Multilateralism, a tangible remedy for pandemic issue


The sight of a giant Russian military transport aircraft landing at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport last week must have been astounding to many who saw it. It was delivering ventilators and personal protection equipment from Russia to the country that is the most powerful in the world, and has the largest economy and biggest military budget.
The delivery came days after US President Donald Trump spoke by telephone with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Few could have imagined that Moscow, which is under US sanctions for its interference in the 2016 presidential election and its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, would send a military aircraft to provide medical aid to its traditional adversary. Yet the coronavirus pandemic has upset global balances and turned international relations on their head.
Trump’s decision to buy supplies from Moscow prompted not only surprise but also criticism, to which State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus responded: “Both countries have provided humanitarian assistance to each other in times of crisis in the past and will no doubt do so again in the future.”
It is not the first time during the pandemic that Russia has sent medical aid to a NATO country. In March it sent 15 planeloads of medical equipment to Italy, with the message “From Russia with love,” which is also the title of a Cold War-era James Bond novel and movie.
The provision of medical assistance as a form of foreign aid by states in times of crises has a long tradition and is usually remembered fondly and with gratitude.
Another example of the current “virus diplomacy” can be found in the Gulf, where the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar have offered humanitarian aid to Iran to help it combat the outbreak.
“The UAE’s support to Iran reflects the humanitarian principles on which our country was founded,” said Reem Al-Hashemi, the Emirati minister of state for international cooperation affairs. “Providing assistance to save the lives of those in distress is essential to serve the common good.”
Whatever the existing political tensions with Iran, the UAE and others in the region have shown that the current global health crisis is not a competition and there can be no single winner.
Like other countries, Turkey is engaged in an intense and multilayered fight against the pandemic, and the effects it is having on social and economic life. In fact, while Ankara battles the coronavirus crisis at home, it has also sent medical aid to a number of countries.
“During the global pandemic, even though inter-state relations show a deregulation trend, and while we are striving to protect our own citizens, we do not turn our back on countries in need,” said Turkey’s Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun.
The authorities in many countries are also starting to focus on, and making plans for, the post-pandemic era. The Turkish government is no exception, and Ankara will be considering what Turkey’s role might be in this new environment.
“It’s crystal clear that nothing will remain the same in the world in the post-coronavirus era,” said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
There is a global debate about the extent to which the pandemic might change the world. Scholars, journalists and politicians are presenting theories about the possible transformative effects on the international political system, the global economy, socials norms and customs, internal politics, and the relationship between state and society. We have also seen comparisons drawn between this pandemic and previous health crises — such as Spanish Flu outbreak that infected a quarter of the global population between January 1918 and December 1920 — in an attempt to determine what lessons can be learned and predict the possible future state of the world.
Society is already evolving as a result of the current crisis and this evolution will bring change in a number of ways. Can this landmark event affect the international system to the same extent as two world wars? Some people seem pretty certain that it can, and here are some historical precedents to back up their views. The end of the Cold War, for example, sparked an era of rapid globalization in which countries in all four corners of the world became more dependent on each other.
It is reasonable, therefore, to expect the post-coronavirus era to bring some significant changes. Some go even further, arguing that a post-pandemic power struggle might lead to new conflicts. Given that not even the pandemic has halted existing clashes in a number of war-torn countries, it is not unreasonable to expect a post-pandemic world might be dominated by increased rivalries and conflicts, rather than greater international collaboration.
This global crisis certainly presents a golden opportunity for those who oppose globalization and call for more nationalistic policies. It will not be a surprise if the populist rhetoric that was already spreading in a number of countries before the coronavirus crisis is amplified in the post-pandemic era.
Once the current crisis is over, international cooperation and coordination will be required more than ever.
However, this will not bring any good results, and the only remedy to counter it is an increased focus on multilateralism.
The examples I have given above are few in number but could be increased, given the will to do so. In international relations, multilateralism refers to an alliance of nations in pursuit of a common goal. Once the current crisis is over, international cooperation and coordination will be required more than ever.
Only time will tell, however, whether the very concept of international solidarity and cooperation has any meaning in the post-coronavirus era, and whether nations learn the lessons of the traumatic ordeal they are going through. –AN