Cooperation and collaboration, not competition or chaos A call of the moment.
A global initiative: WAVE- World Alliance for Virology and Epidemiology
by Rajendra Shende, Chairman TERRE Policy Centre, former Director UNEP, IIT Alumnus
Terrific trio’s potential to defeat COVID 19 needs to be urgently deployed. Modi, Macron and China can do it.
COVID19 is threatening our civilisation. History shows that many civilizations have vanished in the past because of a number of reasons. But such civilizations were limited to specific regions. In the case of COVID 19 the threat is on a planetary scale. Unfortunately, in the wake of this pandemic, we are witnessing a practice of brutal unilateralism by the world leaders. Each world leader is drawing its own strategy and plan. The starting of the plan to address COVID19 is, and rightly so, getting back their citizens stationed abroad, mainly from China which is the origin of the novel CORONA virus. Then come to their own unilateral non-pharmaceutical interventions, simply because there is no pharmaceutical intervention available till now.
The multilateralism which is the very building block of the United Nations has either taken a back seat or it is used as a façade and dummy. The accusations against China where new CORONA virus originated are going out of proportion. The trade, investment, and diplomatic relations between the USA, which now has the largest number of CORONA victims, and China which now has ten times fewer victims than in the USA , are taking an ugly turn. Unilateral demands of compensation from China is on top of USA-agenda. It is possible that other countries may join in with such demands.
The governments and the business leaders, who just about 4 months back bragging and boasting about how the 4th industrial revolution with modern digital technology would
accelerate their GDP, are now on their knees, and unable to stop tsunami because no Artificial Intelligence and no Augmented reality is of use against this virus.
One of the significant reasons that sowed the seeds of World Wars I and II was the rise of such unilateralism. The League of Nations established exactly 100 years back, immediately after World War-I, had a basic mission of solving the disputes between countries before they erupted into open warfare through multilateral diplomacy. It did not work. The declarations of war were publicly announced by the Allies and Axis countries. World leadership dedicated to multilateralism was grossly lacking.
Two nuclear bombs dropped by the USA on Japan ended World War II. League of Nations had no clue of this unilateral aggressions. The United Nations, an intergovernmental organisation came into being after World War II in 1945 with a global mission of preventing future wars, maintaining global peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development and upholding international law. United Nations, a podium of multilateralism but the stewardship to activate that multilateralism is missing.
A few days back, the UN Secretary-General has announced that COVID19 is the worst crisis after World War II and in 75 years of history of the UN. We are already in the 4th month of this war where the enemy is almost invisible More than 2,00,000 civilians have lost their lives that were literally suffocated by the virus.
On April 9, the UN launched the 2020 Financing for Sustainable Development Report (SDFR) compiled based on the feedback from 60 international agencies. According to the UN International Labour Organisation, five to 25 million jobs will be eradicated, and the United States will lose USD 860 billion to USD 3.4 trillion in labour income. The UN Conference on Trade and Development projected a 30 to 40 pc downward pressure on global foreign direct investment flows while the World Tourism Organisation saw a 20-30 pc decline in international arrival.
One can now guess the level of anger against the origin of the enemy i.e. China. There is a serious risk that one powerful country may unilaterally stamp other countries as the enemy and could trigger a noisy war of words by side-lining the real enemy i.e. virus. The world had already witnessed thin line between the war of words to the war of weapons, in the case of Iraq.
UN seems to be missing in the real action and paralysed. On April 2, after full three months of the outbreak and 1 million deaths, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution that called for “international cooperation” and “multilateralism” in the fight against Covid-19, without specifying concrete steps for collaboration. In any case, the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly are never binding, unlike those of the UN Security Council (UNSC).
Action by the UNSC, on the other hand, is conspicuously absent to date. The five permanent members -the US, the UK, Russia, China and France are divided on reaching a consensus on the text. While the US and China are at a loggerhead, the UK is busy in Brexit and Russia is aligning with China, while France is running between two factions to get a consensus text.
What is missing is the world leadership to ‘make things happen’. In these trying times, the world should not be waiting helplessly and read about statistics of cases, deaths, and recoveries. During the lockdown, the world needs leadership to free them from negativity and not just statements of collective action, international cooperation and multilateralism as it happened in last few weeks during the UNGA, the G20 and the G7. The world needs strategic stewardship in order to go beyond talks.
Faced with a similar situation of inaction in the run-up to the Paris Climate Meeting in 2015, India’s PM Narendra Modi and France’s President Emmanuel Macron together launch International Solar Alliance, an intergovernmental organization to promote the use of solar energy, that benefits poor at the bottom of the pyramid. The alliance now has more than 120 countries as members. The declaration of solar alliance helped to build the positivism for the negotiators and now the alliance is helping to meet the carbon neutrality as per schedule given in IPCC report.
Modi and Macron should again join hands to launch a global initiative called ‘WAVE: World Alliance for Virology and Epidemiology’. Macron, like Modi, is also known to take bold steps. He countered Trump’s slogan of ‘let us make America great again’ by his own slogan of ‘Let us make our planet great again’. When Trump declared withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, Macron gave a courageous open-call to American climate scientists to come to France to continue research.
In the short term, the WAVE can reduce the time for developing a vaccine and identify medicines for coronavirus. In the long term, it could initiate action on predicting the vicious arrival of virus, its mutation and be ready for vaccines in the shortest possible time.
It is easier said than done, but we have examples like earthquakes and a network of seismology labs from where we get information on the severity of an earthquake when it happens and also help in predicting future earthquakes at least with probabilities.
The WAVE could help in setting up such early warning signals for future epidemics.
There is a strong case why President Xi should be a founder member of the WAVE along with Modi and Macron. China could provide financial aid and expertise on virology. Firstly China would be able to counter the severe attacks from the West on China’s reaction on COVID19 by creating a positive atmosphere and opening out its origin and investigation that China did till now. Second, his own people would benefit and appreciate his efforts in the midst of havoc faced by the Chinese themselves. Thirdly, both Modi and Macron have a good personal rapport with President Xi which would help in carving out an intergovernmental mechanism to deal with future epidemics and pandemic in close cooperation with WHO.
The terrific trio of Modi, Macron and Xi should meet over video conference and announce the WAVE. They have the capability and potential to make it happen. END
The longer edited versions appeared in South Asia Monitor-New Delhi and Media India, in Paris, France as:
India-France and China should ‘WAVE” to fight future viruses
Is World leadership also under Lockdown?