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Covid-19 Outbreak in U.S: A Tale of Errors

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Authors: Illashree Singh and Utkarsh Dixit*

When the world is transiting through a phase of lockdowns and economic turmoil, a few days ago the WHO Director-General Tedros A. Ghebreyesus created turbulence across the globe while observing that “the worst is yet to come”. The entire world is within the clutches of the Covid- 19 pandemic which has infected more than 4.6 million people and has caused the death of around 3,06,000 people in 213 countries and 2 international conveyances. The Covid- 19 outbreak confronted the world with one of the first truly global threats of the 21st century. The Secretary-General of the United Nations Organisation Antonio Guterres termed it as “the gravest test since the founding of this organization”.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security and the Economist Intelligence Unit in October 2019 published a Global Health Security Index which stated that the United States is the most prepared nation to handle an epidemic or a pandemic in future. The US healthcare system is considered to be the best in the world, but despite that, the US has been worst affected by the Covid- 19 pandemic. The official figures states that around 1.43 million people have been affected by the Covid- 19 virus and around 87,000 people have lost their lives in the US alone. However, according to the New York Times, the US coronavirus death toll is far higher than officially reported.

Therefore, it becomes obligatory to raise a question that what went wrong that one-third of the total Covid-19 victims in the world are from the United States of America only?

A variety of factors can be held responsible like the desire for not letting the economy to halt, not grasping the severity of the situation, deep cracks in the strategy to prevent the virus from spreading, and most importantly the lackadaisical attitude and inability of the US President Donald Trump to recognize the warnings and shifting his focus in the killing of Iran’s security mastermind Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, or pushing for an initial trade deal with China, and his Senate impeachment trial, etc.  while the Covid-19 virus was spreading its tentacles in the US.

The first covid-19 patient was reported in China in November 2019, and since the first week of January 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) has tried to warn every country about the spreading virus. On January 22, the Director-General of WHO said that “we have a window of opportunity to stop this virus. But that window is rapidly closing.” However, in the midst of trade deal negotiations with China, President Trump appreciated China on January 24 by tweeting that “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency.”

On the contrary, Dr. Carter Mecher, a Senior Medical Adviser at the Department of Veterans Affairs, US, in an email to a group of public health experts on January 28, urged the public health bureaucrats in the US to wake up and prepare for the possibility of far drastic action. The authorities repeatedly played down the seriousness of the virus and focused on other issues, even after it was alarmed by officers inside the government. According to Mr. Trump, the W.H.O. “fought” the United States after he put travel restrictions from China on January 31. Though WHO did not criticize the US, but the organisation has historically opposed border closings and travel bans during such outbreaks, as they never stop transmissible diseases and cause panic and widespread economic damage.

However, before the harshest criticism of President Trump’s inaction, he praised the efforts of WHO in a tweet on February 25 saying that, “the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart, Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

But soon when the things started going off the rails, President Trump started spreading incorrect information, sowing false hope, re-inventing history, re-imagining science, boasting about his supposed heroism and martyrdom and savaging anyone who questions his infallibility.

President Trump started holding daily press conferences since March 9 which includes self-congratulations, audacious re-writing of the recent history in which he cast himself as the hero, and credit-taking which are often predicated on exaggerations and falsehoods. For the catastrophic situation in the US, except himself, he has put the blames on everyone including WHO, China, Democrats, Congressmen, Former President Barack Obama, administrative staff, Governors and the media etc.

Despite earlier appreciating the WHO, President Trump ordered his administration to halt the funding of WHO and again blamed the organization for this devastation by alleging that “so much death has been caused by their mistakes”. The biennial budget for the W.H.O. is about $6 billion, which comes from member countries around the world. In 2019, the United States contributed about $553 million. Later, UN Secretary-General António Guterres defended WHO and said that “it is also not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus”.

In lieu of the upcoming Presidential Elections, the Trump administration is using the press conferences to promote their policies, occupying the television screens, fending off the critics and attacking the political rivals furiously. Therefore, in continuation of his modus operandi, US President recently signed an executive order to halt the issuing of green cards and suspending the entry of immigrants who present a risk to the US labour market during the economic recovery following the Covid-19 outbreak, which according to his critics, is precisely the kind of base-coddling measure that he resorts to when things feel out of control. On Friday, the Trump administration issued new rules barring Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, and its suppliers from using U.S. technology. It can pe perceived that President Trump is making his contest with Beijing a theme of his re-election campaign.

A few days ago, President Trump again stunned the world by suggesting that doctors might treat people infected with the coronavirus by shining ultraviolet light inside their bodies, or with injections of household disinfectant. After the fierce criticism, he sought to play down his statement and defended himself that he was being “sarcastic”. His overconfidence, disdain for expert opinion and an obsession to stop the bad news from hitting the stock market, in order to portray a hunky-dory picture before the upcoming presidential elections in November 2020, made the crises worst in the US.

But despite his pufferies, as per the latest updates, more than 36 million workers have filed for unemployment in the last few weeks. Even next year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecast calls for an unemployment rate averaging above 10%. According to the latest jobs report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 20 million Americans have lost their jobs in April alone, pushing the unemployment rate to 14.7%. However, as per Goldman Sachs, a higher unemployment rate of 25% for the month May can be predicted due to the pandemic.

Moreover, the US GDP fell at a 4.8% annual rate in the first quarter of the year; factually it is the first decline since 2014. Economists expect from the current quarter to show GDP contracting at an annual rate of 30% or more.

So the Trump administration needs to change its strategies otherwise it is going to have a long detrimental effect on life and economy of the US. Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the previous assertion of policies unleashed national interests, and more assertive dependency of world on China, the intensifying and dawdling dissatisfaction among governments with international organisations does not portend well for the future. The incredulous way of governments and inevitable global problems with long-term implications will not wither away. It can only be resolved through global cooperative efforts.

*The authors are lawyers at Supreme Court of India and Allahabad High Court

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A Balloon and Two States

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A Chinese balloon floating in American airspace has finally persuaded US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to postpone his much awaited visit to Beijing.

The Incident

The balloon was first spotted on February 1, 2023 by the Canadian defence authorities which stated that its movement was being monitored by NORAD in alliance with American partners. The balloon, currently floating in the stratosphere, was spotted days later in Billings, Montana where it reached after flying over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, through Canada. The Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, visiting the Philippines at the time, convened a meeting of senior military officials where it was decided that the balloon should not be shot down owing to possible security concerns regarding the debris falling over civilian regions. The balloon, suspected to move further eastwards, is found as not posing any tangible security threat.

The People’s Republic of China admitted to the balloon being of Chinese origin. Beijing’s Foreign Ministry on February 3 clarified that the balloon is of “civilian” nature (民用性质) used for meteorological purposes and got blown off coast owing to the Westerlies. China expressed regret on the incident, noted as an “error of force majeure” (不可抗力误入), intending to negotiate with the US to mitigate the “unforeseen situation” (意外情况).  On the evening of February 3, Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi also held a telephonic conversation with Blinken stressing that China is a “responsible country which has consistently  observed international law”. He noted that China “does not accept any baseless summarisations and sensationalisation of the issue” (中国是负责任国家,一贯严格遵守国际法,我们不接受任何无端的臆测和炒作。)

The Aftermath

The incident has incited contrasting reactions from both sides. While many experts admit to the possibility of the balloon being blown off coast owing to the powerful Westerlies that blow in the region, the balloon’s ability to linger for days creates suspicions over its benign nature. Balloons, argues an article published in the BBC, unlike aircrafts or drones are not only cheaper, easier to use but are also difficult to track which is the reason why the exact route of the balloon cannot be determined. It is claimed that such high altitude balloons can also loiter for days over target areas owing to their slow speed unlike drones which remain confined to their orbital pass. The move is claimed to be a sleight of Beijing to spy over the sensitive American military region.

Many reports have also claimed that being spotted was the whole point behind sending the balloon. Some experts are reading it as a way for China to highlight its technological prowess to the United States without escalating the situation while at the same time recording American response to it.

The incident has also ruffled some feathers  within the US political corridors; with many, particularly Republicans, pushing President Biden to tersely respond to the situation while also making the incident a pretext for banning Chinese technology and apps such as Tiktok over privacy and security concerns. The most severe consequence however has been Blinken’s decision to postpone his two-day visit to Beijing.

A stern editorial published in the Global edition of China Today (中国日报) on February 3, dubbed the reactions as a way of tarnishing China’s image. While the links to China which the editorial denies have been confirmed by Beijing’s Foreign Ministry, the article notes:

“We can be sure about the ignorance of the fabricator. Surveillance balloons being used as military technology dates back to the early 20th century, the technology is outdated one can hardly imagine any nation like China still resorting to it today; at the same time, the shortest route between Beijing and Montana is over 9,000km, which makes it impossible to precisely control the flight of this or any balloon.”

Turning the tables on the US, the article further notes:

“What really deserves attention during the whole “balloon incident” is that some US media outlets and “experts” have claimed Montana is a highly sensitive place due to the fact there are about 150 intercontinental missile launching sites there, with confidential military information. While the real question is why are the US hoarding such a large stockpile of weapons of mass destruction?”.

A Chinese article in the Sina News similarly rebuffed all claims of the spy balloon as “sheer nonsense” (“纯属无稽之谈”) by citing several military experts. Another article on the news website refuted such claims by noting several previous “China threat theories” including the case of “spy refrigerators”. The article justifies the argument by pointing out how the US  had been planning to produce such high altitude inflatables for surveillance purposes. Citing a Pentagon report, an article in the Time claimed that such  balloons are common surveillance instruments used by several nations including the United States. Moreover, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Shih Shun-wen noted that such weather balloons used by the PLA, several of which entered Taiwan’s airspace, are innocuous and do not pose any security threat.

What does it mean?

While American threat perceptions cannot be entirely denied, postponing Blinken’s visit could have been avoided. In an article for The Diplomat, Prof. Hemant Adlakha highlights the ambivalent attitude of the Chinese official discourse and academia  towards Blinken’s visit. The news of the visit did not just remain unconfirmed till the last moment but conspicuously lacked any enthusiasm. Prof. Adlakha notes that such an attitude stems from Beijing’s reservations over hosting Blinken, a figure seen as furthering an unfavourable stance towards China. Another article by the Quincy Institute claimed the situation to be “inflated” beyond requirement and emphasised on the need for diplomatic efforts to be made during times of crises like the present scenario by citing several past examples including the 2001 Hainan Island incident.

Be as it may, the whole episode clearly highlights the deteriorating trust between Washington and Beijing. The bilateral relations, which have remained downhill for more than three years, are in an urgent need of rejuvenation. China and the United States must realise the importance of their stable bilateral relationship for the maintenance of world peace. Incidents like such are a test of diplomatic efforts and both sides must put in active efforts to mitigate the situation.

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Review of indo pacific strategy of the United States

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President Biden strategy is based on, “Free and open indo pacific enduring and flourishing world ahead.”-President Biden statement on QUAD summit on September 24,2021

Indo pacific is the home of the United states so they have really acute policies in this region. The united states have announced the Indo pacific strategy and the role of US in the coming 21st century for the betterment of the indo pacific and its stability and how can they work for this region and how they can utilize this region for the better cause of the world. The united states alliances system has deeply helped the world and they have tried their best to support and spread the agenda of the liberalism regarding open market, free and openness, connectedness, prosperity of the world, security of the world with respect to traditional and nontraditional security dynamics of the world which includes climate green security and they also tend to reflect on the post pandemic world order.

Since the united states is in the indo pacific region itself. This region geographically touches its coast from pacific to Indian coast and economically is the emerging yet emerged dominating hub of 2/3rd economy of the world and seven major militaries of the world. It also owns and supports $900 billion foreign direct investments and even it supports 300 million jobs by US. For US this regions stability is really crucial and important. Any damage to this region is considered as a threat to US itself and for US the stability of this region is really crucial and important as this region provide opportunities and making it a hegemon of the world and also thus increases risks for US either. This region got more important to US after world war2 and after end of the cold war and even in during presidency of president George Bush and also in the trumps era and also in the presidency of the president Biden.

Since president Biden is focused to invest more in every corner of the world keeping it engaged and integrated focusing from the northeast Asia to southeast Asia and from north to south including indo pacific. Since he stated that,

“We will focus in every corner of the region, from northeast Asia to southeast Asia including south Asia to Oceania and pacific islands.”

this defines the importance and utility of this region to the US.

Indo pacific strategy is based on 5 principles that motivates US to work on. These are The indo pacific strategy Is based on:

  1. Free and open indo pacific.
  2. Building connections in the region and beyond.
  3. Prosperity of the indo pacific region
  4. Security of indo pacific region
  5. Building regional resilience in the 21st century

Advance a free and open indo pacific:

It is in the vital interests of the us to advance a free and open indo pacific region and they are working to advance this home region where government can make their own choices and become consistent under the obligation of international law. They are working hard to enforce democratic type of government in this region and enforcing democratic institutions and establishing a vibrant civil society and press free society. They are also trying hard to expose corruptions and drive reforms. They are also trying hard to make the regions skies and seas according to international law and are trying hard to achieve major advance technologies like cyber space and internet.

Build connections within and beyond region:

It is believed that free and open indo pacific can be achieved only if we build connections within and beyond the indo pacific region through economy, trade and organizations and institutions etc. since US is making adaptability through alliance system and through trade. Well US is looking forward to deepen its treaty alliances with japan, Thailand, Philippines and republic of Korea and looking forward to strengthen its relations with India, Taiwan, Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam and pacific islands. They are also empowering QUAD and ASEAN states. US is also supporting India to achieve the race of regional hegemony. US is also expanding its diplomatic presence in the indo pacific zones and expanding it in a futile way.

Drive indo pacific prosperity:

The indo pacific is the home of Americans and so their prosperity is linked with the stability and prosperity of indo pacific regions. The real fact behind the investments to encourage innovation, strengthen economic competitiveness, produce good-paying jobs, rebuild supply chains, and expand economic opportunities for middle-class families almost for 1.5 billion people in the Indo-Pacific that will join the global middle class this decade. We will drive Indo-Pacific prosperity. The indo pacific regions can get prosperous by developing new trade and environmental traditions and by stabilizing traditional and nontraditional paradigms and domains in this region. Also by governing the digital economies and by introducing new digital framework in this region. US is introducing advance and resilient and more secure supply chains that are more diverse and predictable and open to the new world and new technologies. US is thriving hard to make investments and decarburizations and clean energy. They are tend to promote free and fair and open trade and investment through APEC which means Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation’s.

Bolster Indo- pacific security:

US has maintained its militia in this indo-pacific region for more than 75 years to maintain the security of this region and has kept its defense in this region to keep its security, stability and peace secure. The United States is extending and modernizing and enhancing its capabilities to defend their interest and to deter aggression in this region. US is bolstering this region and deterring the aggression and coercion by advancing integrated deterrence and deepening cooperation and enhancing integration with their allies and partners. US is also maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan strait and they are really about it. US is also innovating to operate rapidly in evolving threats of environment, cyber and other traditional and nontraditional domains of this domain. United states is determined to strengthen its extended deterrence and coordination with Japanese allies and Korean peninsula.  They are looking forward to deliver on AUKUS. US is also working with congress to fund the pacific deterrence initiative and maritime initiative.

Build regional resilience in 21st century to transitional threats:

The indo pacific major challenge is climate security and glacier melting’s which is leading to consistent rise in sea levels. Similarly, covid is also inflicting a painful and is also an economic troll across the region. This region is also vulnerable to natural disasters, recourse scarcity, internal threats and major governance challenges so US is firm to build the resilience to 21st century transitional threats by working its allies and partners to develop 2030 and 2050 targets, strategies and plans and policies by limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius. They are also firm to reduce regional vulnerabilities and its impact of climate change and environmental degradations and also working on health security after COVID-19 pandemic and its mass destruction in this zone.

Way forward:

The US is looking forward to work in strengthen and work in these zones which are as:

  1. They are driving and working more resources to the indo pacific and are determined to more transnational and individual based interactions.
  2. Leading indo-pacific economic framework
  3. Reinforcing deterrence
  4. Strengthening unified ASEAN.
  5. Supporting India’s regional leadership.
  6. Deliver on QUAD.
  7. Work on US- Japan-ROK cooperation.
  8. Firm to partner to work on resilience in the pacific islands.
  9. Supporting good governance and accountability in this region.
  10. Supporting open, secure and more trustworthy technologies in this region.

Conclusion:

US have entered significant time of Americans international strategy after the world war that their ambitions, goals and policies have become clearer in this region. The US will ascend to our authority charge on discretion, security, financial aspects, environment, pandemic reaction, and innovation. The Indo-Pacific’s future relies upon our decisions of United States and US strategies. “The US role in this region must be effective and enduring than ever for this region and the world.”

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America’s Exceptionalism in Mass-Shooting and Its Culture of Rugged Individualism

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Amid an unrelenting surge of gun massacres, many have wondered why the United States- the world’s leading country in mass shootings over the last century, is more prone to mass shootings than any other country. Gun violence, though, is prevalent in many parts of the world, for instance in most parts of Latin America. But in America, no form of violence is seen as more uniquely American than public mass shootings by “lone-wolf” gunmen. According to Gun Violence Archive, 39 mass shootings have already taken place across the country in just the first three weeks of 2023. Last year the country witnessed around 647 cases of mass shooting with the consequence of more than 44,000 death tolls due to gun violence overall.

Like its political establishment, American public discourse has long firmly been divided over what causes this epidemic. The critics of this national sickness focus their fire on the second amendment of the American constitution and the nefarious political influence of the National Rifles Association (NRF). But here comes down to the question: will a mere constitutional amendment and the neutralization of special interest groups like the NRF lead to the solution to the endemic prevalence of lone-wolf mass shootings? The answer is: not likely, as the problem is deeply rooted in America’s culture itself: the culture of rugged individualism built on its deep-seated historical myth.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, rugged individualism is defined as “the combination of individualism and anti-statism … a prominent feature of American culture with deep roots in the country’s history of frontier settlement.” While individualism, as noted, may be conducive to innovation and resource mobilization, it can also undermine collective action, with potentially adverse social consequences. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was seen how America’s rugged individualistic mindset fomented by its frontier culture hampered the state responses to the pandemic, with many Americans having defied mandatory mask-wearing and vaccination programs.

Likewise, the gun is a great emblem and lethal offspring of American individualism. The nation has long valorized masculine heroes –violent frontiersmen or Hollywoodized American Archetype “White Loners” – who impose their will on the community’s enemies with violence. Added to that deep-seated historical ideal and cultural sickness are the deteriorating trend in kinship traditions and ever-declining “rational mobility”- a condition that helps establish bonds of support beyond immediate families on the basis of socially engaging emotions such as empathy warmth, trust, affection, etc.

Self-serving politicians and gun advocates often ridiculously propose giving more arms into the hands of “the good guys” to thwart “the bad guys with guns.” The Americans’ dire wishes for gun possession, however, stem less from their sense of personal or communal security rather more from an egocentric individualistic cultural reasoning that lacks the prioritization of collective communal safety. The unshakeable emotional and individualistic values Americans attach to guns frequently override concerns about the nation’s collective health and safety.          

The exercise of unfettered individualism is also seen in many parts of the western world, like in Europe; but nowhere in the world is this so infested by historical myth and pathological strains as in America- what the prominent criminologist Adam Lankford called “the uniquely American quality.” And where the United States is stunningly divergent from the rest of the world is the confluence of individualistic culture and the easiest access to guns. In no other part of the world gun access and rugged individualistic culture interact in the same way.

Although many European countries share the same cultural forces that produce aggrieved social outcasts. But those countries erect formidable hurdles on the way of purchasing guns legally that are quite unheard of in the United States: longer waiting periods, higher insurance costs, full-blown psychiatric evaluations, gun safety courses, etc. Resultantly, the country has more weapons than people: one in three adults possesses at least one firearm, and almost one in two adults resides in a home with a firearm.

But the prevalence of guns alone does not account for U.S. exceptionalism in mass shootings. For example, like the United States, much of Latin America is saturated with firearms but, despite high rates of gun violence, mass shootings there by a “lone wolf” gunman are exceedingly rare. And experts pointed to the cultural difference as a powerful factor playing out in creating a huge disparity in the number of mass shooting cases between the two regions.      

In America, ever-increasing personal and economic struggles combined with the inherent state structural tension and identity crisis continue to produce aggrieved social outcasts. On top of this, the ever-exacerbating political climate plagued by partisan divide, racial toxicity, and xenophobic bigotry has also been influencing socially and politically aggrieved outcasts, due to the absence of alternative social redressing mechanisms, to seek recourse by resorting to mass violence. Here, rugged individualism works in creating the very roots of virile fantasy to violence, a toxic political milieu in fueling grievances, and finally easy access to guns in triggering off those grievances in the form of mass shooting.      

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