The nuclear diplomacy has become one of the most crucial issues of the modern international relations.
Accordingly to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the total number of the nuclear warheads in the world today is estimated to be over 20 million. More than half of this amount belongs to the Russian Armed Forces, then goes USA, and the remaining percentage is made up by other nuclear states.
The “mutually guaranteed security” of the United States of America
The US nuclear strategy is most precisely formulated by a doctrine of “mutually guaranteed safety” by the Minister of Defense W. Perry during World War Two. Until now it has not lost its significance for the American military ideology. And it means that the United States is still holding firmly the memories about the bipolar epoch even though the nature of the U.S. nuclear threats radically changed. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the annulment of the Warsaw Pact have sharply reduced the chance not only of the global nuclear confrontation, but even of the large-scale regional wars. Nevertheless, the Russian remaining nuclear capabilities continue to evoke fear of the American national security. In reality, the concept of the “mutual assured security” became a national program called “Cooperative Threat Reduction from the former Soviet Union”, which is also known as the Nunn-Lugar plan financed from the budget of the American Ministry of Defense. The program was intended to assist the former USSR republics in the rapid and secure nuclear disarmament. William Perry stated: “there is no better opportunity to spend funds predestined for the national security than to help the destruction of the nuclear weapons and nuclear industry of the former enemy … This is also defense, however, by other means.” By the beginning of 1995 the Nunn-Lugar initiative allocated around 900 million US dollars on the implementation of the disarmament programs.
The U.S. modern nuclear strategy consists of two chief principles. First of all, it has to “convince” the rest of the world of its power, which is achieved by maintaining a high level of the combat readiness of the strategic offensive forces. Secondly, it must create the state of the greatest uncertainty about the Washington’s possible reaction to a nuclear threat emanating from its opponent. That is why the U.S. authorities refuse to make a commitment not to use nuclear weapons first, in contrast to other nuclear countries. At the same time, the United States is an active party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The American administration promotes persistently a program on the combat against the weapons of mass destruction fixing it as a priority for their own diplomatic, economic and military purposes. The Ministry of Defense is entitled to develop a complex of purely military measures to prevent the proliferation of WMD on the international level. Some specific tasks are assigned to the intelligence services that can easily obtain the updated information about the possible development and the production of weapons of mass destruction in any part of the world.
Thus, the revision of the nuclear policy of the Pentagon at the end of the “cold war,” in fact, did not bring about any radical changes for the U.S. nuclear strategy. The “nuclear deterrence” still remains the cornerstone of the national security of the United States.
Russian nuclear ambitions non-stop
The modern Russian military doctrine states that “The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are in constant readiness as well as other troops to deter and prevent an armed conflict in accordance with international law and international treaties of the Russian Federation … The prevention of the nuclear armed conflict, as well as any other military conflict is the most important task of the Russian Federation“.
The use of the nuclear weapons is defined in the following terms: “The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to an attack aimed at it, and (or) its allies with the nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the conventional weapons when under threat”.
In the statistical numbers the dimension of the Russian nuclear arsenal is inferior only to the American. During the nuclear talks Russia tends to defend the position of the U.S. missile defense system in the Eastern Europe. When the United States announced the suspension of the deployment of a missile defense system in the Eastern Europe, Russia declared that it “would steadily move towards the verifiable and irreversible reductions in the nuclear weapons.” However, Moscow aims at the preservation of the balance of the strategic offensive arms between Russia and the United States, and thus, exercising a strict control over the export of the nuclear materials and technology, promoting the denuclearization of the post-Soviet space, and improving the existing international nuclear non-proliferation documentary basis.
“The sub-strategic strike” of the United Kingdom
In its nuclear policy the UK adheres to the principle of the minimum nuclear deterrence for selective use of nuclear weapons in the framework of the so-called sub-strategic mission. In the lexicon of the British military and political leadership there even exist the special concept of “sub-strategic impact”, which means that the “sub-strategic strike is limited to the extremely selective use of the nuclear weapons. This gives a strategic blow, and on the level of its capacity it is sufficient to reassure the aggressor to afflict a strike upon UK, which should stop even the thought about the aggression, otherwise the aggressor risks facing a devastating nuclear attack”. That is to say the Russia’s nuclear forces are designed for nuclear retaliation as retaliation for a nuclear attack on Russia and the opponent (or) its allies.
With the reduction in the number of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, Great Britain pledged to “develop and implement” a future agreement on the reduction of the nuclear weapons and nuclear forces to maintain it at a minimum level. To prevent the terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons and to avoid the risk of contagion Britain called upon the nuclear powers to achieve a “global compromise”. In accordance to this plan, all non-nuclear states are ought to guarantee not to develop nuclear weapons under any circumstances. In return Britain is ready to provide those countries with the access to peaceful nuclear technology.
French balanced containment
Since DeGaulle`s times France has been in favor of maintaining its nuclear forces at a minimum, but duly supervised level of the vigilance. In the field of promotion of the international nuclear non-proliferation, the French government has made significant proposals to the United Nations, calling upon all countries to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to begin the negotiations on an international treaty banning the production of fissile material without extension preconditions as soon as possible.
The Chinese philosophy and nuclear weapons are incompatible
China is the only great power, which has a commitment the official level not to use the nuclear weapons first, without any reservations.
All throughout its history, the military-political leadership of China has been realizing its necessities of a huge country, such as the possession of the highly drilled and fully equipped with modern weapons, including nuclear, armed forces. Therefore, the official Chinese doctrine is interpreted as mainly a political and propagandistic tool and it does not show the real operational planning of the strategic nuclear forces, which are in fact aimed at a pre-emptive strike. The Chinese first nuclear program, adopted in 1951, had purely peaceful purposes. However, afterwards it was supplemented by a secret amendment allowing the creation of its own nuclear weapons. China took the path of the preferential production of the nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and land-based aircraft bombs. Nowadays it is no secret that China has got both strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons.
The Chinese tactical nuclear forces include: strategic missile forces (CDR), the strategic air (SA) and the nuclear missile fleet. On January 1 2007 the total number of the nuclear weapons of strategic purpose counted 244 units.
In comparison with other nuclear states, the Chinese nuclear forces have low combat readiness. The reason for this is the technical imperfection of the Chinese nuclear missile potential. Besides this, the nuclear weapons, as a weapon of war, are considered as the extreme last step by the Chinese defense policy. This willing killing is in direct contradiction with the Chinese philosophy of war and victory. Therefore, the Chinese philosophy of war and the use of nuclear weapons are incompatible. Furthermore, the use of the weapons of mass destruction is completely meaningless for China. As the population of China is one of the biggest in accordance to other world military powers, which already gives it an overwhelming advantage over the other countries in the world. The use of the weapons of mass destruction may be beneficial to any other party to the conflict, much is inferior to the population of China. For Beijing, the initiative in the use of weapons of mass destruction means depriving its population of one of the main advantages that they already own.
Indian “strategy of regional deterrence”
If the India declares that it does not intend to use its nuclear power, why, then, wouldn`t New Delhi abandon it? The truth is that even the fact of the possession of the nuclear-country status can have its strategic benefits. The Indian “peaceful atom” means:
– Control over the U.S. influence in the Indian Ocean. India sees itself as a regional power in the Indian Ocean becoming more and more suspicious towards the naval presence of other powers there. The fact that India’s nuclear weapons intend to deprive the U.S. of any possibility to exercise pressure upon India in the ocean space, even if it will worsen the US-Indian relations.
– Another means to deter Pakistan. Numerous collisions in the diplomatic Indo-Pakistani relations still exist on the general background of the religious intolerance, which in turn adds fuel to the mutual hatred leaving no room for compromise. If Pakistan is decisive to possess nuclear weapons, then India will move in the same direction.
– A strategy to contain China. The test of the China’s atomic bomb in 1964 became another blow to the Indian security. In November of the same year, the Indian Prime said that his country would consider the possibility of testing of nuclear devices for peaceful purposes. Still the Indian military believes that the Indian nuclear weapons are the most effective deterrent against China and Pakistan.
– Great-power prestige, which would help New Delhi to take place in the UN Security Council. It is for this reason that India has been refusing to abandon its “nuclear option” for decades. India is well aware that it gained its own nuclear arsenal with big costs and it will force other powers to listen to its opinion.
The India’s nuclear strategy is evolving at a slow pace in the absence of the clear systems of the political leadership of the country. Currently the Indian nuclear weapons are under the civilian control, and the means of their delivery are under the supervision of the militaries. In the operational terms India is reiterating that its nuclear strategy is based strictly on the peaceful principles.
Pakistani “nuclear bomb at all costs”
In 1965 Pakistan made an unsuccessful attempt to oust India in Kashmir. Pakistan lost that war, and the U.S. imposed the arms embargo on the country. As a result, Pakistan was deprived from the U.S. military support and a sense of security, the army began to show dissatisfaction with the current situation and the country’s political crisis started evolving. In 1972 after the defeat in the war with India and the dismemberment of Pakistan, the new president of the President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, declared: “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own”.
So, what are the advantages for Pakistan to keep its nuclear bomb?
First of all, so that to keep distance with India. Now it is already more than half-century that the Indo-Pakistan conflict is ongoing. Pakistan believes that India will continue to be a threat to the Pakistan, and that only the fact that Pakistan acquires the nuclear bomb can make India keep distance with its neighbor.
Secondly, it is an issue of reputation. The military potential of India in the field of conventional weapons is higher than the military capacities of Pakistan. A direct comparison of the nuclear power is not in favor of Pakistan: India has 2 times more soldiers to 1.5 times more tanks, 2.5 times more artillery, a factor of 2 – planes, and 4 times – warships. So, Pakistani nuclear weapons are intended to end this imbalance by making the Indian armed forces helpless in the face of the threat of unacceptable damage to the opponent.
Thirdly, it is a matter of the Pakistani status in the Islamic world. On the international stage, Pakistan and India are in different weight classes. At the same time, the Pakistani government believes that the possession of the nuclear weapons would allow the country to take a more prominent place in the world. Unlike India, Pakistan does not have pretensions to adhere to the club of the great powers and obtain a seat at the Security Council of the UN. The Pakistani ambitions are basically limited to the Islamic world, so the fact of possessing nuclear power rises Islamabad up on the region. The leadership in the Islamic world has always been crucial. In this situation, a Muslim country with nuclear weapons automatically becomes a strategic center of the Muslim world. In 70s ex-President of Pakistan Z.A. Bhutto described the Pakistani nuclear status as an “Islamic bomb”, which proves the modern reality.
Last, but not the least, Pakistan has not yet announced publicly its nuclear strategy. In theory and practice it follows the principles of minimum nuclear deterrence and defense by conventional means. Pakistan was the second country after India to have refused to make a commitment not to use nuclear weapons first. From this it can be concluded that some actions of Pakistan at the international arena, especially those manifested during the previous Indo-Pakistani crises prove that it may use the nuclear weapons in certain situations. Such a situation may occur as a war fought with the conventional weapons, where Pakistan might threaten to use nuclear weapons.
North Korean “nuclear escalation”
The North Korea’s leadership is considering nuclear shield as a guarantor and protection against the regime and the dynasty change. The North Korea has already observed how easily the regimes were eliminated during the Arab Spring. None of them had the nuclear weapons, so they were quickly overthrown by the rebels. So, the North Korea will be avoiding at all cost the repetition of the same scenario on its territory.
The North Korea has not yet entered into the range of the strategic nuclear powers, because, apparently, it has not created yet the compact nuclear warheads for missiles and aircraft carriers. Its potential can largely be described as “provocative” or ” international sabotage”.
In this situation Washington is trying by all means to avoid the escalation of the current crisis into war. At the same time, the U.S. is actively building up its military forces in the region. The “hawks” in the Pentagon urged the administration of the President Barack Obama to abstain from any unnecessary contacts with the dictator. However, the fact is that a war with the North Korea can lead to the use of nuclear weapons and the destruction of the South Korea and some parts of Japan if the White House abandons the tempting idea of pre-emptive strike. For the North Korea the preventive strikes mean war, and this war can become a local disaster. It is high time for the North Korea to change its nuclear strategy.
Iranian “nuclear intimidation”
Currently Iran has the most developed research and production base in the nuclear field among the Islamic states and in the whole Middle Eastern region.
Firstly, the acquisition of the nuclear energy is national pride for Iran, as there is only limited number of the countries, which are, indeed, able to master the nuclear fuel cycle. The progress in the development of the nuclear energy, as well as advancing technologies in the space program are highly valued by the Iranian administration, and not only because it raises its international weight, but also because it proves the effectiveness of the Islamic regimes in general. The Iranian nuclear program is more than a key part of its ideology, it is the most crucial period of its history. The Islamic Republic for such a long time has been fighting hard for its right to use the nuclear energy, so that now it feels itself as a full-fledged master at its house.
Secondly, the Iranians believe that the world concerns about the possibility of the double-use or the misuse of the Iranian nuclear potential cannot be a sufficient reason for the constant international intervention into their nuclear program.
In a summary, as it has been presented above, each country being a part to the nuclear club, has got its own purposes for maintaining the nuclear program, as well as its own goals and strategies that such global schemas might require. In the military-political plan each nuclear country associates with the nuclear weapons five main advantages: the prestige and status in the world policy; prevention of a nuclear attack; containment (six countries except China and, with reservations, the U.S. and India), security guarantees and impact on its allies (Russia, USA, UK and France), “trump card” to exchange for concessions on other countries negotiations on other topics in the multilateral negotiations (Russia and North Korea). However, each nuclear program has got its own specificities. In what it concerns the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear strike attack of the enemy, it all nuclear states respond positively. The states are prepared to use nuclear weapons in response to an attack, which is afflicted upon them with the nuclear weapons. Moreover, such powers as U.S. and Russia intend to resort to the nuclear weapons even if a nuclear attack affects their allies. Russia intends to use nuclear weapons in case of an attack on its allies by using other weapons of mass destruction. The new U.S. nuclear strategy, edited in 2010, does not foresee the usage of the nuclear weapons in response to the usage of other weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. and its allies (except, apparently, to protect Japan and South Korea, which are worried about the threat of such aggression emanating from the North Korea). Russia and Pakistan are ready to use their nuclear weapons under the threat of a catastrophic defeat in the war with an adversary that uses only conventional arms and armed forces. Whereas, the United Kingdom, France and later the United States in “The strategy of NATO” adopted in 2010 allowed the use of the nuclear weapons so that to prevent the destruction of their conventional forces. The new U.S. nuclear doctrine does not permit the usage of the nuclear weapons in such a case. All powers except China and India, allow the use of nuclear weapons in a preemptive strike “by default” so that to destruct the missiles and other weapons of mass destruction of an enemy. It is worth noting that the USA earlier allowed the selective application of the nuclear weapons against the terrorist targets in other situations in a discrete way.
So, as we can see, the fundamental principles of the nuclear strategies are evolving extremely slowly preserving the basic approaches taken on during the Cold War, which, above all, aim at the mutual nuclear deterrence. And the modern common strategy of the nuclear club is to keep in fear the rest of the world, which has mainly the psychological basis. In the communication with non-nuclear states their behavior fits into the following schema: playing with time come to negotiations achieve no substantial results gaining time. Sometimes the nuclear countries agree to come to some concessions, and then, one of them wouldn`t agree (like Iran) and all the process starts from the beginning. Only bilateral negotiations may bring solution to the current nuclear challenges. The negotiations are vital in this case, even if they lead to no results so far, it is fundamental even the fact that they are going on.
- http://www.sipri.org/media/pressreleases/2011/yblaunch11– Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
- http://www.defense.gov/news/Defense_Strategic_Guidance.pdf–US Department of Defense
- http://www.sinodefence.com/strategic/–The online source on China’s military development
- http://www.economist.com/node/10424283 – The journal “Economist”
- http://www.kremlin.ru/ref_notes/461 – The web-site of the President of Russia
- http://thediplomat.com/the-pulse/2013/01/17/india-in-need-of-a-new-pakistan-strategy/– The Journal “The Diplomat”
- http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/11/obama-north-korea-nuclear-threat – The Journal “Guardian”
Beyond Twiplomacy: Diplomacy and the Digital Fast Forward
The practice of diplomacy in the virtual space is geared towards amplifying foreign policy drives and messages and forms a vital and dynamic branch of strategic communication. Now, more than ever before, we are faced with the inexorable certainty of a digital future – a future that has already begun. As COVID-19 thrusts the world’s population into their homes and compels multiple operations and processes to move online, diplomatic engagements too must be primed to fit the order and arrangement of altered circumstances. The use of the internet offers real time dissemination and exchanges in a relatively informal setting, at low financial costs and aims at shrinking the space between foreign publics and stakeholders on the one hand and foreign policy practices and practitioners on the other.
Digital diplomacy falls under the broader spectrum of public diplomacy, the roots of which can be traced to the extensive use of radio communications by both the Axis and the Allied powers during WWII. Interestingly, the digitization of diplomacy however is believed to have happened earlier when foreign ministries first began the use of telegraph services in the 19th century. In the contemporary context, digital diplomacy has been practiced primarily through social media since the innovation of an online world, the arrival of new information communication technologies and the rapid popularity of the internet.
Today, diplomats and government representatives routinely engage in both pleasantries as well as repartee on Twitter in what is now popularly known as Twiplomacy or Twitter Diplomacy. Twiplomacy is direct, often unencumbered and enables wider reach of foreign policies than traditional channels. Such online engagement can also be converted to a substantial support for foreign policies and/or agendas. It is at times assumed that Twiplomacy has shaken traditional preferences for confidentiality, hierarchy, instrumentality and top-down decision making of foreign affairs departments favouring instead the use of crisp language, visual storytelling, emotional framing, algorithmic navigation, and so on. This is an incorrect conjecture as the traditional modus operandi of foreign interaction remains equally pertinent today. What Twiplomacy has done is added a supplementary avenue of diplomatic exchange which is in keeping with contemporary circumstances.
As diplomatic exchanges thrive on Twitter and other social media platforms, the question is whether it is merely the diplomatic conversation which has moved online or whether there is more to the scope of diplomatic engagement employing digital tools in the virtual space. While the latter has been deliberated by technology stakeholders and to an extent by policy makers, its practice is yet to see the kind of flurry that is observed on Twitter almost on a daily basis. This is where the use of 5G systems, artificial intelligence, wearable technology and the applications of big data come in. Aggregation of big data can assist in the identification of disinformation campaigns while collating geospatial and sensor data for more objective, fact-based information gathering which in turn would aid the core component of diplomacy – negotiation. While the use of some of these technologies is mired in controversy, all of these will eventually find application across sectors and diplomacy too will not be an outlier.
Greater use of digital tools can assist diplomacy in broad ways. First, it ensures a quick response time. Digital tools facilitate diplomatic engagement to happen in real time and in so doing helps ease communication as well as make way for effective action in times of urgency or crisis. Second, it assists in resource mobilization in terms negotiations and building of alliances, primarily by eliminating constraints of distance and time. Third, it helps pave the way for gaining a wider understanding of public emotions and perceptions which can at times facilitate more updated policy approaches and methods of implementation.
This brings us to the dividing line between policy outreach which is designed to inform, assist, facilitate and where applicable, ameliorate global relations and the utilization of sharp power which is aimed at exerting disproportionate levels of influence to censor, manipulate and falsify information for hostile purposes. The virtual space, like many other forms of technology, faces the dual-use challenge i.e., it can serve both constructive purposes and also disruptive ones. For foreign policy this poses a considerable challenge as governments often find themselves in the middle of misinformation and disinformation campaigns which are difficult to debunk and deflate given the pace and volume of the reach that virtual networks offer. Nonetheless, this is a challenge that governments across the world must learn to tackle because the medium and the technology will not go away but rather diversify and proliferate.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already and will probably continue to suspend or reorganize most activities for the foreseeable future. Simultaneously however, engagements and functioning across the world must persist and diplomatic outreach forms a vital component of pooling in efforts to mitigate the health crisis. This involves the dissemination of information, transfers of key supplies, provisioning for the inevitable uncertainties of challenges post the pandemic and reorganizing institutions to better apprehend future exigencies. Bound by limitations on travel, world leaders are responding by convening on virtual platforms for multilateral summits like the G20 and SAARC. India’s first ever virtual bilateral summit is being planned with Australia. COVID-19 demands a fast forward from deliberations to action and foreign ministries around the world need to harness the advantages of cost and geographical inconsequence to effectively respond to the global crisis at hand and also in the process enable digitisation of diplomatic processes which can continue to be in practice in the post-Covid world.
A Dose of Communicative Multilateralism
Authors: Elizabeth Deheza and Srgjan Kerim*
The COVID-19 blame game is underway and it has already severely inhibited the implementation of a co-ordinated, multilateral response to fight the coronavirus. When the need is greatest for international cooperation and collective action to confront the most severe global challenge since the Second World War, world leaders are moving away from globalisation and public trust in international institutions is evaporating. We believe this divisive behaviour has been compounded by the lack of clear communication between the World Health Organization (WHO) and Member States and that ‘communicative multilateralism’ must play the central role in beating the virus.
The WHO, a United Nations (UN) specialised agency, has a mandate from its 193 Member States to provide science-based recommendations to protect human health worldwide. The agency had been calling for better preparedness for epidemics or pandemics long before the current crisis, highlighting the vulnerability of many healthcare systems towards such crises. Unfortunately, when the moment arrived, the absence of a clear and simple communication framework and common understanding between the WHO and the Members States undermined previous work and the goodwill the agency once enjoyed.
When several cases of pneumonia were first reported in Wuhan, China in late December 2019, the WHO noted the new threat and started independent epidemiological investigations to understand the cause. WHO’s communications stayed close to China’s official line and even endorsed a preliminary investigation that the virus might be limited to animal-to-human transmission, despite warnings from Taiwan of the possibility of human-to-human transmission.
Later, on 10th January, the WHO released an interim Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) guidance note for Member States and on 14th January it warned hospitals of the possibility that the virus could spread between humans. On 20th January China confirmed human-to-human transmission and after a further ten days of deliberation, while the virus was already spreading internationally, the WHO declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) – one of its highest levels of alert under the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR), a legally binding agreement between Member States to work together on global health security. At this point, several Member States became anxious, but most did not have a clear idea of what a PHEIC alert actually meant in the context of their response.
On 4th February, WHO’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced that the world had a “window of opportunity” to invest in prevention and control as there were a limited number of confirmed cases outside China. By 21st February Dr Ghebreyesus called the international community to action as “the window of opportunity was narrowing”. How did Member States really interpret this message? Was the international community really grasping the idea that we were about to miss the last opportunity to contain the spread of the virus? Was it already too late?
As February rolled into March, the WHO highlighted a huge shortage of equipment for frontline healthcare around the world and finally on 11th March, nearly three months after the first reports, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Throughout April, the WHO made desperate calls to global leaders to put aside any differences, step up collaboration and act in unison. However, by this point, some Member States were struggling to stay ahead of the virus and could only think of themselves, instating measures to protect their citizens and borders without the time to consider a concerted multilateral response.
At the time of writing, with over 5.2 million coronavirus cases reported globally, more than 336,000 deaths and many more unreported cases, the pandemic still rages on. While China claimed to have recovered from the virus, its north-eastern city of Shulan is currently in lockdown after a cluster of coronavirus cases emerged, fearing a second wave. Meanwhile, its political adversary on the issue, the United States, has more than 1.6 million confirmed cases with more than 95,000 deaths, the highest in the world. Other regions like Europe are slowly emerging from strict lockdowns but in Latin America the number of confirmed cases has passed half a million and continues to rise, with Brazil the worst affected.
This is the first truly global health crisis that “We the Peoples” have suffered since the foundation of the UN: every citizen of the world is at risk. The pandemic has forced governments to impose draconian restrictions in an attempt to mitigate the collapse of their public health systems while simultaneously injecting unimaginable levels of capital directly into their economies to soften the financial impact. And yet, if all the governments had rapidly coordinated their responses, collaborated at an early stage and acted in unison, the global impact may have been contained and the recovery period shortened. Moreover, if clearer communication had come from the WHO in a more timely fashion, even the most self-interested and ill-prepared Member State would have known what pre-cautions to take as the viral threat grew and their citizens could have held their governments accountable.
The wider UN has also been lacklustre in its response. Who better than the UN to digest WHO’s early warning messages and convey the right message to its Member States? Who better than the UN to orchestrate a coherent global response through its Security Council (UNSC)? “The UN has a huge role to play in bringing together countries and people during these trying times,” says Amir Dossal, President of the Global Partnerships Forum, to ensure that “no one is left behind”.
There are 3 articles of the UN Charter that clearly determine the UN’s role in such emergency situations: Article 13 refers to the UN General Assembly’s role in initiating international cooperation on economic, social and health issues, Article 57 describes the need of engaging specialised agencies, such as the WHO, and eventually under Article 99, the UN Secretary General must bring forward any matter which may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security to the attention of the Security Council. Unfortunately, to date, the UNSC has not produced any meaningful statement to tackle COVID-19 as efforts have been obstructed by political conflicts between the U.S. and China.
While the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres has referred to the pandemic as “the biggest challenge since the Second World War” and has acknowledged that “normal rules no longer apply”, the General Assembly started to address COVID-19 only in mid-March and its response has not passed beyond a non-binding resolution that called for “intensified international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat” the coronavirus.
Despite WHO’s leadership through the SARS, MERS, Ebola, Avian Flu outbreaks and its extensive knowledge of past pandemics throughout history, Member States have voiced their frustration at the WHO’s handling of the pandemic. One of the organizations biggest donors, the U.S., has even suspended its funding and has threatened to withdraw its membership if substantial changes are not made. Other countries, such as Australia, have requested more transparency and an independent investigation of the causes of the coronavirus outbreak. A resolution, presented by the European Union (EU), on behalf of 100 Member States, called for an independent inquiry into the WHO’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and was approved at the first virtual annual assembly (WHA) of the WHO’s 194 members on 20th May. The day before, on 19th May, an interim independent review on the WHO’s conduct and response to the virus was released by the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee (IOAC) for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.
Communication is the most important tool in any international crisis and ‘communicative multilateralism’ must be at the core of all response strategies. The IOAC report calls for “greater global solidarity and stronger multilateral cooperation” but a close reading of the recommendations underlines the clear need to improve the clarity of the communication framework between the WHO and its Member States.
‘Communicative multilateralism’ has also been at the heart of suggested reforms by the IOAC report to the WHO’s response framework. It has been reported that some Member States do not consider a PHEIC declaration a “sufficiently clear trigger” due to its broad coverage between a small outbreak and a pandemic. Alpo Rusi, a distinguished Finnish diplomat recently told us, “A more effective early warning system needs to be urgently set up at the UN”. There have been other sensible calls for change including, “a stepped level of alerts and galvanization of response measures added to the IHR” and “IHR-nominated focal points in governments to adequately raise the alarm”, that must be heeded.
Additionally, the people must be able to hold their governments to account and how can they do this without clear and simple communication, well defined categories of alert and detailed response measures from the WHO? “Covid-19 is wreaking havoc on the health and economic well-being of our society. As individuals, we have readily conceded life-changing decision-making to our leaders, and we now assume and indeed expect them to do what is in our best interest”, exemplifies Amir Dossal, President of the Global Partnerships Forum.
The IOAC’s recommendations provide the opportunity to explore further the mechanisms already in place and well known by Member States that could “trigger” a much needed sense of urgency that the WHO tried but failed to convey to the international community. Lessons could be learned from other disaster response strategies, for example, there are clear and simple categories of alert to the likely effects of hurricanes and earthquakes that have been tried and tested for over 50 years and are widely understood by governments, scientists and the public alike. There are clear lessons that the WHO and the UN can learn from such natural disaster response systems.
There is a general understanding that this pandemic will have far-reaching political, economic and social implications. Parag Khana, an expert on international relations told us, “If we are lucky, the world will pass ‘peak virus’ within the next six months. But the economy, governments, and social institutions will take years to recover in the best-case scenario. Indeed, rather than even speak of ‘recovery,’ which implies a return to how things were, it would be wise to project what new direction civilization will take. That too will be a bumpy ride. The next 3-5 years will remind us that COVID-19 was the lightning before the thunder”.
There are opportunities to improve following any crisis but before we transform the way society has functioned for hundreds of years, we must determine whether multilateralism and globalization is to blame or if there are other weaknesses in the system that have led us here, such as an alarming weakness of national economic, social and health systems?
We must be careful that rising geopolitical tension is not exploited by some national political elites as an excuse for imposing inward-looking policies and strategies. This may bear fruit on the short- term but will be counterproductive longer-term. A shift to nationalism would disrupt global supply chains of goods and services, doing harm to economies of scale and the provision of aid which will worsen health security. World leaders must step back from knee-jerk reactions to retrench and instead should come together in order to pursue modalities of international cooperation.
Clear communication channels only work if the message is simple and the recipients are educated on the subject. While the IOAC’s recommendations call for “more robust use of WHO collaborating centres around the world, expert networks, such as technical advisory bodies, and public health institutes”, we believe that they should be more ambitious and aim to strengthen the understanding of health systems and pandemics within schools, universities and the public at large. As for the international organizations such as the UN and WHO it must be clear: reforming them and updating them to the requirements of the globalized digital era necessitates ‘communicative multilateralism’ and the launching of ‘Verified’ by the UNSG António Guterres on 21st May, to create a cadre of “digital first responders” to fight misinformation, may be a positive step to adjust.
* Srgjan Kerim, President of the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly, is a seasoned diplomat, scholar and businessman with more than 30 years of international political experience as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador of the Republic of Macedonia. Mr. Kerim began his academic career as a professor of international economics at the University of Belgrade. In addition, he was a visiting professor at the University of Hamburg (Germany) and at New York University. Mr. Kerim is also a recipient of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Award and has been decorated with honours by nations such as Italy, Germany, Austria, the U.S. and others.
Post-corona, we’re going to need new diplomacy
To say we are living in unprecedented times is becoming both hackneyed and tiring in much the same way as we all are becoming during these times of quarantine and uncertainty. Indeed, COVID-19 continues to change every fabric of what we once knew as normal. Economies are all on the brink and misinformation is spreading more rapidly than the actual virus itself.
In fact, the virus is taking its toll on our lives is various ways – beyond the biological. In my own motherland of Italy, it has rattled our lives as the world watched the images of tankers whisking away bodies in the northern city of Bergamo – bodies of the infected victims who were too numerous to be carried out in emergency vehicles, etching itself into our psyche of the danger of this pandemic. In many in developing countries such as Morocco and South Africa, the lives of their citizens seem to be falling apart around them as forced quarantine means a double death for the rural poor, asking themselves “do I die from corona or do I die from starvation?”
Here in Casablanca, where I find myself oddly quarantined in lieu of my home in London, the virus has been called “The Great Revealer” – as it is quickly revealing deficiencies of the world that our illusions have tried to hide.
This includes the instability of many markets, such as the oil market where prices have been falling to historic lows due to failing demand and the fallacy of American supremacy as many states divided on how to respond to the crisis, bolstered by the lack of federal leadership under President Trump. Most heart-breaking for the global community though is the absence of the United States as the leading authority on how to unite the world and work together to bring us all out of this dark period in our history. It’s the excepted role of a superpower and in its failure to do so – even within its own borders – it has unconsciously lost its leadership role in the eyes of the world.
It is a strange time indeed, but one thing this crisis is revealing is the need to continue to work together. The need for partnerships. And also, the need for diplomacy.
Political Economist Phillippe Legrain argued recently in Foreign Policy that COVID-19 will mark the end of globalisation and Forbes Contributor Kenneth Rapoza foretells the post- corona world ending the “decades old system” of globalisation as we know it, as both countries and businesses revert inwards and travel less due to suspicion of the other. But I argue that to assume that COVID-19 will kill globalisation is not just incorrect – it is completely ignorant of human history and the human need for interaction to assume.
Global exchanges have been occurring in one form or another for thousands of years, from the Indus Valley in today’s India to the Taino and Carib people of pre-Columbus America.
But in these dire times, diplomacy – as the art of partnership building it is – is needed now more than ever in order to navigate this new era in which we are finding ourselves in and to rebuild our economies with a greater understanding of our global connectedness.
Let’s start with looking at the concept from a political standpoint, as to refrain from looking at diplomacy from a political lens would be like looking at medicine without considering the patient. COVID-19 is shifting what we understood have been the global leaders over this past century.
The failure of the US leadership in coming up with an appropriate response to the pandemic and both the very apparent and visual display of complete disunity within the United States (which has already been building up even during the era of Obama) has only confirmed one thing for many nations around the world: the power of the United States is gone. Not just because of Trump’s isolation political views and counter effective foreign policy moves (such as the withdrawing of US troops in Northern Syria late last year), but because the US is in too much of a mess in order to help others get out of theirs. Lack of an active health system in addition to heightened political polarity and an unpredictable (as well as unreliable) foreign policy had left many countries to look elsewhere for their diplomatic “northern star” as a guide.
In this uncertain world, a blank canvas is made for the diplomatic world. Now is the time for countries to build alliances more than ever within their own regions and even with new potential partners in order to build both an economy and a presence on the global stage that not only can help them navigate the uncertain waters of the post-corona world, but also began to narrate a new perspective in global dealings.
Governments, especially of developing nations, should take this time to engage collectively with great diplomatic force to build alliances in trade, social impact and regional peace keeping (especially in volatile areas such as the Sahel or Lake Chad region in Sub-Saharan Africa) to begin designing an engagement that works better for them collectively and using a united diplomatic coalition, engaged with potential governments, organisations and stakeholders to take on new strategies
This crisis provides a blank canvas for many countries to work together to bring greater good for their regions and countries in order to continue to interact globally to progress these ambitions. Now, whether there is genuine sincerity in the country and political will is another thing but taking this new paradigm into consideration is a step in the right direction.
Meet the new diplomats
A recent report from Bloomberg projects travel is to be lower in the coming years due to fears of contracting corona, until the development of a vaccine is found. Yet even with the introduction of a vaccine, many organisations will have so much shock from the pandemic that they will have greater reluctance to travel at all.
Refusing to travel is not possible – it has never been possible for humans in our history on this planet, going from the great migrations of homo sapiens from Africa to the exploration of Portuguese Explorer Vasco da Gama.
We need to travel – but for those unwilling to take the initial risk (or looking to reduce the amount of people traveling) creating a diplomatic corps within companies would be the best approach.
Former British Ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher argued this back in 2016 on the potential for this diplomatic paradigm shift and Google has been supposedly exploring establishing its own diplomatic corps in order to engage with countries and key stakeholders abroad.
At my own firm, Pax Tecum Global Consultancy, this has been our primary modus operandi
– we are humanitarian diplomats who represent impact investors, social enterprises, NGOs and even developing countries with other international governments in order to progress business, investment and projects that lead to greater social change.
And the role of the diplomat has been carved out with the need to travel and establishing a global presence, but not having everyone go. With the fear of travelling likely to still be embedded in our minds, it makes sense for businesses to establish a dedicated group or department within its company that is devoted to “diplomatic engagement” abroad and travel. Be it with key stakeholders, investors, partners or even governments themselves, establishing such a core will help the transition during this unsettling time and continue to establish global confidence in the importance of partnership (which it itself is part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals number 17).
Dedicated diplomats who can represent the organisation’s interest internationally can help reduce the quantity of travel, but also allow for those with the savvy for negotiation and assessing risk to take lead progress in line with the strategic endeavours of the country. All this, while also demonstrating to global partners and collaborators one strong and key message – we’re open for business.
In these unprecedented times, we need to take unprecedented action, and this means being both creative yet cognisant of both the world around us and the ever-increasing truth that we all belong to each other – and not on individual geopolitical islands.
Now, more than ever, the power of diplomacy can be utilised to not only carve out a new global order that sees greater partnerships at both a regional and functional geopolitical scale, but also adapts new forms for the use of the diplomat, with resident diplomats deployed from both businesses and other organisations looking to maintain and establish their global presence in this travel adverse world post-corona.
And we need to let diplomacy happen to heal this world during and post crisis, because the biggest causality will not only be the countless people who are dying from this pandemic, but also the failure to understand that anything that happens in this world affects us all, and partnership and working together will be the only way to get us through everything else that comes out way. COVID-19 or not.
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