The COVID-19 situation is a very worrying, indeed, alarming matter, not just as a global health and biosafety issue, but potentially as a global security challenge, too.
While the pandemic is being dealt with by the World Health Organisation (WHO), along with other relevant United Nation Specialised Agencies (UN SA), the situation is deteriorating rapidly and could easily get out of control. This, of course, if it is not effectively contained. In such a (more and more likely) scenario, it would be engulfing the entire world, whose effects and impact would be akin to that of a Third world war, though initially of a different kind.
We are amazed as to why the Security Council has not stepped in. It should have done so as to address the COVID-19 and surrounding scenery in the way it clearly deserves to be dealt with, given its devastating impact on the entire international community on almost every dimension, including international peace and security, which indisputably falls under its mandate under the UN Charter.
As the Council has often dealt with issues which are sometimes not ostensibly related to international or regional security, and of much less importance or urgency than this dreadful pandemic, we are puzzled, indeed alarmed, as to why it has chosen not to come to grips with the pandemic as a matter of the utmost urgency.
If the members of the Council, for their own internal reasons, have not felt compelled to do so, shouldn’t the other members of the world body, individually or collectively as international or regional groupings, such as the European Union (EU), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) - G-77, African Union (AU), or ASEAN, take the much-desired initiative to call on the Security Council to imperatively address this global pandemic, even as the WHO and other concerned UN agencies, much to their credit, are dealing with the issue from their own (narrow) perspectives – and yet rather limited mandate and resources.
In this regard, especially the EU, would be well-positioned to exert the much-need pressure on the UNSC, given the devastation that the virus has wreaked on a number of its members, notably Italy and Spain, among others.
At this point in time, such an urgent meeting, indeed, an Emergency Special Session of the UN Security Council, would be greatly applauded by the entire international community as it would accord the world body the leadership role that its members expect it to play at this most critical point in the post-WWII human history.
Gens una sumus. Concordia patria firmat
In this dire situation, the big powers should put aside their ideological and policy differences, or power plays, and focus instead on galvanizing concerted international actions of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the entire human race.
By decisively and urgently acting, the UN Secretary-General and the UN SC would be sending a bold and clear yet tranquilising signal to the entire humanity. More importantly, such a unified voice would be welcomed and well understood as a referential (not to say a norm setting) note by other crucial agencies, such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), World Tourism Organisation (WTO), as well as by the Red Cross (IFRC), Bretton Woods institutions, Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Federation of Trade Unions, including other specialised or non-UN FORAs, most notably developmental entities such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), Asia Development Bank (ADB), Africa Development Bank (AfDB), etc.
In the following period – while witnessing indeed a true historical conjuncture, we need a global observance and protection of human rights and of jobs, for the benefit of economy and overall security. Therefore, the measures imposed these days cannot be disproportionate, unrelated, indefinite, unbalanced, and only on societal expenses or democracy recession. Recovery – which from now calls for formidable biosafety, too – will be impossible without social consensus. Clearly, it will be unsustainable if on expenses of labour or done through erosion of basic human rights – embedded in the UN Charter and accepted as essential to the very success of SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).
Indeed, countries are not just economies, but most of all societies. (The truth is plain to see: the Planet has stopped, although the Capital remains intact. We came to a global halt because the labor has been sent home. Hence, the recovery comes with labour. Historically, labor has never betrayed, while capital has failed us many times. By the same token, human rights never betrayed the state and its social cohesion, but the states – and much glorified markets – far too many times in history have failed humans. Therefore, there is no true exit from the crisis without strengthening labor and human rights.)
For a grave planetary problem, our rapidly articulated global accord is badly needed. Therefore, multilateralism – as the most effective planetary tool at our disposal – is not our policy choice. It is the only way for human race to (socio-economically and politically) survive.
COVID-19 is a challenge that comes from the world of biology. Yet, biology and international relations share one basic rule: Comply or die. To remind us; it is not the big that eat the small, rather it is a fast which eats the slow.
It is hight time to switch off the autopilot. Leadership and vision now!!
Tan Sri Hasmy Agam
Malaysia’s Ambassador to UN NY (incl. term in UN SC), Head of the Diplomatic Academy, Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) – retired.
Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic
Chairperson and professor in intl law and global political studies, Austria; authored 7 books and numerous articles on, mainly, geopolitics energy and technology.