Return of Pandemic and Human Security Paradigm

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By: Irshad Ahmad Bhat and Zahid Sultam Magray

The Coronovirus Disease (COVID-19), first detected in Wuhan city, Hubei, China in December 2019, outbreak has swept the globe with the continuous surge in infected cases and deaths worldwide. Covid-19 is a transnational viral disease that takes us to the Human security discourse and why nation-states are required to prioritize national security vis-a-visa Human security conundrum in a highly globalized world.

Security traditionally focuses on state actors and their military capacities to protect state sovereignty and territorial integrity from external military threats. However, over the last few decades, the definition of security has been enlarged to cope with the new challenges of diverse nature of the globalized international community, its technological developments and new global threats that emerged from this process. Nayaf -al- Radhan argues in favour of “multi-sum security principle”, based on the assumption that in a globalized world, security can no longer be thought as a Zero-sum Game involving states alone. Instead, Human security involves economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security. Thus, global security and security of state or culture cannot be achieved without good governance at all levels of guaranteeing security.

Human security paradigm was the product of a convergence of Building capabilities to confronted and overcome poverty, disease, the threat of violent conflict, restrictions on political freedom; rejection of economic growth as the main indicator of development; rising incidence of internal conflicts, the rapid pace of globalization, failure of the liberal state building, human Rights regimes; and post cold war politics influenced human security paradigm.  Inga Thorson of Sweden pointed out that, “the arms race and development are in competitive relationship”. Famous Palme commission report, 1982, proposed the doctrine of common security.

Since the post-cold war, the notion of security broadened to include non-military threats along with an emphasis on the individual as the central object of security. Hybrid and asymmetric threats were also ranked as one of the defining drivers of international security. This importance given to people’s security has grown in silence due to the rising incidence of civil wars, intra-state conflicts, and development and diseases outbreaks. International politics witnessed the rise of Low politics at the global arena. Contemporary global politics is confronting new challenges and political realities ranging from Military threat to terrorism, civil wars, migration crisis, and climate change, slowing economic growth, Algorithms, biotechnology or infectious viral diseases.

One such major global challenge is ongoing COvid-19 outbreak. Other notable pandemics were severe acute respiratory syndrome (2003), Influenza pandemic (2009), Ebola (2014) etc. Pandemic has occurred throughout history and appear to be increasing in frequency, particularly given the rising emergency of viral diseases from animals to humans, the risk is mainly driven by the combined effects of spark risk and spread risk broadly through human populations. Pandemics like COVID-19 hampered global trade, shuttered business, restricted movement of people, downgraded economic growth estimates, and have overall negative impacts on the global economy. Individual behavioural changes such as fear have induced aversion to public places of gathering – shops, markets, causing negative shocks to the global economy. In countries with weak political institutions and stability, pandemics can generate more political pressures and stresses.

Diseases pose a serious threat not just to national security but also to global security. Being global in reach it requires a collective effort. As Former Director-General of WHO Lee Jong Wook has rightly said,” pandemics don’t respect international borders”. Also because rapid transmission of Covid-19 means that the capacity failures in any state could place any other nation-state at peril. Countries need to work together on treatment protocols, therapeutics and development of a vaccine. And nationalistic or isolationist perspective would be a grave strategic miscalculation.

However, current status of the health sector may be good but more needs to be done. Global spending on health continues to rise from the US $ 7.8 trillion in 2017 or about 10 per cent of GDP in 2016 as per WHO findings. COVID-19 outbreak forces policymakers to rethink on security priorities. It is a good example of why the world needs a well-equipped health sector. The serious shortage of healthcare workers, facilities, supplies hampers countries potential to fight CIVID-19 effectively. Better preparedness to tackle pandemics requires investing now both in strengthening public health systems and in prevention efforts and flexible financing instruments. A Global Pandemic emergency facility as proposed by Kim Jong Yun in 2014 in the wake of the Ebola outbreak must be put in practice. Because we have seen that,” passing the hate” around once a pandemic strikes is too costly, both in human and economic terms. The robust plans, especially in the wake of multiplying growth of cities and informal areas, in developing world must be framed.

Unspecialized agency WHO, UNDP, non-governmental organizations are playing a central role in human security in a number of ways; sources of information, providing relief, supporting governments on the ground.

In an age of global interdependence, nation-States needs to priorities their security options and balance out between military and non-military options. Low political issues like health, education, environment, poverty, repression, food and others must be taken seriously. The universal health care Efficacy depends on the structure and competence of the health care system as outlined by Millennium Development Goals. While the marriage of health and security has helped build the necessary global political will to implement international health regulations, the institutional, technical and political challenge in this goal can be overstated.

-The authors are doctoral fellows of political science 


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