May 11, 2020
Two months ago, underlining the regrettable shallowness of the concept of “international community”, I said that the world now needs the kind cooperation commensurate with the enormity of the coronavirus challenge, like emergency meetings at the UN Security Council, frequent telephone calls between world leaders and senior health officials, video conferences at the highest level if leaders are advised not to travel. Because, closing of ranks is the only way to fight King Covid XIX’s phantom troops.
On April 27, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have agreed to hold an online summit, proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. And last week, Kremlin’s readout of the telephone call between presidents Putin and Macron said, “… Preparations for a video conference with the leaders of the UN Security Council permanent members that will focus on cooperation in fighting the pandemic, were also touched upon…”
So, can one assume that the P5 is getting ready for action? Once upon a time, P5+1 successfully concluded the Iran nuclear deal. But that was after two years of talks. Would coronavirus allow them such a generous time span? So far, “acts of solidarity” in the battle against the disease have not gone beyond symbolic consignments of medical equipment. Isn’t minimum bilateral harmony a prerequisite of multilateral cooperation between the members of the Security Council? What about the state of relations between the “more permanent 3”? Can compartmentalization of differences be a solution?
On January 30, in London, Secretary of State Pompeo, to discourage the U.K. and America’s other allies from expanding technological cooperation with China, had declared the Chinese Communist Party “the central threat of our times”.
In a series of interviews last week, replacing President Trump’s early praise for China, he continued to target Beijing. He said, “… we know this much: We know that this originated in Wuhan, China… with respect to the data set that’s coming out of China with respect to cases and deaths, I have no confidence in that data…”
In brief, Secretary Pompeo says he is sure that the virus originated in China. This may well be the case; it may not be the case; or, we may never know. Regardless of its origins, the coronavirus challenge calls for a global alliance not confrontation. Accounts can be settled later.
Last Thursday, presidents Putin and Trump had a telephone call. The Kremlin statement on the call said, “Discussing the coronavirus pandemic, the presidents were positive about bilateral cooperation and agreed to continue enhancing coordination in this area. In particular, the US President offered to send a consignment of medical equipment to Russia.”
However, disagreements ranging from Ukraine, Syria to the Iran nuclear deal, from US sanctions to arms control remain. President Putin has few friends in Washington.
Chinese-American relations also remain confrontational.
By contrast, in a telephone call, presidents Putin and Xi Jinping have praised the high level of cooperation between the two countries that have been helping each other from the very start of the epidemic, and reaffirmed that cooperation would continue with the aim of developing vaccines and medications, consolidating the efforts of the international community to control the pandemic, and preventing the politicization of this issue.
The two countries share a 4,300-kilometer land border and cooperation against the coronavirus threat is their only option.
The world has seen pandemics in the past.
Through the seventeenth century, the population of Europe actually declined. In 1648, it was estimated at 118 million; by 1713 the estimate had fallen to 102 million. Primarily, the causes were the plagues and epidemics that periodically devastated the continent. Sweeping through a city, borne by fleas in the fur of rats, plague left behind a carpet of human corpses. In London in 1665, 100,00 died; nine years before in Naples, 130,000. Stockholm lost one third of its population to plague in 1710-1711 and Marseilles half of its inhabitants in 1720-1721. Bad harvests and consequent famine also killed hundreds of thousands.[i]
In 1817 came the cholera pandemic, the first of seven cholera pandemics over the next 150 years. In 1889 it was the Russian flu, in 1918 the Spanish flu, in 1957 the Asian flu. Millions lost their lives.
Worse than pandemics, wars have also claimed lives.
Casualties suffered during World War I went far beyond those of previous wars. The total number of military and civilian casualties were about 40 million. There were 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded. The total number of deaths includes 9.7 million military personnel and about 10 million civilians.
Worldwide casualties for World War II, although estimates vary widely, are given as 15 million battle deaths, 25 million wounded and 45 million civilian deaths.
Last Friday was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. As a result of corona restrictions ceremonies were scaled down.
Is having avoided a third world war an achievement? At best, a limited achievement because millions have perished since then in Arab-Israeli wars, the Korean War the Algerian War, the Vietnam War, the Afghan War, Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf wars, the Bosnian War.
Perhaps even more worrying is world’s growing apathy, even callousness toward massive loss of life.
In the last two decades, hundreds of thousands have lost their lives in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Who cares? And, how many of the Middle East dead will be remembered by regional leaders at commemorative ceremonies in the future? Only family members will mourn the loss of their loved ones, victims of endless fratricide.
Until now, the world has recorded 285,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Eighty percent of these have occurred in Western countries. Because at this point, low-income countries appear to be at earlier stages of the pandemic than high-income countries. Yet, even Western countries not united in battling the pandemic and its multiple consequences starting with the economy. So, it remains to be seen whether P5 leaders would agree on anything of significance in their upcoming teleconference. At a later stage, the threat of new waves of migration may compel them into action.
Hopefully, the crowning of coronavirus as “King Covid XIX” has resolved, at least for now, the controversy over the place of birth of world’s youngest autocrat.
[i] Robert K. Massie, Peter the Great, His Life and World, First Ballantine Books Trade Edition: October 1981, p. 171.