No man is an island, and neither is any country
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads further around the world, reaching even remote areas such as the Amazon, society is finally waking up and realizing that the UN Secretary-General António Guterres was correct when he said there should be “only one fight in our world today — our shared battle against COVID-19.”
The astonishing costs of this pandemic on human life, economies, social and political systems, and our future is becoming shockingly clearer every day. Not only are the number of infections and deaths alarming, but so is the outlook for humanity’s collective reality and future.
Little doubt exists that we are now in a deep global recession, with massive rates of unemployment and newly reported bankruptcies. Political systems are coming under enormous pressure, as their weaknesses and failures in managing their health systems and economic conditions become glaringly clear. Public health fear is also spreading faster than the virus itself, clearly illustrating that we are facing a perfect storm with the potential to upend the entire global order, spreading social collapse and fragmentation, especially among the developing world’s fragile states.
As the world stands on the edge of this seismic potential fault line, nothing is more dangerous than allowing the wars and violence around the world to continue, possibily spreading to more areas already weakened by the pandemic.
In the past few weeks, an increasing number of significant voices have been calling for a global cease-fire, including the UN’s Secretary-General, Pope Francis, and scores of other political leaders. A new UN draft resolution is being discussed in New York to call for this global cease-fire to enforce the point.
Despite public statements agreeing to temporary humanitarian cease-fires allowing for desperately needed medical supplies and personnel to help displaced citizens, fighting continues in countries such as Yemen, Syria and Libya. In fact, warring factions have even targeted hospitals in Libya a few days ago, when the capital’s main hospital being prepared for COVID-19 cases was bombed several times by forces allied to Khalifa Haftar, who have been attacking Tripoli since April last year.
As the world stands on the edge of this seismic potential fault line, nothing is more dangerous than allowing the wars and violence around the world to continue.
Hopes rose last week when Saudi Arabia declared a unilateral cease-fire and offered support to Yemen’s collapsed healthcare sector, a move welcomed by the UN’s Secretary-General among others.
Many other forgotten conflicts, however including the Israeli stranglehold on Gaza, are raising a global alarm. The Gaza Strip is the most densely populated piece of land in the world, making it almost impossible for citizens to follow health directives and social distancing guidelines. This same concern extends to refugee camps around the world, and to the millions of internally displaced persons resulting from conflicts everywhere.
From a more pragmatic perspective, this pandemic has clearly demonstrated that parts of the world cannot be disconnected from each other. This pandemic and its political and economic consequences make it clear that no country can be an island unto itself. If a pandemic or war is raging in one part of the world, it most certainly will affect other parts. Hence, allowing civil wars and conflicts to go on unchecked will only increase the chances of refugees fleeing conflict zones to spread diseases and chaos far and wide.
This global, public realization recognizing country interdependence must become the focus of a new global framework not only in trade and finance but also in public health, climate change, movement of people, refugee management, and overall peace and security. Allowing these conflicts to rage on in this unprecedented time is equivalent to closing the doors in the face of COVID-19, while opening all the windows for it to enter.
Now more than ever, the world needs new leadership that can learn from these lessons and articulate a new future vision. A new international order needs to understand that the world must act strongly and aggressively against any country threatening us all by engaging in violence and conflict, or failing to control risky behavior and cultural practices that may spread disease. We now know that one infected person in China can induce a global pandemic, causing an international economic and political collapse. The same thinking must be applied to stopping wars and conflicts.
With the experience and lessons learned from the past few months, we have no excuse not to do better in the future.
- Hafed Al-Ghwell is a non-resident senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Institute at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He is also senior adviser at the international economic consultancy Maxwell Stamp and at the geopolitical risk advisory firm Oxford Analytica, a member of the Strategic Advisory Solutions International Group in Washington DC and a former adviser to the board of the World Bank Group. Twitter: @HafedAlGhwell