“The state… always feels itself weak if there is another that is stronger. Its security and preservation demand that it make itself more powerful than its neighbours. It can increase, nourish and exercise its power only at their expense… because the grandeur of the state is purely relative it is forced to compare itself to that of the others… It becomes small or great, weak or strong, according to whether its neighbour expands or contracts, becomes stronger or declines”. —Rousseau 1755 CE
It’s World War III, and China has won the first phase, blared headlines. It’s a war and the government needs to mobilise all its resources to fight it, declared the media. Heads of government addressed their nations numerous times on television saying that the enemy will be subdued only with the cooperation of every citizen of the country. Governments are working on war footing to set up necessary infrastructure – was the frantic babble by the authorities.
Strangely, however, there was no rattle of machine gun fire across any nations borders, no guns boomed, no missiles launched, no bombers in the skies, no dog fights between fighters of rival air forces, no submarines silently prowling the deep seas or armed to the teeth, flotillas heading out to the waters of the open oceans. Who was the enemy? Where was this enemy? The enemy was all over there in the air, but was invisible. The enemy was a virus – the novel corona virus. Officially designated by the United Nations World Health Organisation as COVID19.
To mention of any subject besides COVID19 these days seems anathema. May be rightly so. It is beyond imagination that just one gram of novel corona virus has been enough to cause a global pandemic infecting millions of people and causing death of an equally large number of humans.
Strangely, however, there was no rattle of machine gun fire across any nations borders, no guns boomed, no missiles launched, no bombers in the skies, no dog fights between fighters of rival air forces, no submarines silently prowling the deep seas or armed to the teeth, flotillas heading out to the waters of the open oceans.
The sudden unexpected onset of COVID19 biological pandemic generated a global pandemonium.
Surprisingly, an unexpectedly large number of countries of the developed world had succumbed to this deathly scrounge one after another falling to its onslaught like nine pins in a bowling alley. The government of each country reacted to the pandemic in a different way.
Unfortunately, at that point in time, the only precedent available of the means and measures to tackle it was what China had done. Restrict the rapid human to human transmission, slow down its unbounded spread and contain it in as limited an area as possible. With all the authority at its beckoning, China had strictly imposed the need to follow essential hygiene practices, to maintain social distancing, it implemented a process of contact tracking, quarantining those tracked who had any contact with a patient who tested positive for the virus, mass testing of the people in areas where there were cases of human to human transmission of the virus and alongside, strictly enforcing a total lockdown like never seen before.
Most western democracies were reluctant to implement such tough measures. The people in these countries too did not think it was necessary and tended to ignore the wobbly instructions by the authorities. As it is, most of the people in the developed countries reposed little faith in their governments. For them these measures were infringing on their right to freedom and privacy. As a consequence, the result of the governments pussy footing and imposing ineffective half measures on one hand and the utter public disdain on the other, led to serious repercussions due to which the authorities were then later compelled to enforce all those strict measures which they had been reluctant to implement initially. That, regrettably, was a wee bit late in containing the relentless spread of the virus.
But why the pandemonium? The global pandemonium was caused due to a severe deficit in public health care infrastructure in most of the countries worldwide. The trend had been that in the ‘purely’ capitalistic economies, governments absolved themselves off the responsibility for social health care and left it to “market forces” and private hospitals to take on the responsibility for the country’s medical care needs. It was unaffordable for most. In came the insurance companies, they exploited the golden business opportunity, and squeezed the people in exchange of funding an individual’s medical requirements.
But why the pandemonium? The global pandemonium was caused due to a severe deficit in public health care infrastructure in most of the countries worldwide. The trend had been that in the ‘purely’ capitalistic economies, governments absolved themselves of the responsibility off social health care and left it to “market forces” and private hospitals to take on the responsibility for the country’s medical care needs.
In developing countries, while the governments are still responsible for public health matters the situation was not too different. Invariably, due to paucity of funds the social health systems functioned far below par. Hospitals had no beds, staff was inadequate and even electricity supply was not guaranteed. Private health care is too expensive to even be in the reach of the middle class strata of society. The end result is that most, if not all, developed and developing countries were found fumbling when the corona virus came marching in and a very large number of the population began getting infected in a short time span. The available medical infrastructure for health care was woefully inadequate and collapsed under the weight of the overwhelming unexpected requirement.
Epidemics and pandemics have been listed by most countries and modern armies as a non-traditional threat to the security of a nation. It is defined as – “non-traditional security issues are challenges to the survival and well-being of peoples and states that arise primarily out of non-military sources, such as climate change, resources scarcity, infectious diseases, natural disasters, irregular migration, food shortages, people smuggling, drug trafficking …etc”.
The criticality of this new concept of security has also been viewed by the so-called ‘Copenhagen School’. This approach not only broadened (taking in some non-military issues to the range of threats to states), but also emphasized that non-military issues can be considered matters of security even if they are not physically threatening the territoriality of states. In India there emerged a new group of “national warriors”, they were the government medical doctors (not private practitioners), nurses, hospital staff, sanitation workers (all on government payrolls) and the local police augmented by the units and manpower from the central armed police forces. Private hospitals and hotels were requisitioned partially or wholly by certain states in India to set up isolation wards and for free treatment to corona patients. Costs for the use of the facilities were planned to be reimbursed to the private hospitals by the government under its AyushmanBharat scheme. [Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan ArogyaYojana (AB PM-JAY) is a flagship scheme of the Indian government’s National Health Policy which aims to provide free health coverage at the secondary and tertiary level to its bottom 40% poor and vulnerable population. PM-JAY is the world’s largest and fully state sponsored health assurance scheme which covers a population of the combined size of USA, Mexico and Canada. It was launched in September 2018, under the aegis of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in India.]
There needs to be a special mention here of the transformed image of the Indian Police as a whole. Generally the image that is a favourite of the media, particularly the foreign media, is the one of a “lathi” (a long heavy stick) wielding brutal police force of an authoritarian regime ever ready to suppress freedom and violate human rights!! India witnessed a new face of the Policeman. Someone, who landed up unannounced, with a bouquet and a cake, to wish a resident in lockdown on his/her birthday. The same Policeman also went calling on an elderly person staying alone to enquire on his/her/their wellbeing. It was a treat to see articulate young Police Officers leading from the front (unlike earlier times when they never left their desk and confines of their office) confidently interacting with the media and the people and even being active on the social media. This transformation has occurred because the Police are out of the vicious grip of the self-centred corrupt local politicians. It is high time that the Indian government tackle the issue of Police reforms for a radical transformation and the people get an efficient, responsive well equipped force which is respected by the people.
In the process of tackling the virus threat, there are a number of stark observations that are emerging. One, capitalist countries have focused more on generating wealth for the rich and ignoring the poor in their countries and that is evidenced in seeing the pathetic plight of thousands of homeless from New York to Los Angeles. These homeless did not have access to water for ablutions/bathing or access to public toilets on which they otherwise depended on. An embarrassing truth, which, USA and the other developed countries have deftly camouflaged for long, deliberately obscured by a façade of wealth and glamour.Two, social health schemes in most countries have tended to be poorly funded and are generally concentrated in urban centres, up to the district headquarters level as existing in a geographically large and densely populated country like India. Such a structure is not catering to the needs of rural India where majority of the Indian people live. Three, autocratic leaders of various countries had, initially, reacted to the spread of the virus by being contemptuous and dismissive of it since it exposed their vulnerabilities and ill preparedness – USA, Turkey, Russia, Philippines etc. Four, public sector assets have been a boon for the countries which had not privatised these in their fervent quest of privatisation taken as a thumb rule of modernisation. Case in point are India’s Ordinance Factories which switched to manufacturing Personal Protective Equipment; Defence Research and Development Organisation focussing on testing and research for a vaccine, Railways converting bogies into isolation wards; Air India ferrying stranded citizens from distant places back to the homeland. Five, a nations strength lay in it developing comprehensive strength. Increase in armaments, and a strong military, is intended in each nation to produce consciousness of strength, and a sense of security, but that does not produce these effects if the other elements of national power are not equally empowered. Until all elements of national power develop on an equal footing commensurate with their respective role in the nation state, the nation’s strong military is only a façade hiding the ‘actual hollowness within that does not tantamount to comprehensive national security. Six, visual media (TV) and social media have, by default, become the dominant players in dissemination of information, news and views. In addition, overnight, individual actors have appeared on home-made videos that are uploaded on Youtube, Instagram, Whatsappetc. carrying social messages and even enabling citizens to reach out to the country’s leaders. Alongside, there has been a negative trend rising in the number messages which are communally divisive as also messages by self anointed protectors of faiths that are of alienating nature. It has been an opportunity for forces inimical to India to seize and exploit to the hilt. Resultantly, there is no dearth of such deceitful and duplicitous messages that are making the rounds. At the same time, the Indian government has rightfully intervened, through its autonomous public service broadcasters, the Doordarshan (TV) and AIR (All India Radio), by stepping in effectively with its own effort in this sphere of social media. Seven, conspiracy hypothesis are abound and portends a dangerous situation for global security.
There needs to be a special mention here of the transformed image of the Indian Police as a whole. Generally the image that is a favourite of the media, particularly the foreign media, is the one of a “lathi” (a long heavy stick) wielding brutal police force of an authoritarian regime ever ready to suppress freedom and violate human rights!! India witnessed a new face of the Policeman.
The pandemic has dented the idea of a globalised borderless world which the capitalists and corporate had built up for their free access to where it suited them. The boundaries of nations are once again relevant and sacrosanct. One of the very first steps taken by governments was to seal borders and prevent all cross-border movement. European Union which has set a leading example of open borders and free travel and movement of goods was forced to resort to closing borders. Signalling clearly that borders matter, since they identify the nation per se. Governments shut airports and ports to traffic and for a while even goods. Each country shut itself off from the rest in an effort to protect every single one of its citizens – the purist explication of security reaching down to every individual!
The military has remained in the background while the other resources of the government have been put on the ‘internal’ frontline as the “corona warriors”. There have been queries in India as to why has the army not been called in to assist the administration during such an acute national emergency when they are, otherwise, requisitioned to aid and assist civil authority in all other natural or manmade disasters or calamities. It is not that the resources of the Armed Forces have not been requisitioned, they have been called upon to provide and run isolation wards and quarantine centres for corona infected and contact cases. They have also been appropriated for repatriation of stranded Indian citizens abroad.
Insulating the soldiery is essential as they are guarding the active borders of the country as also maintaining readiness in the air and on the high sea. It is to keep the powder dry and thereby, be ready to respond to any act of misadventure undertaken by either of the two (or both in collusion!!) belligerent neighboursof India. In a hugely publicised incident, the US Navy has had to dock, in harbour, one of its aircraft carriers and a destroyer due to some of their crew members being infected by the corona virus. This is what all militaries have to guard against. A weapon or a weapon platform is only effective if it has trained crew to operate it. Protecting these crew members and the entire ecosystem supporting them is a sacred mission of the organisation. With China having effectively controlled the pandemic, the Chinese Navy could not resist this opportunity to cock a snook at the US Navy and sailed out a flotilla led by its aircraft carrier Liaoning in a cross-regional mobilisation for exercises in the South China Sea. Thereby, mindfully orchestrating the situation and embarrassing the US Navy. In May 2020 China surreptitiously sought to settle the boundary dispute with India through the use of force. As a result the ongoing impasse in Ladakh, which has outdone the one in 2017 at Doklam, has severely strained India’s relations with China.
With China having effectively controlled the pandemic, the Chinese Navy could not resist this opportunity to cock a snook at the US Navy and sailed out a flotilla led by its aircraft carrier Liaoning in a cross-regional mobilisation for exercises in the South China Sea. Thereby, mindfully orchestrating the situation and embarrassing the US Navy.
Along India’s western border, Pakistan has continued to pursue its terrorism agenda. Pakistan, reportedly, set up corona quarantine camps in Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK) allegedly with an ulterior motive of pushing corona infected terrorists across the Line of Control (LC) in Jammu and Kashmir. In another instance, more recent, a seven-judge bench of the Pakistani Supreme Court passed a judgement in favour of the Pakistani government to conduct elections in Gilgit-Baltistanregion of POJK by 24 September 2020. In doing so Pakistan is, ipso facto, making “material changes” to an area it is occupying illegally. This act by Pakistan is tantamount to “interference in the internal affairs of India”. There is every likelihood that China has a hand in manipulating the events to somehow give legitimacy to its much touted China Pakistan Economic Corridor project under the aegis of the Belt Road Initiative (BRI). A project, by China, that India has strongly objected to since its conception, as it blatantly violates India’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty.
World over, economic activity has taken a body blow. While USA may have the capacity to give its corporate sector a humongous US$ 6.2 trillion economic stimulus (as per inputs emerging and contrary to the US$ 2 trillion relief package for the people in general as announced) which will surely include its defence-industrial complex. Other countries will be hard hit and the economic recovery is likely to take a while. India has had to postpone procurement of certain equipment due to this constraint. The first five Rafale fighters landed at their home base on July 29, 2020. It is inevitable that the central governments priority will be in restoring the manufacturing sector and health of the economy as also rehabilitating the labourforce in the informal sector. Consequently, there is sure to be an adverse crunch that will be felt by the defence budget. India was unable to use this period of extremely low crude oil prices to stock up reserves. With merely ten days worth of storage capacity for strategic reserves, it has let the opportunity slip by.
The pandemic has dented the idea of a globalised borderless world which the capitalists and corporate had built up for their free access to where it suited them. The boundaries of nations are once again relevant and sacrosanct. One of the very first steps taken by governments was to seal borders and prevent all cross-border movement.
Back in 1869 CE the world was gripped by a devastating plague. An ordinary citizen, Kathleen O’Meara, had penned a poem on the ‘lockdown’ that was imposed then. Forty-nine years later, during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918-19, that poem reappeared in circulation. Now a hundred years after the Spanish Flu the same poem is circulating on the social media. Surprisingly it is still relevant and relatable. During these three devastating episodes of human history, the reaction to the pandemic has, uncannily, been just the same!! The advancements in science and technology, including the availability of super computers, big data analytics, artificial intelligence and a quantum leap in medical science – virology, epidemiology, potency of medicines and what have you; have not equipped mankind to tackle a virus any better?!! Is it that the world in 1869 CE and that we live in now are much the same except that we are now more globally aware of things due to internet and satellite communication, but nothing more than that? One may just befittingly conclude that today’s people are certainly not more competent than the people of the bygone era!! They were pioneers in many ways. The current lot of humans are spending too much time acquiring theoretical knowledge with college degrees and adding lists of qualifications for individual gains but not making much original contribution for humanity.