By Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage (Director General - Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka)
The whole world is grappling with a hitherto unknown and unseen enemy this year. This enemy evaded the attention of all top intelligence agencies. It has come as a shock to many. The most mighty, powerful economies and militaries have proven to be not effective against it. Some developed countries such as United States of America has fared poorly against this enemy, whilst countries such as Sri Lanka with a much smaller economy and military, has fared better. The world has been discussing of nuclear, biological, chemical and radio-active weapons and possible counter measures against such weapons. However, the Corona Virus, which started in the city of Wuhan in late 2019 has proven to be the mostly deadly enemy of the humankind, that the contemporary history has witnessed. The entire world has been brought to its knees. The total weight of this virus, which is impacting the world may be around one gram. This has become a public health emergency of international concern.
There was a fear that fragile states with weak health systems would be most vulnerable to this Virus. However, even the most powerful countries in the world had become vulnerable too. The Virus as of May 15 has infected 4.3 million people and killed 295,101. The death toll in USA stood at 82,119, whilst the initial epicenter, China, observed only 4,644 deaths. However, what we know is how deadly it has been and how quickly the virus spread. The main lesson is how vulnerable this globalized world is in the 21st century.
A superpower is “a state that possesses military or economic might, or both, and general influence vastly superior to that of other states”. The criterion with which the super power status can be decided is not very clear. A superpower may have the ability to influence on world Economy, to project military power and influence on international system. However, the pertinent question now needs to be asked is ‘what is the main duty of a state in terms of national security?’ Is it to protect the nation and nationals from an external or internal aggression? Is it to provide economic-security and prosperity to the people? Or is it to protect human lives? In the case of Covid-19, it is clearly evident that super powers or major powers have not been very effective in protecting human lives from this pandemic. In terms of human security, it can be clearly seen that major powers have failed to protect the lives of its citizens and on the contrary, some Asian nations including Sri Lanka have been doing an excellent job in containing and controlling the deadly virus.
The Covid-19 pandemic has really brought forward a question; Is the era of Western domination ending? The rise of Asia in world affairs was a hot topic in the recent past. But that discussion was based on economic might and modernizing of armed forces by countries such as China and India. That argument is likely to be cemented in a new world order after Covid -19 pandemic. The East is commended with handling the pandemic better with minimum number of deaths whilst the west is accounted for large number of Covid-19 mortalities.
It was also witnessed that Eastern governments paid attention to science and epidemiological advice and treated the pandemic as a public health emergency, whilst the west treated it as interfering with their liberty. A case in point is, once again in Sri Lanka, where, even without an elected sitting parliament, the President, Prime minister and a small group of cabinet ministers have been running the campaign to contain and combat Covid-19 very efficiently with the support of technocrats- officials, scientists and the military.
The world is pretty well connected through the process of globalization with free flow of goods, free movement of people and financial transaction. Globalization led to an effective global supply chain. Whilst the effects of globalization are complex and politically charged, the general belief was that people generally benefitted from it. Globalization was seen as the way forward to the prosperity of the world and to uplift impoverished people. But what is the status as of now? Countries have become isolated from the rest of the world. There are huge disruptions to global supply chains. There is a huge impact on shipping and the airline industry has taken the brunt of the virus. People are not free to travel- not only to another country but even within their own country. Tourism has virtually collapsed in most countries. Cruise shipping industry is at a standstill. Manufacturers of Covid 19 test kits and Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE) have shown ‘country first’ attitude which is understandable. If a country is having an import depended economy, it would be very difficult to survive in a pandemic of this nature. In Sri Lanka, there is a huge debate about the country’s economic model. There is an awareness of the need for self-sufficiency in basic food supplies and medicine. During this pandemic some governments introduced quota system for supplying of test kits and PPEs.
A focus on economic growth as an indication of prosperity alone will not hold good in the future. It has to balance with physical and mental wellbeing of people. Prosperity is based on safety and security, personal freedom, governance, social capital, investment environment, enterprise conditions, education, health, economic quality, natural environment and living conditions etc. However, in balancing human well-being and protection of life, Sri Lanka has done extremely well when compared with other ‘prosperous’ countries.
International organizations- either governmental or non-governmental are playing a critical role in today’s affairs of the world. These have diverse functions related to economy, environment, trade, labour, disaster management, human rights, test ban treaties, proliferation initiatives, migration, poverty alleviation to name a few. Arguably, these institutions enhance collaboration amongst states and work for the betterment of the human kind. The front-line international organization which is dealing with this pandemic of Covid-19 is the World Health Organization (WHO).There was no time to wait for an international authority to provide necessary guidelines. In the cases of Sri Lanka, there were many measures in place even before the WHO guidelines were promulgated. Furthermore, there is also a question whether other international organizations have been effective during this pandemic? The grave situation mandated individual countries to take protective and treatment measures in the absence of effective international governance. This pandemic has taught the countries that they need to develop their economies, agriculture, industries individually and not depend too much on the international or regional system. In the case of Sri Lanka, the pandemic led to an awareness that agriculture should be revisited and the country need to produce what it needs to feed the people. People started home gardening and started cultivating hitherto abandoned paddy plantations. In Sri Lanka 44000 hectares more are expected to be cultivated when compared with the year 2019. People have realized the need to be self-sufficient in basic food, which is quite a deviation from buying food from cheaper resources or countries.
Covid 19 can be seen as a wake-up call to the world. This global pandemic has raised multiple questions about how the world was functioning prior to it. It has raised serious doubts about the governance systems of the world, concepts such as globalization and free market economies and role and function of international organizations. Covid-19 has paralyzed the world. This pandemic has brought to the fore the question; what matters most-human lives or economic prosperity and civil liberties? Post Covid 19 world will never be the same. It will be a new world order. This ‘new world order’ will bring humanity to the fore. People will pay more respect to the environment and physical and mental well-being, rather than mere economic and material well-being. Can we imagine that a virus, the weight of one gram has done to this world?
This article is ended with a quotation from Buddhist teaching ‘Dhammapada’,
“I am in competition with no one. I run my own race. I have no desire to play the game of being better than anyone, in any way, shape, or form. I just aim to improve, to be better than I was before. That’s me and I am free”.
(Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage is the Director General at the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL), national think tank under the Ministry of Defence. The opinion expressed is his own and not necessarily reflective of the institute.This article was originally published by Daily Mirror.)Download