David Jamieson argues that the collapse in support for multilateral health regimes is only the latest sign of deglobalisation, and the failing world order that Covid-19 will leave in its wake.
Blow after blow falls on the apparatus of the global order.
If a website was staffed by a hundred of the worlds best journalists and researchers, and financed with tens of millions of pounds, it could not keep pace with all of the fragments of the splintering of the global order. It could not seek to report on all of the innumerable fronts of de-globalisation.
It is perhaps not surprising, with billions living in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, that the latest trouble can be found among the world’s leading medical authorities, and their relations with states desperate to gain competitive advantage from the crisis.
Proving he remains at the centre of a new unilateralism, Donald Trump has threatened the World Health Organisation (WHO) with a withdrawal of funding.
His hostility to the WHO probably has two functions. The first is suggested by his attack on the organisation as “China-centric”. This is part of a conscious strategy on Trump’s part which is clearly paying off. A Harris poll found that 77% of US citizens blame China for coronavirus, including 67% of Democrats. Astonishing, 54% believe that China should actually pay reparations to the US for the damage caused by the virus.
A dangerous momentum is now gathering behind anti-Chinese sentiment, stoked from both sides of the party political divide in the US. We should expect this campaign to cohere in in Britain as well, with major media outlets already pushing the narrative.
The second aspect of Trump’s rejection is his simple renouncement of the WHO’s advice on emergency response to Coronavirus.
The second point of disruption has received some what less global attention, yet it arises right in the heart of the global pandemic – in Europe.
Mauro Ferrari, the EU’s leading scientist resigned from his role as chief of the European Research Council.
In his resignation letter, he broadsided the EU project: “I have been extremely disappointed by the European response to Covid-19, for what pertains to the complete absence of coordination of health care policies among member states, the recurrent opposition to cohesive financial support initiatives, the pervasive one-sided border closures, and the marginal scale of synergistic scientific initiatives.
“I have lost faith in the system itself. And now the times require decisive, focused, and committed actions – a call to responsibility for all those that have an aspiration to make a difference against this devastating tragedy.”
The ferocious spat which erupted after the statement is testament to the precarious nature of the union. Tensions between member states over a lack of aid to poorer and more vulnerable countries in the south are at their highest since the Eurozone crisis. It seems likely the EU will not survive the decade in its current form.
By now a global failure of the system is being discussed.
The editor of the prestigious Lancet medical journal, Richard Horton, wrote a letter to the Guardian describing an astounding collapse in civilisation’s scientific and medical effort – linking it directly to capitalism, austerity regimes and global competition.
He wrote: “The global response to Sars-CoV-2 is the greatest science policy failure in a generation. The signals were clear. Hendra in 1994, Nipah in 1998, Sars in 2003, Mers in 2012 and Ebola in 2014; these major human epidemics were all caused by viruses that originated in animal hosts and crossed over into humans. Covid-19 is caused by a new variant of the same coronavirus that caused Sars.”
This is what socialists mean when they warn that ‘barbarism’ grows inevitably out of the global systems and institutions of capitalism. A system founded and organised on the competition of immense economic and social forces will generate disorganisation, conflict and eventually war.
In every generation establishment intellectuals spread illusions in a ‘new era of stability’. The expansion of the European empires (European imperialism, league, UN, US supremacy) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was supposed to bring enlightenment to the world. After it ended in the horrors of the first world war, the League of Nations and a new respect for international stability and national rights was supposed to ward off looming conflict.
It’s failure in world war two led to the United Nations which, could not contain the Cold War. The end of that war with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc was again heralded as the opening of a new vista that would bring unparalleled peace and prosperity.
We are witnessing the collapse of that illusion also, and with it the idea that capitalism is a force for scientific and civilisational advance, any more than it is a force for social justice.