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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Covid has reinvented the idea of collective security

Ending this pandemic will require collective action from all countries

May 28, 2021 7:37:27 pm
Alliances like GAVI and COVAX are what real collective security means now. They are here to ensure that humans respond to the attack of the virus collectively. (File)

Written by Pavan Chaurasia

Our collective wisdom functions through a process that has three junctures: Learning, unlearning and relearning. These three pillars of the knowledge ecosystem were earlier considered to be exclusively reserved for the domain of social sciences, where a concept was first understood (learned), then vehemently debated (unlearned), and then a newer concept was evolved out of this (relearned). That is why subjectivity was, and still is considered a hallmark of the studies in social sciences. However, it was American Philosopher Thomas Kuhn, who took up this idea in the domain of natural sciences. In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn discusses how a majority of scientists think in a particular direction or what he calls a “paradigm”. And when the existing paradigm fails to answer burning questions of the time (known as a stage of crisis), they move towards a knowledge revolution or a “paradigm shift”. Interestingly, this “paradigm shift” is being witnessed in terms of our conventional understanding of the concept of “collective security” too, at a time when the entire world is fighting a common enemy — Covid-19.

Collective security as a concept has a very old history and holds deep importance in international relations. Roberts and Kingsbury define collective security as “an arrangement where each state in the system accepts that security of one of them is a concern for all, and agrees to join in a collective response to aggression”. The basic premise of collective security is that an attack on one means an attack on all and therefore collective action must follow as a response to the attack. The idea was most revered by strategic thinkers, especially in the West, and became an article of faith for the realist thinkers. The period of the Cold War saw the thick of the idea of collective security. If the US or the so-called First World created NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) in 1949, the USSR was not far behind and launched its own model of collective security called the Warsaw Pact (1955). The US also created localised versions of NATO in the form of SEATO, CENTO etc. These institutions of collective security were formed to dissuade the other camp from changing the status quo of global politics.

Collective security was accused of causing great mistrust during the Cold War. However, a lot has changed over time. The Cold War ceased to exist and as did the USSR, Warsaw Pact, SEATO and CENTO. The Covid-19 pandemic has remarkably led to a rethink of this concept. The pandemic has taken the reductionist approach out of it and has instead installed the humanitarian aspect into it. Earlier it was an ideologically-convergent group of states in one camp, and an ideologically-divergent one in another, ready to attack the each other. Now the scenario has changed. All people of all the states of the world are in one camp and the novel coronavirus in the other. And it should be dealt with in exactly this way.

Alliances like GAVI and COVAX are what real collective security means now. They are here to ensure that humans respond to the attack of the virus collectively. Created in 2000, GAVI is a global vaccine alliance that brings together public and private sectors with the shared goal of creating equal access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries. Its core partners include the WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. COVAX, on the other hand, is one of the three pillars of the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which was launched in April 2020 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Commission and France in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is an effort to ensure that people in all corners of the world get access to Covid-19 vaccines once they are available, regardless of their wealth. It has delivered around 69 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to 125 countries to protect high-risk and vulnerable people, as well as frontline healthcare workers. The need of the hour is to have more such institutions like GAVI based on the theme of collective security.

This new avatar of collective security or Collective Security 2.0 is, unfortunately, mired in a lot of problems that has led to very unconvincing outcomes. The belief is gaining currency that we cannot end this pandemic as long as it remains anywhere. Yet the response of those who can bring an end to this catastrophe is far from satisfactory. Global institutions, including the WHO, have failed to live up to the mandate. It is widely believed that it was the probable act of omission and commission by the WHO in the earlier period of this pandemic that let things go out of hand. Just like the ideological hatred for the other camp brought havoc for the world during the Cold War, vaccine nationalism is doing the same now. The opposition of the proposal by countries like India and South Africa regarding the waiver of IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) on Covid-related drugs and vaccines by countries like Germany and France shows a complete lack of empathy for humans at large and an ethically-upright leadership vacuum at the global level. The world needs to reconcile with the fact that this once-in-a-generation global crisis cannot be resolved if private corporate profits (and not the priceless human life) is kept at the centre of all debates and discussions. It took a global outcry and a nudge by the international media, Indian-Americans and key members of the governing Democratic Party to make the Joe Biden administration reverse its policy decision of banning the export of raw materials necessary for the manufacturing of vaccines and other related items. What has happened in India can happen anywhere if the virus is left unchecked due the lack of vaccines. Only collective actions can ensure our collective security now. In these turbulent times, the words of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who argued that, “it is my aspiration that health will finally be seen not as a blessing to be wished for, but as a human right to be fought for,” resonate with all humans alike. Let us heed those words of wisdom.

The writer is a PhD candidate at the School of International Studies, JNU

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