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Pandemic has sharpened geo-political conflicts

Vaccine Diplomacy Is Dividing The World


The Corona pandemic that the world is struggling with for the second year now has brought home to us some truths about ourselves. The first thing is that in a thoroughly interconnected world not only people, goods and ideas travel across the world, but viruses too hitch hike around the globe.

In the beginning, many of us thought that this new challenge will change our world and our behaviour for the better, make us more companionable, more conscious of health and environmental issues and make us understand that we are depending on each other for survival. 

But over a year later, we realize that this is really a pipedream. The pandemic has made countries think of themselves and not others. Selfishness and nationalism that had been visible before corona hit, strengthened instead of weakening. US President Trump for example declared ‘America First’ and acted accordingly. 

However, when the pandemic hit, Trump and his administration, made sure scientists and pharmaceutical companies of the US got together to develop a vaccine in the shortest possible time. This is was quite an effort given the strong competition from and between companies like Pfizer and Merck. Even though it is not fashionable to give any credit to Trump it was his administration that laid the foundation for a US edge in vaccine development. Multiple vaccines have come into the market. The Administration quickly concluding contracts allowing the US government to snap up more vaccine supplies than any other country and possibly many times more than it will need for its population. 

The EU was unable to handle UK Brexit demands and never once even asked itself if the Brits might have a point when they criticized the EU statutes and policies. When corona hit Europe it turned out that the EU was all but paralysed, unable to act or even to be on the same page on most questions regarding how to handle the pandemic. 

Immersed in their little power plays and stuck in bureaucracy EU countries delayed concluding contracts to secure vaccines for the European population. This is the main reason why Europe is behind in its vaccination efforts and has to cope with a rising number of infections.

Germany got punished for waiting for the EU to order vaccines and is behind in its vaccination efforts mainly because of the absence of enough doses. Schools are off because teachers are not inoculated. So are kindergartens. Many of the countries have suffered badly, mainly Italy and Spain. 

Moreover, the worst thing that happened is the politicization of vaccines. A new cold war has been launched against an increasingly assertive and economically strong China. Russia, though economically weaker, is heavily relying on its modernized army and its strength in science and development.

Both China and Russia have been declared pariahs of the world by the US and its allies. There is a new hybrid warfare which is dividing the world. Despite the fact that the Russian vaccine Sputnik V was the first vaccine available in the international market, WHO and EU dragged their feet in acknowledging that Sputnik is one of the potent vaccines with an efficiency of 92%. This is close to the Pfizer Biontech one and much superior to Astra Zeneca that seems to have serious side effects. 

This has divided the world between the US-produced Pfizer and UK-manufactured AstraZeneca vaccines, used in the US and wealthy European countries, and the Chinese and Russian vaccines which are used by developing and low-income countries in parts of Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America. 

Many western countries are haunted by a strong sentiment of vaccine nationalism and prefer to delay vaccination to wait for western produced vaccines to be delivered instead of ordering Russian or Chinese vaccines. Western media have joined and played their role in this as well; putting vaccines into two "camps". Boasting about their own vaccines, they question the efficacy of Chinese vaccines. 

The choice of vaccines by countries now epitomizes geopolitics. And this is not an empty phrase. The US Department of Health and Human Services admitted that it used "diplomatic relations" in order to force Brazil, one of the worst-hit countries in the COVID-19 pandemic, to reject the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V.

Thus, the pandemic has changed the world but for the worse. Humanitarianism has been dropped. People in our part of the world will learn once more that ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’. Even with a strong media campaign against Russian and Chinese vaccines, many countries have adopted them out of the sheer necessity to survive. 

To quote from my article “What is Hybrid Warfare” dated October 4, 2018:“Hybrid Warfare came to prominence in the 21st century, the “Age of Globalization” has opened up many new technical and communication options and shrunk distances. According to the Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz “Every age has its own kind of war, its own limiting conditions, and its own peculiar preconceptions.” This new form of warfare, avoiding a clear differentiation between war and peace, soldiers and civilians, is practiced by all sides of the different divides. The US definition characterizes Hybrid Warfare as “Synchronized use of multiple instruments of power tailored to specific vulnerabilities across the full spectrum of societal functions to achieve synergistic effects.” 

Russian scholar Korybko, on the other hand, says that Hybrid Wars can be defined as “externally provoked identity conflicts, which exploit historical, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, and geographic differences within geostrategic transit states through the phased transition from Color Revolutions to Unconventional Wars in order to disrupt, control, or influence multipolar transnational connective infrastructure projects by means of Regime Tweaking, Regime Change, and/or Regime Reboot.”

In this case, vaccination against Covid-19, its variants and the hybrid warfare that it has initiated, may cause new geo-political alliances to emerge.

Hybrid warfare employs means other than conventional military troops, tactics and strategies, to include the employment of irregular military and paramilitary forces like guerrillas, paramilitaries, etc. The Islamic State, Hamas and Hizbullah use terrorist acts as a means. Use of non-violent means by civilian institutions include psychological assaults using ethnic, religious or national vulnerabilities, provocateurs operating behind enemy lines, economic assaults through sanctions, boycotts and punitive tariffs so as to weaken the enemy economy, cyber assaults at elections and referendums, use of big data for manipulation of referendums like Brexit and the US elections and a vast selection of propaganda warfare via electronic and social media, TV channels and publications. 

Diplomacy is as much involved in this new type of warfare as are fake news. With religious elements militating against vaccinations of any kind, all sorts of reasons are being aired not to take the jab.

The Russian military understands it as a Western ploy against the new Russia-China axis. Hybrid Warfare is meant to prevent implementation of the Eurasian concept and Russia‘s return as a global power. 

The pandemic and the fight against it are going to re-enforce new global power relations that have come up in the last twenty years. In anticipation of the 21st century, we thought that this might be a century of peace and the end of so many wars. But it has become the century of shifting centres of development from the former West (US and Europe) to Asia and even Eurasia. But the shifting of power relations is not going smoothly. Old and new local conflicts are pushed into wars in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Nagorno-Karabakh and other areas. Vaccination has become something of a new tool of hybrid warfare. 


(The writer is a defence and security analyst).