The Covid-19 pandemic, which plagues the world currently has brought to light the inherent deficiencies in the International Legal order and its ability to combat a global catastrophe of this nature. It has caused a complicated situation in which International Law and its subjects; States and International Organisations, in particular, are struggling to uphold the principle of coordination between states, which is one of the founding principles of the system of International Law.
The United Nations is the primary International Organisation in the International Political and Legal arena. It facilitates such coordination and cooperation between states, as well as Non-State entities such as Non-Governmental Organisations and Multi-National Corporations. One of The UN’s primary organs is the Security Council, which has the primary responsibility to maintain International Peace and Security and has the power to promote effective cooperation between states using its powers to pass enforceable resolutions. In the face of arguably the most significant security threat that the world has faced in the recent past, the Security Council has come under much scrutiny for its absenteeism. Estonia, the UNSC president for May, has called the Security Council’s handling of Covid-19 a shame, further stating that the UN body has not fulfilled its responsibilities of tackling the outbreak of Covid-19.
The global nature of this pandemic clearly brings forth the dire need for international cooperation in order to counter the effects of this crisis. This effectively puts the United Nations Security Council at the forefront of any efforts to pave the way for this cooperation. In light of the recent criticism of its inability to do so, the paper seeks to analyze important issues pertaining to the role of the UNSC, its responsibilities, and powers, as well as possible actions that the Council could undertake.
The Security Council’s Mandate and Jurisdiction
The Security Council currently derives its powers to deal with the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus from past precedent as well as from a purposive interpretation of the United Nations charter. Whilst matters of health are primarily the concern of another UN body, the world health organization, the Security Council has previously discussed and debated global health emergencies, as in the case of Ebola and SARS. The UN charter, in article 24(1), gives a general characterization the Security Council’s functions and powers, which is the responsibility of upholding International peace and security. In the UNSC Resolution 2177 surrounding the Ebola crisis in West Africa, it was declared that the outbreak comes under the duties and jurisdiction of the Security Council as the communicable disease is a threat to International Peace and Security, as it could pose a threat to the stability of nations if it remains unchecked. An analysis of these principles established by the Council itself shows that the Coronavirus is a global issue that the Security Council must deal with, as it threatens International Peace and Security for five reasons. Firstly, the outbreak spans national borders and has become a global issue with an international nature, requiring an International coordinating mechanism. Secondly, it poses a significant threat to the stability of the countries affected, which has affected 213 countries as of June 1, 2020, in that it could lead to civil unrest as well as social tensions, while also affecting the political and security climate. Thirdly, the outbreak is very likely to have exceeded the economic capacity of many governments to respond, thereby outlining the need for International Action appropriately. Fourth, it has taken the lives of more than 374,569 people, as of June 1, 2020. Fifth, it would have a devastating impact on the economy the countries affected by the Coronavirus, and by extension, on the world economy. All of these reasons pose a clear threat to international peace and stability and therefore calls for immediate action by the Security Council. In the next section, the paper seeks to analyze the possible mechanisms that the Security Council could adopt in order to deal with the crisis.
What the Security Council must do
The Security Council must effectively utilize its greatest asset, the ability to coordinate a global response by the member states to combat the effects of the pandemic on the global economy as well as on human health. The Security Council, unlike the WHO, has the ability to coordinate the efforts of different countries and create binding obligations on all member countries to help counter the Coronavirus.
The Security Council, therefore, has the ability to complement the efforts made by the WHO by ensuring that the Member States do not act unilaterally to merely respond to the crisis in their countries, but adopt the more beneficial global approach. The Security Council could, therefore, convert WHO recommendations, in particular those relating to the sharing of scientific information, as well as medical and humanitarian aid amongst countries into binding Security Council resolutions. These resolutions would then become the International Law obligations of the member states, pursuant to Article 25 of the UN charter. They would, therefore, serve as a significant boost to the WHO’s efforts in combating the crisis. Furthermore, the Security Council could provide the impetus for a global coordinating mechanism for Vaccine development in order to boost the efforts made in the field of medical science through multilateral efforts.
The Security Council must also address the implications of the pandemic on the Global Economy. Several economists predict that the Coronavirus would have a devastating impact on the global economy. The Security Council must address these issues through targeted aid, as well as by using coordination mechanisms between countries and the major financial institutions on the global level, such as the World Bank and the IMF. The Security Council is perhaps the only global institution that could coordinate an effective economic response at the moment and must do so immediately, in order to ensure that the global economy is not damaged beyond repair. The Security Council must aim to harmonize national responses, which could include monetary policy, public health interventions as well as stimulus packages in order to address the economic implications of the outbreak.
The Global Response to the Healthcare crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak stands on the access and availability of healthcare goods that different countries enjoy. These “goods” primarily include masks, trained healthcare workers, protective equipment, ventilators, and in the future, would also include therapeutic treatment and vaccines. Traditionally, access to such goods has been severely inequitable in cases of a global outbreak, with distribution primarily guided by economic and political clout than actual need. This is further exemplified in the case of Intellectual Property rights and vaccines, which often make access to such vaccines to third world countries significantly costlier. This is majorly done at the benefit of the first world, which patents these vaccines and does not allow local companies to create the same vaccine in a cheaper manner in the third world without paying their due for using patented procedures. In the context of this crisis, these healthcare goods are in extremely short supply, with demand rising at unprecedented levels across most countries in the world. The Security Council has the ability to facilitate a global goods coordinating mechanism, through which the production and distribution of such goods could be achieved, in order to ensure equitable access to such goods. This could further engage with Multi-national corporations that participate in the production of such supplies in order to create a mechanism to target areas where these goods are most needed. This would be a significant aid to the states most affected by the crisis, as the UN would help facilitate the routing of these healthcare goods to the countries with the direst needs. Such a mechanism, based on cooperation, could significantly help focus and redirect resources to the most impacted areas, especially those countries that may not be able to afford and produce such goods currently.
Political Implications and Concluding Remarks
The world currently faces a global crisis of an unprecedented level. The United Nations, unlike previous crises, has not been at the forefront of this crisis, which now involves virtually all the countries of the world. At the forefront of this inaction is the conflict between China and the USA regarding responsibility for the Virus, and the role of the WHO. The countries of the European Union are operating as a separate entity altogether. China and Russia are seemingly concerned with their own state apparatus, rather than on a global response. There exists a significant void of consistent political leadership to guide a global response to the crisis. However, as the crisis worsens with every passing day, the hope that countries would come to the realization that a global response is the only way to resolve a crisis of this nature grows stronger. There is still time for the world’s most prominent International Organisation to take action. The paper presents a mechanism that the Security Council could adopt to help diminish the effects of the crisis on the world, both in terms of impacts on health and on the global economy. These emergency measures are in the interests of the world at large and are therefore likely to be adopted by the countries of the Security Council, regardless of their political considerations.