Human Security amid Thucydides Trap in a Post Covid-19 World

The primary concern for the states is security; some would say military security before the human security. Hans Morgenthau, the notable classical realist scholar of 20th century was of the opinion that states are either in a state of war, recovering from the effects of war or preparing to fight new wars. When it comes to states that have the capability to shape the future of the world, matters of high politics become very meaningful. The relation between the states having hegemonic intentions are the drivers of the world order. The World Order changes with a whimper rather than a bang. And the Balance of Power has already been shifting; with China as the rising power threatening the unipolarity of The United States of America.

Going back into the history of ancient Greece, the military general and historian Thucydides gave very interesting (and first of its kind) explanation for wars. He deduced from the thirty years Peloponnesian wars that whenever there is an established hegemon in the region and another power is rising up to challenge the hegemony of the former, a conflict between both is inevitable. Sparta was an established hegemon of the region at that time and had a very strong military force on land. Athens had a strong navy and its power was perceived as a threat by Spartans. Hence, they both indulged in a bloody war lasting for nearly three decades.

A plague came at the beginning of war and it devastated Athenians. One-Fourth of them lost their lives to the epidemic. It caused many problems in Athens. The economy collapsed, laws became strict and the entry of Non-Athenians was prohibited into the city and many social disruptions also took place. When Athens and Sparta indulged in a series of wars, the power of both of the Greek cities weakened as a result of their rivalry. It made a power vacuum and eventually the Macedonian invaders from the North overpowered both of them. In the present times, this invader may be a pandemic that does not see the military power nor the economic might. The only thing that can stand against the pandemic is the willingness and effort by individuals, states and the international structure to combat it. Is the world (and especially the two mighty states) capable to beat a likely pandemic in future that may even be monstrous than the corona virus under the same structure of the system? If no, what changes will this pandemic bring up in the Homo Sapiens?

Clearly, the first answer to clear the world from coronavirus will be a global vaccination drive. But that will need a lot of time; at least a year. And even after vaccination, the risk of another global crisis is always there. Vaccination is not the abracadabra to prevent the outbreak of future viruses. It will only fix the present one. In conditions when the world is not on one page and the populist leaders have choices beyond human security, there is minimal hope to make effective policies and value health institutions globally.

Another option, and that is favorite for the President of United States Donald Trump, is to curtail the immigration as immigrants can be a source of spreading viruses. Globalization may face a serious threat. Corona virus can be the death knell to Post-Modernism. Liberal trade is already at a low under protectionist policies. Francis Fukuyama’s End of History is not coming, rather a new history is yet to begin. China, with an authoritarian regime, has been successful at managing to deal with the challenge posed by corona virus better than the capitalist liberal developed world despite having a huge population. China has been influenced by Confucianism for centuries and the public generally respects the authority. An authoritarian regime may prove to work better in times of crisis. Democracies may compromise on their values in coming days and the individuals’ privacy may take a back seat. As a result, surveillance may also increase. Some may say it will be necessary in order to achieve a greater good – human security.

Pandemics in a globalized world cannot be handled unless all the stakeholders unite. The threat posed by pandemics must make the world review the priorities. Big power rivalry must come to a halt in order to escape the Thucydides Trap if they have to maintain their powers. Corona virus is going to change the world. Lethal pandemics can collapse the healthcare systems within days as well as economies and subsequently other institutions worldwide. Collaboration by all and especially between US and China can help make the world capable of containing contagious diseases. If they still do not refrain from a zero-sum game, the outcomes may be disastrous for all as the third enemy will be waiting in the queue.

But, will a world split in two camps, one led by USA and another by China in the new hegemonic cold war, be able to fight this third enemy that will not differentiate between anyone before attacking? A Thucydides trap will make way for a global crisis as it will diverge the world towards military security rather than human security. Graham Allison – a leading American political scientist writes about the last 500 years, “in 12 of 16 past cases in which a rising power has confronted a ruling power, the result has been bloodshed.” He predicts that it will revive again between USA and China. Henry Kissinger and John Mearsheimer also endorse that USA and China will fall into Thucydides Trap as the unipolar hegemony of United States is in danger with the rise of China. A Thucydides Trap is almost always a result of a lose-lose confrontation that can be escaped by a win-win cooperation; provided that sanity prevails. If the two big powers come out of a prisoner’s dilemma, a zero-sum game can be avoided at a global level and the priorities can be fixed by shifting the scope from military security to human security.

M. Abdul Basit
M. Abdul Basit
The author belongs to Pakistan and writes on international relations and sociopolitical issues. Twitter: @AbdulBasit0419