all the reduction cut targets fixed at global level, for reducing the pace of greenhouse gases, has remained on paper. Voluntary emissions cut targets submitted by member countries at Paris Climate summit are also in jeopardy as USA under Trump has run away from the climate change mitigation agenda, as President Trump considers whole exercise a hoax. Now when it has been established that there is close connection between environment and virus it is hoped that such differences not allowed to prevent urgent global efforts called for tackling the tragedy of our time. The post Corona phase should pave the way for multilateralism the lack of which has been felt badly in the current phase of war on Corona. Once mankind gets rid of the virus, sane voices invoking notion of justice will be louder than what was the case in the recent time.
The major global players should not fell apart further at least at this juncture when the ugly face of epidemic COVID-19 has brought out that no country in the world can be safe from such a pandemic, not even those who boast of world class health sector. Paradoxically speaking rich industrialized countries such as Italy, Spain, France, Britain, Germany, US and Canada turned out be the worst affected. Reversing a strong national urge seen globally in the recent times the catastrophe COVID-19 should lead to more meaningful and intense search for multilateralism much needed for facing such a tragic situation. This should guide major powers with resources and medical know-how to work out agenda to make world secure from such epidemics. The agenda should also entail helping the underprivileged countries for tackling health related issues where poverty and hunger constantly pose a danger of this kind epidemic happening. The consideration of maximizing profit and protecting intellectual property rights that always guide industrialized countries and corporate world on issues investment should not be allowed, at least at this juncture, to push human concerns to the background.
It is a pity that European Union which is touted as world’s most successful regional arrangement could not render any valuable service to their plagued partners at this moment of Corona virus epidemic. However, it is a matter of some consolation that Chairman of European Commission is apologetic for European Union not being of any help to their colleagues at such a tragic time. It is also merciful to find President Trump seeking help from China, after brutally accusing it of keeping outside world blind to the vital timely information pertaining to the pandemic the outbreak of which is attributed to its acts of omissions. May be these are the early indications of the times to come, of an era of global cooperation appropriate for tackling such a colossal tragedy. This may follow once the world comes out of the emergency measures undertaken at this juncture. The mankind cannot afford to disregard the exigencies of the epidemic that has virtually overtaken the whole of the world.
A truly multilateral strategy which should have been the response to COVID-19 was not to be seen. But this is not the only occasion when global structures fell apart while faced with such epic calamity. However, it can be observed from history that when institutions crumble in crisis they tend to move towards evolving a better reformed structure capable of withstanding catastrophe which they failed to endure earlier. The causes of failure emerge to be guiding factors in the restructuring process. In fact realization of past failures proves to be potent factor in ensuring that the formation of new configurations should be truly competent of facing future challenges. The integration of global economies has reached a stage wherefrom any big withdrawal is not possible. Therefore, if the world is to continue with its drive of globalization, it must work out parameters of cooperation for taking such tragedies head on for which multilateralism is true adequate answer. This kind of multilateral strategy is not only called for facing COVID-19, which is the case at the moment. This is required equally for resolving pressing ecological issues, which if we fail to do, has the potential of playing havoc of similar magnitude.
*Dr. Kuldip Singh, Formerly Professor of Political Science, Guru Nanak Dev University