India, France, China should WAVE to fight future viruses

The terrific trio of Modi, Macron and XI should meet over videoconference and announce WAVE. They have the capability and potential to make history, writes Rajendra Shende for South Asia Monitor

Rajendra Shende Apr 24, 2020
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As the tsunami of an unprecedented and unexpected pandemic is threatening civilization, we are witnessing brutal unilateralism and aggressive bilateralism internationally. Multilateralism, the very building block of the United Nations, is taking a back seat. Human civilization was boasting, just four months back, about ‘deep into space’ travel and modern projects with AR (Augmented Reality), VR (Virtual Reality) and the embracing of the fourth industrial revolution. The UN was upbeat as it declared the year 2020 as ‘super year for nature and biodiversity’.  

Microns-size new coronavirus crashed all those hopes as the new year of 2020 began. Humanity soon came on its knees and was humbled. The modern world skilled in digital technology had no algorithm to this ‘Viral Reality’ and disaster of planetary proportion.  

Unfortunately, the lessons learnt from calamities of yesteryears are all but sadly forgotten. One of the significant reasons that sowed the seeds of World Wars I and II was the rise of nationalism coupled with unilateralism sprinkled with bilateral military agreements. After World War I, many who were witnessing the magic of industrial mass production thought that it is “the war to end all wars.”  That remained a frugal wish like the way one makes while throwing the coins in the fountains. After two decades another fierce uprising of the nationalism and unilateralism sprouted in Germany whose leader Adolf Hitler then roared to “make Germany great again”.

The League of Nations established after World War 1, exactly 100 years back, for solving disputes between countries before they erupted into open warfare through multilateral diplomacy, did not work. The United Nations, an intergovernmental organization, came into being after World War II in 1945 with a global mission of preventing future wars, maintaining global peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development and upholding international law.  

The UN Secretary-General has already stated that COVID-19 is the worst crisis after World War II. It is a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations, one that is killing people, spreading human suffering, and upending people's lives.

We are already in the four month of 'war' or maybe the fifth month if we consider the possibility that China knowingly or unknowingly delayed the reporting the facts and potential threat from the new coronavirus to WHO. More than 170,000 civilians have lost their lives after having literally suffocated by the virus. That is the worst type of suffering, equivalent to the deaths in brutal chemical warfare. The predictions are graver and the total deaths are estimated to reach 1.7 million in the US alone. In comparison total deaths in the US in World War II was just about less than half a million. 

On April 9, the UN launched the 2020 Financing for Sustainable Development Report (SDFR) based on feedback from 60 international agencies. According to the UN International Labour Organization, five to 25 million jobs will be eradicated, and the US will lose $860 billion to $3.4 trillion in labour income. The UN Conference on Trade and Development projected a 30 to 40 percent downward pressure on global foreign direct investment flows, while the World Tourism Organization saw a 20-30 percent decline in international arrival.

In reality, the UN seems to be missing in action and paralysed. On April 2, after full three months of the outbreak and one million deaths, the UN General Assembly approved the first resolution on COVID-19.

It called for "international cooperation" and "multilateralism" in the fight against COVID-19. The resolution, which was approved by consensus, and after the rejection of Russian text, stresses that "the need for full respect for human rights" and that "there is no place for any form of discrimination, racism and xenophobia in the response to the pandemic". The language of the resolution is typical classic template of any UN General Assembly (GA) resolution. Further, the resolutions adopted by the GA are not binding, unlike the UN Security Council (UNSC).

The real action by the UNSC, however, is still conspicuously absent since the start of the pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, the five permanent members (the US, the UK, Russia, China and France) are divided on reaching a consensus on the text to support UNSG’s action.

While the US and China are at loggerheads on issues of trade, the origin of the virus and demanding international probe on COVID-19, the UK is busy with Brexit. Russia is aligning with China and France is running between two factions to get a consensus text.  G20 and G7 are paying lip service though their naïve communique.

It is exactly the time for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to step in when international platforms themselves are in ICU.  Modi is Earth Champion, awarded by the UN. He is handling COVID-19 well in India and praised by the WHO and Bill Gates, founder of the world's largest software business. There is goodwill for him from all the corners of the world knowing his decision to supply HCQ (Hydrochloroquin) when requested. He has not made it a profit/trade issue and used that act as a way to help friends at difficult times. He has been bestowed awards from the UAE, Bahrain, Russia and South Korea among others for his international and national efforts and hence respected in the number of countries.

Faced with a similar situation, ahead of the Paris Climate Meeting in 2015, PM Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron came together to launch the International Solar Alliance, an intergovernmental organization to promote the use of solar energy that would benefit the poor at the bottom of the pyramid. Alliance now has more than 120 members. The declaration of solar alliance helped to build the positivism for the negotiators and now the alliance is helping to meet the carbon neutrality as per schedule given in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Modi and Macron should again join hands to launch the much-needed global initiative for dealing with the Virus on a short -term and long-term basis. Knowing the gap being left by the UN, Modi and Macron should launch such an alliance may be called a WAVE: World Alliance for Virology and Epidemiology. 

Why Macron?  Macron like Modi is also known to take bold steps. He countered  Trump’s slogan of ‘ Let Us Make  America Great Again’ by his own slogan of ‘ Let Us Make Our Planet Great Again’.When Trump declared withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, Macron gave a courageous open call to American climate scientists to come to France to continue research. Like Modi, he has also institutionalized the carbon tax,  though he has to later withdraw it partially. In the short term, the WAVE can reduce the time for developing vaccine and medicines for cure. WAVE can collaborate with GVN-Global Virus Network to take fast track trials on existing medicines like HCQ and OPV (Oral Polio Vaccine).

In the long term it could initiate action on researching how virus get evolved, its origin and our capacity in predicting the vicious arrival of the virus, its mutation and to be ready for vaccines in the shortest possible time. It is easier said than done, but we have examples like earthquake and network of seismology labs from where we get information on the severity of the earthquake when it happens and also help in predicting future earthquakes at least with probabilities. WAVE could help in setting up such early warning signals.

There is a strong case why President Xi Jinping should also be the founder member of the WAVE along with Modi and Macron. Firstly, China would be able to create positive reactions and counter the severe attacks from the West on China’s delayed reaction on COVID-19. For any research on coronavirus, China’s participation is important. Second, his own people in China would benefit and appreciate his efforts in the midst of havoc faced by the Chinese. Thirdly, both Modi and Macron have a good personal rapport with President Xi. Modi has in fact disrupted the diplomacy by holding informal summits in India and China. The terrific trio of Modi, Macron and XI should meet over videoconference and announce WAVE. They have the capability and potential to make history.

(The writer is Chairman TERRE Policy Centre and Former Director UNEP. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at shende.rajendra@gmail.com)

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