In a recent unthinkable move, Trump Administration halted the funding to World Health Organization (WHO) while a review is being conducted to assess its role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of coronavirus and for failing to adequately obtain, vet, and share information in timely and transparent fashion.
At over $500 million, the United States of America is the biggest contributor to WHO.
In another incident that took place in December last year, World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate body was rendered dysfunctional after United States vetoed fresh appointments of adjudicators as the remaining two of the three members retired.
Many experts while drawing up obituary of WTO, held the view that this not only struck a blow to rule of law but was an alarm bell for international institutions on the emerging existential crisis.
COVID-19, which has created world’s worst health crisis of the century and is pushing the global economy into the worst economic crisis it has ever seen, is proving to be a final nail on the death coffin of credibility of existing International Institutions.
International Institutions like United Nations, WHO and United Nation Security Council are under fire for having failed to measure up the grave challenge posed by the pandemic. UN Security Council is being criticized for being slow in taking up COVID-19 issue which is far graver than any military threat in recent decades.
On the other hand, WHO has been tarred with charge of bias and grossly underestimating the nature of the epidemic. WHO on January 14, 2020 tweeted that preliminary investigations conducted by China have found no evidence of human-to-human transmission of novel Coronavirus. Interestingly, earlier a similar tweet was put out by Wuhan’s Health Commission Public bulletin.
It must be known that first identified and detected COVID-19 victim in China was on December 1, 2019, but it was only in the second week of January 2020 that China sounded the alarm.
WHO is also being widely criticized for the delay in declaring the COVID outbreak as “Public Health Emergency” while it was in its early stage. This is being sighted by experts as one of the major reasons which caught most of the nations, including even USA, unprepared to deal with the virus. Moreover, Taiwan, which is amongst very few nations to have reacted in time and effectively contain the Virus’s spread, has been barred by WHO from attending its meetings and briefings on the crisis.
All these factors combined are pointing towards the manifold growth of China’s influence in international institutions and these concerns have led to questions about whether the WHO can truly serve as a neutral arbiter in times of crisis. WHO is facing the wrath of many nations across the globe mainly because of this reason apart from it failing drastically in its core function of cautioning the world of the deadly outbreak at the right time. The trust and the credibility which these institutions once enjoyed have suffered a major blow. This trust deficit is likely to impact human values and conduct across the globe with each nation tending to look more inwards and concentrating on narrowly defined National Interest. This poses a serious risk to the concept of ‘international community’ which may well cease to exist.
The direct consequence of decline of international institutions and multilateralism would be drastic change in the existing ‘World Order’. This ‘Pax-Americana World order’ came into existence after decline of Pax-Britannica. The post-World War II witnessed Pax-Americana rise along with gradual emergence of International Institutions over a period of time. From the ashes of ‘League of Nations’ rose more stronger, effective, and globally acceptable “United Nations”. World Bank along with International Monetary Fund, was created at Bretton Woods Conference in 1944.
These agencies received maximum funds from United States and thus America became the unannounced leader. This defined the birth of “New World Order”. United States of America’s position got even more solidified with the fall of Berlin Wall and disintegration of the then USSR in 1991.
China, one of the most prominent nations of the world and an important player in international institutions, is emerging as a major challenger to the current world order. Weakened economically and politically after COVID-19 has ravaged the nation, United States capacity to play a critical role in world affairs is certain to diminish and China will certainly try to take advantage of this geo-political turn around. Taking advantage of its ‘early recovery’ from the COVID-19 outbreak and being indispensable as world’s supplier of manufactured goods, China is creating a geo-economic and geo-political advantage for itself out of the misery of the world.
The worst part is that most of these medical aid and other palliatives are found to be sub-standard. Coronavirus test kits were withdrawn in Spain over poor accuracy rate. Similarly, India too had to suspend the use of ‘faulty’ COVID-19 test kits from China.
There are also enough reports highlighting the ulterior motive behind hostile acquisition of financial assets in banks and companies by China across the world. Taking advantage of the scaled down value of these assets, China seems to be preparing for situation where this current pandemic would hollow out the financial viability of many companies, institutions and banks. Even in India, People’s Bank of China acquired 1% stake in HDFC bank after sharp decline in the stock value.
To counter this, several countries like Germany and Australia have begun to restrict China’s Foreign Direct Investment. However, this may not be enough to checkmate China which already enjoys massive advantage with its extensive supply chain of manufactured goods that penetrates deep and reaches to lower middle class across the world. China also stands tall with its ambitious and visionary projects like “Belt Road Initiative” which symbolizes China’s power and seeks to combine regional connectivity alongside gaining a virtual economic and substantial stranglehold across Asia. China is preparing for Sino-centric multilateral globalization framework.
In the new world order the biggest casualty would be personal liberties which would be sacrificed for greater state control. An omnipotent state could well become a reality. The other major impact would be on political management and security of the nation. Hence, it is of utmost importance to protect and maintain the current order. For that, it is necessary to stop ceding ground to China.
Beijing has been able to steadily fill the vacuum in international institutions resulting from westerner democracies, especially the US, cutting funding and participation in these institutions. It is the responsibility of the flag bearers of liberal democracies to gain back that ceded ground. Apart from that, WHO needs serious reform and complete overhaul in its organizational structure, making the institution much more transparent and accountable in its functioning. The long due reforms of UNSC and other institutions must also be implemented. The credibility of these institutions is at stake and with it is the existence of current world order.
Barack Obama through Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) had envisioned “United States of Europe” which together with USA would have become invincible defender of the current world order against authoritarian states like China. On the contrary, Trump not only rejected TPP but through his populist “America First” policy and his constant unpleasant bickering with governors of state of US, has sown the seeds of “Divided States of America”. Liberal world order was already facing severe illness due to rising protectionism, COVID-19 has made its condition worse by putting it on ventilator. For the liberal world order to survive, it is inevitable for the nations who believe in liberal values to do the unthinkable by coming together and agreeing on much needed radical reforms instead of locking horns in petty populist politics. Unprecedented times require unprecedented solutions.
Kartik Kishore is a resident of Patna. He did his graduation in Civil Engineering from KIIT, Bhubaneswar.