Traditionally, the concept of security was narrowly confined in military position with the essential focus on state protection from threats to national interests. Nevertheless, in the not too distant past, efforts to link up global health and health security have lifted eyebrows from experts in both the areas. Arguments linking global health and health security have become patronize in the past few years. Accumulated concerns about the proliferation of biological weapons and the potential for bioterrorism have brought health security and public health more closer. The health-security nexus has become a dominating component within global health governance and global surveillance and response to infectious disease outbreaks. Though, debates on health-security nexus vary in levels of analytic thinking from the global to the national, infectious diseases could be incredibly conferred as a real terror to any state. A pandemic may not only cause social disruption but also, threaten the stability of a state by eroding confidence in the state’s ability to provide a basic healthcare facilities and protection against diseases. Ideally, infectious diseases may not be the white-shoe, but it may provide the flash point turning a ‘weak state’ into a ‘failed state’.
For millennia, humans suffered and died from disease with no understanding or knowledge of the aetiology. Now and then historians transcribed conflicts and wars where infectious disease outbreaks played a prominent role. Likewise, several historical approaches to combating disease – such as the quarantine practices of the late 14th century onwards – proved so effective that we continue to utilize equivalent methods today. For a time, following the collapse of the Roman Empire the trend was for people to avoid settling in urban environment. By the 12th century, this began to reverse that move towards increased urbanization and also brought with it greater risk of diseases. In 1377 the city-state of Venice that had been severely affected by the Black Death as it spread across Europe, introduced quarantine arrangements for the first time. Observing that the disease appeared to have arrived on ships carrying trade goods, the Venetian authorities mandated that all newly arriving vessels be prevented from unloading cargo or passengers for a period of 40 days, purportedly on the basis that it was the same length of time Prophet Christ and Prophet Moses (P.B.U.T) had spent isolated in the desert.
At the end of WWI one of the most devastating epidemiological events in recorded human history occurred in the form of the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic that killed approximately 40 millions people worldwide. Moreover, several major epidemics of typhoid, cholera, malaria, and yellow fever had a demonstrable impact on military forces throughout WWII. However, the real threat that infectious diseases posed to the global community was extremely well recognized by 1948 at the time of the establishment of World Health Organization (WHO). Likewise, the connexion of the global health – health security acknowledged in the 1990s flows from four critical causes: (1) the devastating scale of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the developing world; (2) the recognition of the global problem of emerging and reemerging infectious diseases; (3) renewed concerns about the proliferation of biological weapons by states; (4) increased fears about the use of biological weapons by terrorists.
Global health issues, especially from infectious disease outbreaks, have risen ever higher on the global political agenda in the past two decades. Surprisingly, new infectious diseases have been emerging at an accelerated average of one a year by the same time period. E.g., SARS (2002-2003), MERS (2012), Avian Influenza A(H7N9) (2013), Ebola (2014-2015), Zika (2015-2016), and COVID-19 (nCoV-2019-2020).
“It is likely that the world will continue to face outbreaks that most countries are ill positioned to combat. In addition to climate change and urbanization, international mass displacement and migration – now happening in nearly every corner of the world – create ideal conditions for the emergence and spread of pathogen”. – The Global Health Security Index, 2019. Knowing the risks associated with infectious disease outbreaks is not enough. Political determination is needed to protect people from the consequences of pandemics and to build a safer and more secure world. Today is high time for presidents, prime ministers, parliamentarians, and health policy-makers to recognize that every nation’s security depends on global health security and that requires sincere, consistent, and long-run planning to make the world better equipped to respond pandemic terror. What is unfortunately guaranteed if history is any guide, is that adverse infectious disease outbreaks will continue to visit globally and securitizing global health is one of the best tools to address them.
Measures taken by the Baltic States are insufficient
The Ministers of Foreign Affairs of NATO met on April, 2 in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic. Though they expressed the deepest sympathies with all the victims of the Coronavirus disease, NATO continues to do its part.
The organization tries to kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, Commander, U.S. European Command, Gen Tod D. Wolters commented that linked exercises to Defender-Europe 20 in the Baltic States, along with a number of other planned events, were cancelled. On the other hand, NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups in Latvia and Lithuania continue training together with national troops putting military at risk of COVID 19 infection.
Thus, NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup in Latvia in March completed two exercises, CRYSTAL ARROW and IRON SPEAR, demonstrating its ability to effectively work together on the battlefield. It is difficult to imagine how soldiers practiced social distancing while being in tanks. It looks as if NATO and local military authorities try to reassure the population and the military and convince them of the absence of threat.
The more so, it was reported that NATO eFP units from Norway (the Telemark Battalion) together with US JTAC’s and M-1 Abrams tanks (1-9 CAV) conducted on March 25 Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise (CALFEX) on the Pabrade training grounds. The focus was to maintain combat readiness and perform complex training as part of the NATO mission to Lithuania. At the same time the battalion confirmed last week that 24 troops had tested positive for the coronavirus. NATO conducts exercises in the Baltic States despite COVID 19 spread among troops.
In spite of this fact, NATO remains active openly demonstrating its ability of collective defence against threats. Though the nature of threats has changed drastically, NATO showed flexibility only in words. Apparently, NATO and the U.S. in particular is not going to give up its policy in the region. The U.S. cannot allow NATO to give up the idea of making Europe a battlefield in case of conflict with Russia.
As for the Baltic States’ authorities, they should realize that the presence and ongoing activity of NATO Battlegroups on their territory poses a real threat to the region, though today it is not military.
NATO enhanced Forward Presence keeps its promise to the Baltic States. And what about the promises Baltic authorities gave to their own people?
Pakistan’s Strategic Preparedness and Critical Decision-Making One Year after Balakot
With numerous heads of state gradually coming to terms with the realities of an entire world under lockdown, India’s new domicile laws for the disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir mark a return to business as usual for India-Pakistan tensions. Particularly following Pakistan’s official condemnation of what has been termed as the ‘Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Order 2020’, the threats which this seven decades old dispute still pose to regional peace and stability remain ever-present even amidst a prevailing global pandemic. Especially considering how just a year ago, both countries were brought dangerously close to the brink of total and perhaps even nuclear war, it is worth highlighting how India’s sustained and single-minded approach to altering the status-quo across the LoC, by any means necessary, risks yet another global catastrophe. The kind of catastrophe which may render the ongoing COVID-19 crisis as wholly insignificant compared to the near irreversible effects of a devastating nuclear war between both countries.
These dangers are clearly evident in how with even more than a year having passed since the Balakot air strikes, there has not yet been a clear acknowledgment of how India’s new-found penchant for nuclear brinkmanship and reckless flirtation with the escalation ladder has affected Pakistan’s strategic preparedness and crisis decision making. For instance, Prime Minister Modi’s now infamous reference to his planned qatal ki raat (Night of Murder)and Prime Minister Khan’s purported warning of responding to any such provocation ‘three times over’ presented startling insights into how both countries’ politico-military leaders envisioned the escalation ladder. Whereas, the above references are reported to have alluded to ballistic missiles armed with conventional payloads, the irreversible step towards a nuclear strike – be it a tactical demonstration or a pre-emptive decapitation – remained unnervingly close. The risks of which are likely to have then weighed heavily on decision makers on both sides of the border.
Considering how both sides’ missile delivery systems are inherently designed for dual-use purposes, this comingling of strategic and conventional assets presents a disquieting reaffirmation of the immense difficulties faced when accurately ascertaining the other’s intentions and risk assessments with reference to a ‘mutually acceptable’ escalation ladder. Whereas many analysts on both sides of the border have evinced confidence that both India and Pakistan understand each other’s strategic signals and postures, the deliberate change being brought about within India’s strategic doctrine and military thinking is aimed at radically altering this understanding. A development that is further adding to the difficulty of ensuring deterrence stability within an increasingly complex and technologically advanced world.
This impact of comingling strategic and conventional capabilities on critical decision-making and overall situational awareness has been discussed at length in a recent report released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.Titled ‘Under the Nuclear Shadow’ the nearly two year study is aimed at assessing the impact of some of the latest ISR capabilities on the strategic calculus and situational awareness of nuclear weapons states. It identifies a broad range of developments which key policymakers in charge of today’s nuclear arsenals need to take into account whilst recognizing ‘the complex interplay between technology, escalation, and decision making.’ Within this framework, the risks of what the report identifies as ‘Entanglement’ or decision makers’ inability to delineate between nuclear and conventional risks, represents a highly significant potential pathway for escalation.
The simple truth that these risks were in full play during last year’s confrontation between nuclear armed India and Pakistan throughout the post-Pulwama environment has since been grossly underrated by Indian policymakers. In fact, this has been evident throughout India’s search for a limited engagement with Pakistan, just below its nuclear thresholds as enshrined in its now institutionalized concepts of ‘Cold Start’ and ‘Surgical Strikes’.
As a result, the onus has been placed solely on Pakistan to disentangle such risks. What’s more, Pakistan has to now base its risk assessments of India’s intentions mostly from the missions being conducted against it, as opposed to the fast expanding, dual-use capabilities of the Indian military. These include India’s Brahmos cruise missiles and its S-400 missile defense batteries both of which can respectively deploy and detect both conventional and nuclear assets. Thus, making it extremely difficult for Pakistani decision makers to distinguish a potential conventional mission from a nuclear one.
Taking into account Pakistan’s self-avowed doctrine of Full Spectrum Deterrence, what such provocations may and have probably already led to is a significantly reduced nuclear threshold. While much has already been written on how Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) such as its Nasr missile batteries have significantly reduced this threshold, a perhaps highly understudied aspect is how India’s aggressive posturing and increasing ambiguity with regards to its NFU (No First Use)policy has since played psychologically on the minds of Pakistani strategists and decision makers.
As pointed out in the above referenced report, the prevalence of cognitive biases in the form of confirmation bias and availability heuristics within an increasingly complex nuclear environment in themselves present a dangerous path towards escalation. Amidst the deliberate jingoism and incessant allusions to nuclear war-fighting from key leaders within India’s national security apparatus, there is a genuine risk that India’s institutionalized brinkmanship -by willfully bringing about first-strike instability – may lead to all-out disaster under the reckless garb of calling Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. This holds especially true when considering that the dominant discourse surrounding an irrational Indian security junta, imbibed in the RSS’s fanaticism, may be directly driving certain aspects of confirmation bias and availability heuristics within Pakistani decision-making circles. A factor that has already perhaps multiplied exponentially since India’s decision to engage in a cross-border air-strike against Pakistan just 14 months ago.
Hence, with the entire world reeling from an unseen pandemic that has already changed day to day life as we know it, the risks of something even graver still loom large when considering the precarious strategic balance in South Asia. Risks that are all seriously worth re-considering as both countries simultaneously attempt to secure the well-being and future of their respective populations as part of a joint global effort. Ironically pointing towards yet another common goal which both countries can find some common ground over to help de-escalate such prevailing tensions.
China manoeuvres to protect its interests while keeping its hands clean
The question is not if, but when the long-standing American defence umbrella in the Gulf, the world’s most militarised and volatile region, will be replaced by a multilateral security arrangement that would have to include China as well as Russia.
The United States’ perceived diminishing commitment to the Gulf and the broader Middle East and mounting doubts about the deterrence value of its defence umbrella leave the Gulf stuck between a rock and a hard place. The American umbrella is shrinking, but neither China nor Russia, despite their obvious interests, are capable or willing simply to shoulder the responsibility, political risk and cost of replacing it.
On balance, China’s interests seem self-evident. It needs to secure its mushrooming political and economic interests in the Gulf, which includes ensuring the flow of oil and gas and protecting its infrastructure investment and the expanding Chinese diaspora in the region. Nonetheless, China has so far refrained from putting its might where its money is, free-riding instead (in the words of US officials) on America’s regional military presence.
Indeed, for the longest time China has been able to outsource the protection of its interests to the United States at virtually no cost. For the US, guaranteeing security in the Gulf has been anchored in an American policy which accepted that maintaining security far beyond the borders of the United States was in America’s national interest, including the protection of Chinese assets. All China needed to do, therefore, was to make minimal gestures such as contributing to the multi-national effort in the Gulf and adjacent waters to counter Somali pirates.
In the meantime, China could pursue a long-term strategy to bolster its capabilities. This included infrastructure projects related to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with dual-purpose potential (such as the strategic ports of Gwadar in Pakistan and Duqm in Oman as well as commercial investment in Dubai’s Jebel Ali), the creation of China’s first overseas military facility in Djibouti, and significant expenditure on upgrading the Chinese armed forces.
All that potentially changed with the rise of US President Donald J. Trump, who advocated an America First policy that attributed little value to past US commitments or to maintaining existing alliances. Hence Trump embarked on a trade war with China – viewed as a strategic competitor – and appeared to fuel rather than resolve regional stability by uncritically aligning American policy with that of Saudi Arabia and Israel and targeted Iran as the source of all evil.
This change has yet to translate into specific Chinese policy statements or actions. Nonetheless, the anticipated shift from a unipolar to a multilateral security architecture in the Gulf has cast a new light on the first-ever joint naval exercise involving Chinese, Russian and Iranian naval forces, as well as China’s seemingly lukewarm support for a Russian proposal for a multilateral security approach in the Gulf.
China was careful to signal that neither the joint exercise nor its closer military ties with a host of other Middle Eastern nations meant it was aspiring to a greater role in regional security any time soon. If anything, both the exercise and China’s notional support for Russia’s proposed restructuring of regional security suggest that China envisions a continued US lead in Gulf security, despite the mounting rivalry between the world’s two largest economies.
The Russian proposal in many ways fits China’s bill. Its calls for a multilateral structure involving Russia, China, the United States, Europe and India that would evolve out of a regional security conference along the lines of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). While backing Russia’s proposal in general terms, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang stopped short of specifically endorsing it. Geng welcomed ‘all proposals and diplomatic efforts conducive to de-escalating the situation in the Gulf region’.
China’s reluctance to endorse the Russian proposal more wholeheartedly is rooted in differing approaches towards multilateralism in general and alliances in particular. China shies away from alliances, with their emphasis on geo-economics rather than geopolitics, while Russia still operates in terms of alliances. Despite favouring a continued American lead, China sees a broadening of security arrangements that would embed rather than replace the US defence umbrella in the Gulf as a way to reduce regional tensions.
China also believes that a multilateral arrangement would allow it to continue to steer clear of being sucked into conflicts and disputes in the Middle East, particularly the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. A multilateral arrangement in which the US remained the key military player would further fit the pattern of China’s gradual projection of its growing military power beyond its borders.
With the exception of the facility in Djibouti, China’s projection becomes less hardcore the further one gets from the borders of the People’s Republic. More fundamentally, China’s approach is grounded in the belief that economics rather than geopolitics is the key to solving disputes, which so far has allowed it to remain detached from the Middle East’s multiple conflicts. It remains to be seen how sustainable this approach is in the long term.
Such an approach is unlikely to shield China forever from the Middle East’s penchant for ensuring it is at the heart of the major external parties’ concerns. And as Jiang Xudong, a Middle East scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, puts it: ‘Economic investment will not solve all other problems when there are religious and ethnic conflicts at play’.
Author’s note: first published in Asian Dialogue
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