The Sunday Magazine

The world can't afford to be the same again after COVID-19, says peace and security expert

The Sunday Edition’s go-to sage on geopolitics, U.K. security expert and peace studies professor Paul Rogers, returns to the program to talk about COVID-19’s impact on the world’s geopolitical hotspots and how well Europe’s leadership has dealt with the pandemic crisis.

Paul Rogers returns to the program to talk about the pandemic's impact on geopolitical hotspots

Thermal detectors have arrived in Idlib, in the Syrian border area with Turkey, teeming with internally displaced people. Humanitarian and medical workers fear populations will be decimated when coronavirus arrives in the camps. (Submitted by Osama al-Hussein)

There are very few countries untouched by the COVID-19 virus — some of the hardest hit are among the wealthiest and most powerful. But the pandemic is also revealing stark global inequalities among nations — in wealth, stability, health care and disaster preparedness.

Paul Rogers is professor emeritus of peace studies at Bradford University and the global security consultant with the Oxford Research Group. (Twitter/Paul Rogers)

Nations that are already grappling with humanitarian crises caused by poverty, civil war, natural disasters or climate change stand to face the greatest challenges in dealing with outbreaks of the coronavirus. And yet, they largely remain hidden from our headlines, consumed as we are by the arrival of the pandemic within our own borders.

What has become of the geopolitical tensions that seemed to have brought the world to the edge of a global war a mere two months ago? Who is being forgotten in the race to defeat this pandemic? And what sorts of international co-operation are even possible in our current climate for stamping out the virus?

The Sunday Edition's Michael Enright spoke to Paul Rogers about how the current polarization in our international order might work against efforts to stop the virus.

Rogers is professor emeritus of peace studies at Bradford University and a global security consultant with the Oxford Research Group.

"I can't recall any period in my lifetime when there's been such a sudden change — except possibly, in a positive way, the coming down of the Berlin Wall and, in a very negative way, both the world food crisis in 1974 and the Cuban Missile Crisis," he said.

Rogers warned that the spread of the virus would be particularly devastating in camps housing Syrian refugees, both inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.

"I have to say that when — rather than if — COVID-19 gets into the refugee camps ... it's going to be really quite disastrous," he said. "With all the close proximity of people, often in a weakened state, malnourishment and all the rest, [the virus] would go really very quickly."

"The urgency here is massive. And extraordinarily, the World Health Organization does not have its emergency funds properly funded by the member states. Even Britain, which is the second biggest funder of the WHO, is really not up to date with this funding. I think that basically is disastrous in the current circumstances."

It's not that the world will never be the same again. It should never be the same again, because we have to learn from this.- Paul Rogers

Rogers warned that the current international order is not capable of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in a co-ordinated, global way.

"The United Nations is not a strong organization — not least because basically it is as strong as its members are united, and they are not united," he said.

"There is also the issue of what you might call the stresses of globalization and the rise of populisms of different sorts. Most of those populisms are in one way or another about making individual countries great again," Rogers added. "It's really about their own countries — a kind of populist nationalism that militates against effective, co-operative action."

A third issue, he said, has been the dominance of neoliberal political culture over the last 30 to 40 years.

"It started with Margaret Thatcher in Britain and of course Ronald Reagan in the United States. And essentially, that's a culture which favours individual competition above co-operation, to put it bluntly," he said.

Rogers believes that once the dust settles on this pandemic, returning to the world's previous state of affairs is simply not an option.

"There is no alternative whatsoever to greater international co-operation and trying to have economic and social health systems, which can cope with this particular issue. We are not remotely there at present," he said.

And how well we do in managing this crisis could be an indication of how equipped we are to deal with the much larger issue of climate breakdown, Rogers added.

"The coronavirus, in its way, is the canary in the coal mine. It is essentially a situation which requires very large levels of co-operation … But we do not have the political culture, nationally or internationally, in many countries to work together," he said. "If we learn to do that now, what is crucial is that we must do that for the world as a whole over the next five or 10 years.

"It's not that the world will never be the same again. It should never be the same again, because we have to learn from this."

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.

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