The Covid-19 pandemic exposes a hole in global governance. Thousands upon thousands of lives have fallen and will continue to fall through this hole. World leaders have pledged €7.4 billion in a digital fundraiser as part of a new “international alliance” to fight COVID-19. Assembled political leaders declared their support for the WHO, which will receive some of the funds alongside other organizations working on vaccine development.
Conspicuously absent so far from this new alliance, which was driven by the European Commission, was the US. It follows President Donald Trump’s decision in April to halt funding for the WHO. He is claiming that the organization covered the spread of the coronavirus in cooperation with the Chinese government.
Trump’s decision is a decisive blow, given that the US is the WHO’s most significant single funder. When the WHO despairingly tries to raise a 2 billion US dollar global humanitarian response fund to assist the world’s poorest countries, it spells disaster.
Failure Of International Organization
International organizations have so far failed to rise to the occasion in fighting the pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) has functioned as a ‘clearing house’ to offer the most authoritative information. Still, it has no power to extract information nor to enforce regulations in any country. What it can do is to issue health advice to the world based on the data voluntarily provided by member states. The anarchic nature of international politics encourages self-interested behavior that leads to the WHO’s warnings and advice ignored by many countries.
One institution that might have accumulated power above states is the UN Security Council, but it has remained silent on the war against COVID-19. One possible reason is that the pandemic is not a traditional security threat that the UNSC accustomed to dealing with the covid 19. But the radio silence of the UNSC on the WHO has neither the authority nor capacity to gather evidence of infectious disease on its own; it may not even go to the outbreak source if the territorial State does not consent. WHO is entirely reliant upon host States for information about conditions that might warrant a global public health response.
The global system for defeating disease failed about COVID-19. Even if national and international officials did not live up to their responsibilities, the blame lies with the worldwide network that allowed them to do so and had no capacity itself to diagnose the situation otherwise. There is no international body, including the WHO, that has the authority to detect and diagnose an outbreak, nor to guide the global response to emerging contagion. In the name of human security, this governance failure must address at a global level.
Humanity needs governance reform to improve capacity for confronting. And defeating disease, even as it respects States’ rights, and while protecting medical privacy.
Recently, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison proposed that international inspectors have the authority to conduct permitless inspections. In the same vein, the establishment of a new international organization (the International Biology and Epidemiology Organization (IBEO)?). With primary authority to identify risks of contagious disease as early as possible and, as appropriate, marshal resources. And expertise against the disease.ight also reflects the deep divide inside the institution itself.
The G20 appeared to carry more hope than the United Nations in coping with COVID-19. But its report appeared only declaratory. No country is stepping up to exercise much-needed leadership in the G20. To make things more dangerous, the deepening rivalry between the US and China. It has curbed concerted efforts in global governance to fight COVID-19.
A 2007 study by scientists in Hong Kong predicted the reemergence of a SARS-like coronavirus from bat meat, the acceptable source of COVID-19. If an epidemic was predictable, then a pandemic was preventable, and the WHO should have played a pivotal role in the detection and avoidance of a COVID-19 pandemic in the critical window of January 2020.
It’s estimated US$3.4 billion a year is needed to fund “Global Governance” of WHO pandemic preparedness. However, WHO global pandemic preparation funds have fallen woefully short of this target, even following the 2014 Ebola epidemic.
Wealthy governments have long been repellent to redistributive demands by developing countries and have left the WHO chronically funded. There has also been a desire by Western governments to prioritize health sector loans, with lines attached, through the World Bank. Countries have never given the WHO the requisite independence, powers or resources required to fulfill its mission to ensure “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.”
Few Effective Tools
To seasoned WHO observers, its deferential posture towards China shows its reliance on states cooperating with it. The WHO has no powers to compel information-sharing or enforce pandemic preparedness.
The UN’s human rights and climate change agencies, the WHO finds itself armed – at the mercy of obstructive member states and saddled with diminishing resources. It enjoys few useful tools to monitor outbreaks of contagious disease, coordinate pandemic planning directly, allocate resources to those countries most in need, or ensure effective preparedness implementation at the country level.
WHO should serve a vital global function, mitigating against the risk of states becoming overwhelmed. In service, it could reduce the destructive impact unmanaged economic globalization has had on public health systems, many of which have been left ill-prepared to deal with COVID-19.
A Solution is Needed.
The WHO is required, but it broke. We will almost surely confront even more daunting challenges on our interconnected, globalized planet. COVID-19 is a global disaster, but recovery is not in question. The same cannot be said for other global risks facing the world, including the probability of much deadlier pandemics.
A sober reckoning with this predicament demands a radical transformation in how we design and manage sound health governance both domestically and at a global system.
Whether or not existing global governance configurations such as the UN. And the WHO can repurpose to address systemic global risks is an open question. This is not merely a call for more funding to the WHO or other intergovernmental bodies. Its dysfunctions are symptomatic of a broken global political system.
For many, global-scale system reform may appear untenable, for others, undesirable. But what if – as expert observers increasingly agree – nothing less is going to be enough? Why can we not imagine a different role for the nation-state if we can imagine an existential climate catastrophe? Rather than countries competing with one another. We should remember we are agents of the whole global working on behalf of all inhabitants on Spaceship Earth.
Challenges of Global Governance
The Challenges of Global Governance Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic paper series includes contributions from thirteen Council of Councils institutes. Eight of these papers consider the broader implications of the pandemic for international cooperation. And the trajectory of the global system. The remaining five papers explore significant gaps in the international management of global public health emergencies. And suggest reforms to increase the capacity of the multilateral system. And national governments to prevent better and anticipate, detect, and respond to future pandemics.
As the papers make clear, any multilateral reform efforts will encounter strong headwinds. In a climate of political polarization and geopolitical competition. Growing U.S.-China tensions and lack of global leadership have undercut pandemic response efforts within the World Health Organization. However, The Group of Twenty, the United Nations, and other major multilateral forums. In the aftermath of the pandemic, the obstacles to collective action are likely to be even more daunting, across a range of global challenges.