by Bawa Singh and Aslam Khan 8 April 2020
Prima facie, it seems that there is no relationship between the pandemic and war. However, going through some pages of history, it has become well proven that both have remained interwoven since the recorded history. In the post-war scenario, the pandemic used to chase the latter one. The former is partly/somewhat uncontrollable and whereas the latter one is controllable with political/geopolitical interventions. The close relationship between the war and pandemic can be seen if we just give a cursory look over the deaths on account of the pandemic i.e., the latter has proved the deadliest than the former.
Even in the age of advanced and sophisticated science and technology, pandemic/natural calamity have remained beyond human control. Throughout the recorded history, the number of pandemics have taken place by which million people have died. Even during World War-I and II, several million people have been killed, followed by the outbreak of pandemics that too played havoc with human lives. Presumably, one can say there is one similarity between the pandemic and war that is to kill the people. If we see killing/deaths of people through the comparative lens, then it seems that the COVID-19 which has created panic among the countries and deaths are taking place beyond control, can be easily equated to World War. Seeing its scope and substance, the COVID-19 can be called as the World War-III which is also being fought by geopolitical/blame game/conspiracy theory strategies between/among the countries over the COVID-19 pandemic
Smallman-Raynor, and Cliff (2004: 54) have argued in their book that wars/battles have been fought throughout the recorded history for the pursuance of expansion of empires, kingdoms, geopolitical/geo-economic/geo-strategic compulsions, getting of civil rights, glory etc. are some of the important reasons. Along with many critical multilateral challenges and problems, pestilence becomes one of the major implications of war/s. The same has fatal effects not only on the soldiers, rather on the local population as well. A number of evidence has been available in this context from the Peloponnesian War (fought between Sparta and Athens for supremacy of Greece-430 BC) to till date. It has been argued that more soldiers had died with the war-time epidemics than the enemy actions/attacks.
Pandemic and War: Mass Killers
War and pandemics have been interwoven and remained mass killers since recorded history. The first pandemic was believed to have started as early as 165 AD and since then continued killing millions of people even in one go till today. The mosquito borne diseases like malaria keep on killing half a million people every year during the last couple of decades. However, during the last 20 years, deaths from malaria have been under check given some advanced health preventive measures. Justice Plague was another pandemic which killed 50 million people during the 6th century, which is equal to half of the Global population at that point of time. During the 14th century, Black Death appeared as a mass killer killing 200 million people. Similarly smallpox has killed more than 300 people in the 20th century alone. The influenza pandemic appeared in 1918 killing 50 to 100 million people. HIV is another monstrous and time bomb of the 1980s, is something more dangerous than pandemic consistently haunting the human race by killing more than 32 million people and infecting more than 70 million people. One thing is very clear from the recorded history that pandemics and endemics would remain the part and parcel of humanity. Rather , there is an anticipation of the worst scenario in the backdrop of industrial pollution and polluted land, water, air etc due to human intervention in nature.
World War-I was something like another pandemic which started on 28 July 1914 with the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war with Serbia and came to an end with the German armistice of 11th November 1918 resulting in millions of deaths of soldiers and civilians along with the damage and destruction of wealth. War can be controlled/checked/stopped with the intervention of international organizations/major powers etc. as the first world war was stopped with the Treaty of Versailles of 1920. Similarly, the Paris Peace Treaties (1947), followed by the end of WW-II, had played a monumental role in settling international affairs/relations by allowing the defeated Axis powers to regain their sovereignty and become part of the global governance in terms of membership in the United Nations. However, to control pandemic is something beyond human control which is used to take its own time to complete the cycle.
The total number of deaths in World War-I and War II have been shrouded in history and mystery given the lack of a proper record. WW-I was recorded as one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, by killing more than 25 million including the combatants and civilian people across the world . The same case goes with WW-II, in terms of deaths, devastation, destruction etc. It was as deadliest as World War-I, perhaps even more, as the estimated total deaths stood at 70–85 million people. It was a great human loss as it comes around the 3% of world population (est. 2.3 billion) in the 1940s.
The World Wars had left very indelible imprints on the human race. In the post-WW-I, the world order had witnessed the downfall of many monarchies (Austro-Hungary, Turkey, Germany and Russia) and even the end of colonialism. The war changed the economical balance of the world, leaving European countries deep in debt and whereas on the other hand, made the US the major power and creditor of the world. Apart from this, the social paradigmatic shift was one of the critical impacts of WW-I&II by putting the million women into menial jobs. In the beginning of the 1920s, most of the economies entrapped in the period of hyperinflation leading to a great depression. In this respect, German economy was a peculiar case which was crippled beyond imagination. Carter and Mears (2011) have argued that with the end of the WW-I, the British economy was faltered and mired in a serious recession and unemployment reached its peak at the rate of 17%. The exports declined to its low ebb coming to half of the pre-war levels. The global economy witnessed its nadir. Almost the same kind of effects have been witnessed and experienced in the aftermath of WW-II.
COVID-19 may be called as World War-III, given its scope and substance leaving deadly impacts on politics, economy, society , world order etc. This time the impacts may be more severe than World War-I and II. Men and material losses may be unimaginable. COVID-19 had turned the world economy into enervation and stagnation, revisiting the great depressions of the past. The young generation have been facing unemployment which is something like a time bomb likely to explode in the near future. Foreign direct investment, manufacturing, tourism, exports and imports, supply chains have become stand still.
Lockdown, quarantine and self-isolation are becoming major challenges for elderly people. Apart from deaths on part of COVID-19, psychological stress and strain are making society to walk on the tightrope. Number of reports have been appearing in the media regarding suicides. Major parts of the world population have been working in the unorganized sectors, making their lives more unprotected. Even some sectors like agriculture, poultry, horticulture and people dependent on these sectors would likely to face serious challenges. Agriculture and tourism based economies likely to be at sea. Food security and hunger deaths are likely to emerge as critical challenges.
Except only a few countries like South Korea, Cuba, China etc have remained successful to fight with the COVID-19, but the rest of the countries have been facing a lot of challenges due to insufficient medical supplies, intensive-care units and testing kits. What about the medicine for the pandemic which is yet to come? Given the priority of national security, human security is used to get considerably less attention. Commodification of health has made it out of reach of the common people. There is no dearth of infrastructure/facilities for the elite classes even in the developing countries. However, the common concerns such as health, education, houses, food security etc of the poor people from both developed and developing countries have remained common and complicated. Even COVID-19 has become more dangerous than the US, China, Russia, North Korea, Iran’s nuclear missiles, torpedo, nuclear missiles, rocket launchers etc which have range up to some nautical miles, but the pandemic’s range is beyond the borders. Until today, the COVID-19 has proved deadly pandemic causing 1,361,024 infected cases and 76,201 deaths. However, the good part recovery (293,617 cases) is also taking place.
Some takeaways can be taken from the present critical scenario emerged out of the outbreak of the pandemics COVID-19. In addition to national security, health security should be given an important place in the domestic and foreign policies. Health security should be made as a fundamental right ensuring medicine and medical facilities etc. Similarly food security should be a fundamental right. Food security is likely to emerge a critical challenge in the coming time which is to be taken care of. In the situation of economic downfall, the governments should make programmes and policies, how to deal with a faltering economy and rejuvenate the economy, employment, and create the confidence for foreign direct investors. A lot of cases of racism, xenophobic, discriminations have been taking place in many countries. Governments should take care of all these issues and protect the citizens from double disadvantages. The most important takeaway is human security. Pandemic is used to remain unforeseen, therefore, a pandemic fund should be created to meet the emergency demand. More funds are required for more research as pandemics are the byproducts of the environment which is likely to remain stressed given the need and expansion of industries. To me, it seems that in the future, the traditional concept of security would take a back seat and biological threats may become important features of realpolitik. The concept of traditional security needs to be revisited and readjusted to meet the unforeseen threats of World War.3!!
Dr, Bawa Singh (Associate Professor ), has been teaching in the Department of South and Central Asian Studies, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda.
Dr Aslam Khan (Associate Professor) has been teaching at the Department of Gandhian and Peace Studies, School of Social Sciences, Mahatma Gandhi Central University of Bihar