Global Responses to the Pandemic, Pt II

Dr Tapio Kanninen

In Part I, we focused primarily on the effort of the UN and WHO, and its relationship with some of the major member states.  In this part, we explore in more depth the internal dynamics of those powerful countries.

National responses – ideological and political
In terms of national responses to the pandemic, beyond the purely health-related part, which is broadly aligned to WHO guidance, we have so far noticed a rather complex political and ideological landscape:

  • Some authoritarian-leaning leaders – Orban of Hungary, for example – have used the opportunity to strengthen their grip on power and rule by decree.
  • The US President has used the crisis to issue an executive order to ban migration to the United States, a political platform thought to be a key to his re-election in November.
  • A lack of transparency or credibility regarding the infection rates in China, Russia (and more so North Korea) is complicating a systematic worldwide response.

Conspiracy theories have once again become more common among a besieged and insecure citizenry mostly on the right wing of the political spectrum.

  • The left is blamed at congressional and state levels for the handling of the pandemic in the US, with some Trump supporters taking to the streets to demand the immediate lifting of “shelter-in-place” orders. Civil liberties are in danger with an extended government power grab through shutdowns, they claim. The President tweeted that some states should be ‘liberated’ – a thought that was echoed by Elon Musk, reacting to the closure of Tesla’s primary factory.
  • Fox News prime-time anchor Laura Ingraham, a confidant of the President, also thinks that the democrats are initiating a “viral path to socialism”, possible a theme in the coming presidential debate.

Some conspiracy theory professionals, whether on the right or left, have become hyperactive:

  • First, there is a claim that coronavirus statistics and projections are manipulated to sow panic among the public, giving a free pass to those internationalists and liberals who want to institute a monstrous police state.
  • There are also claims that the virus might have started in a Wuhan laboratory rather than through jumping from animals to humans, as is the current scientific consensus. In this line of thinking the Australian Prime Minister has asked for an international investigation into the origins of the virus, and has got the backing of the US Secretary of State.
  • Bill Gates, along with his foundation, has become a target of many fierce conspiracy theorists, partly because he was able to predict the onset of a similar pandemic already (2015) and did co-organize a coronavirus exercise in October ’19, just a few months before the crisis started.

Some, mostly on the political right, argue that the socio-economic costs of the lockdown and social distancing are worse than the spread of the virus itself.  On the other hand, one liberal welfare state has not instituted as strict a lockdown as its neighbours – the final results of this ‘experiment’ will be of interest beyond Sweden.

The US President continues to give mixed messages on these issues, complicating a systematic response from the federal government. State governors are partly left to fend for themselves and they respond by creating their own coalitions or even smaller federations within the US.

Some observers see in all this the end of ‘American exceptionalism’, since the country has managed the pandemic so badly compared to others, with high cases and fatalities, and huge unemployment.

What of the political ‘left’?

In the US, the putative Democratic presidential candidate has said that the crisis provided “an opportunity now to significantly change the mindset of the American people, things they weren’t ready to do, you know, even two, three years ago”.  He mentioned universal healthcare,  plus the need to emulate the New Deal of the 1930s, obviously taking on board many elements of the Green New Deal supported by the US ‘democratic socialists’.

In the EU, an informal European Alliance for a Green Recovery has been launched with the participation of members of the European Parliament from across the political spectrum, business leaders, trade unions, think-tanks and NGOs. The initiative aims to build a post-virus economy based on green recovery, climate neutrality and the protection of biodiversity. The initiative is led by the chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.

The geopolitics of COVID-19: a ‘new world order’?

Henry Kissinger recently suggested that ’The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Forever Alter the World Order’. This is likely to be true, and he is not alone.  But where do the biggest stakes lie, in determining which way the ‘New World Order’ develops?

First benchmark will be the US election (November ‘20).  If the Democrats win the presidency plus a congressional majority, the US may well return to its traditional leadership role in shaping, and contributing to the international system, along with planning more effectively for future crises.

A second critical variable is China’s future.  Facing a sober economic outlook, albeit with air pollution temporarily diminished, will that enormous country begin to experience turbulence such as that occurring in Hong Kong?  Or, with the US in decline, will China’s authoritarian system prove to be effective in filling the global leadership vacuum that currently exists, and also in controlling its own precarious social situation, at least in the short-term?

And thirdly, what of the European Union? Will it manage to unite in solidarity around its most virus-affected regions and will it use its Green Deal to exit from the crisis, or will it simply fade to insignificance? If the former, it may prove to be the third pole that balances the US and China, and provides a more benign “third way” to global leadership by its internal example and by supporting international institutions. If it proves incurably weak, it may well become a battleground in the rivalry of the two superpowers.

One thing is clear: in light of all this, the world, its geopolitics and global governance after COVID-19, will not be the same as before.

The extent to which change to the contemporary international system will be influenced by constructive or destructive forces remains something that only the future will tell.

Dr Tapio Kanninen, former chief of policy planning at the UN in New York, is a member of the Centre’s Advisory Panel.  He is currently President of the Global Crisis Information Network Inc., senior fellow at Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies (CUNY), and founding member of Climate Leadership Coalition Inc. His latest book is ‘Crisis of Global Sustainability’ (2013).
Dr Georgios Kostakos is Executive Director of the Foundation for Global Governance and Sustainability – FOGGS (Brussels) with previous service with the UN Secretariat, think tanks, academic institutions and private consultancies dealing with issues of global governance, sustainability and climate change.

Global Responses to the Pandemic

How have the UN and other international organizations – and indeed the whole global governance system – responded to the COVID-19 outbreak?  What are we learning from this response?

Back in 2010 we examined (Journal of International Organizations Studies) whether, and how well, the UN system can address the interconnected challenges of today and tomorrow. The effectiveness of the system – mechanisms and operating procedures – was measured against its core functions: early warning, policy-planning, decision-making, coordination, implementation, and support for intergovernmental processes.

The study showed there is only partial readiness, and partial or no integration in the implementation, of these core functions across departments and agencies in the face of emerging, interconnected global challenges. In crisis situations the UN Secretary-General has to make use of existing bodies through ad hoc combinations, which may produce sub-optimal results.

Specifically, how have the WHO and the major states responded to the crisis? We offer below some observations on the ideological and political character of those responses. And we explore how the international system might be expected to change as a result.

The WHO response, and the criticism

Because of the medical nature of this crisis, the main response, in the initial stages at least, was expected to come and indeed came from the WHO. As soon as China notified it of the existence of a cluster of atypical pneumonia cases in Wuhan (31 Dec. ’19), WHO procedures were set in motion.

While China was the first to encounter and document the challenge, the official problem-identification and designation as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), came from the WHO, in late-January ‘20.

This relative delay has been criticised by some, notably the US President who saw it as a result of WHO ‘kowtowing’ to China, the most populous country and second biggest national economy in the world but a very small contributor to the  WHO budget, 0.21% compared to the US 14.67%. the President “[placed] a hold on all funding to the WHO while its mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic is investigated”.

In defence, WHO and many supporting it, point to the systematic steps taken to establish the nature and significance of the threat, including with a WHO field mission to Wuhan, the convening of an Emergency Committee of independent experts from around the world, and the progressive raising of the alarm. They also point to China’s cooperation, including by sharing the genetic sequence of the virus, all in January 2020.

Concerning the threat identification phase, apparent ”competitors” to the WHO / country-of-origin cooperation had been the secret services of the US. Without getting into conspiracy theory, it has been credibly argued that the US President had received warning through his intelligence services as early as November 2019 that “a contagion was sweeping China’s Wuhan region”.

In terms of awareness-raising, once the WHO had received the initial notification, it issued regular updates for specialists and the broader public. These were intensified with regular briefings held by the WHO Director-General and senior associates.

A further initiative by WHO was to contact the big tech companies (Facebook, Google, Apple) for support in fighting the ‘infodemic’ of fake news about COVID-19. This supplemented efforts by WHO and health authorities around the world to inform the public about the COVID-19 contagion risks and ways to avoid getting sick via spots on TV and radio channels, as well as the internet.

High-level briefings on the fight against the disease thus became a daily occurrence in many countries, with the participation of senior government leaders and top medical experts.  An eventual public information coalition gelled around the WHO messaging. Conspiracy theories and the promotion of unscientific treatments did not fully subside, with occasional prominent advocates including the US Presidentwith his apparent chloroquine and bleach obsessions.

Who took the leadership in terms of articulating a clear vision and mobilising significant resources to address the emergency?  WHO did produce extensive technical guidance on how to deal with the COVID-19 emergency, for the use of medical services, national authorities and individuals. Controversy did not disappear, as in the case of the use of masks and on travel restrictions. WHO initially advised against imposing bans on air travel, notably from China, something that again infuriated the US in particular, which soon imposed such a ban on Chinese and European travellers as well.

By and large, the WHO did a credible job with the information that it was given. It could have been less diplomatic with China, no doubt, risking the ire of one powerful global actor. It avoided that but stepped on the toes of another  major actor, the US which seems bent on fighting a trade war and perhaps a broader cold war with its ‘strategic rival’, keeping also the US election calendar in mind.

No doubt like any international organization and any large bureaucracy, the WHO could have operated more quickly and effectively.  So could every UN member state.

Other responses from the international system

While measures were increasingly being taken to contain COVID-19 infections, it became clear that the global economy was coming to a standstill. The result was the outbreak of a second crisis, an economic one, which soon turned into a matter of survival for individuals and companies, both large and small. The response came from national treasuries and central banks, though special handouts and quantitative easing, in the case of the US amounting to several trillions of dollars poured into the economy. The IMF established a credit-line of US$1 tr. for the many countries asking for help.

In the midst of all this, and while the WHO was rightly the visible face of the UN system during the initial, clearly health-related stages of the emergency, the UN Secretary-General entered the arena with various statements.  He called on the G-20 to help avert an economic collapse, and on the developed countries to help their counterparts in the developing world deal with the emergency. He also called for a worldwide ceasefire during this period and for attention to the increasing incidents of domestic violence due to home confinement.

Increasingly the focus has turned on the socio-economic consequences of the emergency and the need to ‘recover better’, more sustainably – in the spirit of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. These and other initiatives, including from UN system agencies, funds and programmes, are presented on the UN web pages dedicated to COVID-19. While the General Assembly passed two resolutions related to COVID-19 – on international cooperation to ensure global access to medicines, vaccines and medical equipment and on global solidarity to face the virus – it is worth noting that the Security Council has been unable to produce any outcome, not even in connection to the pandemic and conflict zones. It is worth recalling UN Headquarters (New York) and its offices elsewhere are also under lockdown because of the crisis.

Actual decision-making on containment and economic revival, therefore, were left to member states – with initially minimal coordination even within tightly-knit groups such as the EU.  In many countries, there was disagreement and conflicting decisions between national and sub-national jurisdictions (notably USA, Brazil).

In each case, the health experts advised the political authorities on adjustment measures to suit national circumstances.  Further processing of emerging good practices took place through the WHO and reputable health institutes around the world, which remained connected despite a surge in nationalism.

Unfortunately, both the best and the worst of humanity come out in the event of a crisis.

  • A perceived lack of solidarity towards Italy by its European partners shook the foundations of the EU and a demand for mutualised debt issuance remains under discussion.
  • Offers of support by China, Russia and others are dismissed by some as propaganda gestures, yet welcomed by those directly benefitting.
  • A new wave of conspiracy theories which we discuss more below.

What became evident to all was that national resilience has a strong local element which does not necessarily align with the push for more globalised efficiency through cross border supply chains.

There will likely be, in the near future, a strong push for national self-sufficiency as part of the national interest of all states, small and large.

We discuss this in Part II.

Environmental Victims in the Global Community

Dr Chris Williams

My 1998 book, ‘Environmental Victims’, sought to relate the intensifying spread of environmental problems around the world to issues of natural justice, international law, public health, social policy and international security.

The project looked at environmental problems specifically from the perspective of the victims, around the world.  Case studies arrived about the Niger Delta, Bhopal, Bougainville, and Southern Africa. The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal contributed a Charter of Rights against Industrial Hazards.

In parallel, the ‘environmental justice’ movement in North America argued that disadvantaged and minority ethnic groups were disproportionately affected. The film Erin Brockovich (2000) portrayed the devils in the legalistic detail. Norman Myers had collected copious data on ‘Environmental Refugees’ in 1995. In 2017 New Zealand had to consider humanitarian visas for ‘climate refugees’.

Definitions were needed. Einstein did not help with, ‘The environment is everything that isn’t me.’  The cause is what we do and fail to do. Harm (‘loss or detriment’) stems from the presence of toxic agents, but also the absence of vital dietary substances, such as iodine and iron.

There are also synergistic effects. The absence of iron can increase our intake of heavy metals such as lead. This built a neat matrix for environmental causation – Acts/Omissions in terms of Presence/Absence.

The UN Declaration on Victims of…Abuse of Power (1985) provided a framework, concerning ‘persons who…have suffered harm…through acts or omissions that do not yet constitute violations of national criminal laws but internationally recognised norms relating to human rights.’

Recent concepts – state crime and corporate crime – develop this. The first environmental victim-activists against state-corporate complicity had suffered mercury poising from 1925 in Minamata Bay (Japan). They achieved the UN Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2013.

Novel problems attract novel precedents. Unborn child victims had no legal personality. But case-law evolved in relation to abortion, and in utero brain damage caused by medical negligence, and judges deftly adapted the ‘best interests of the child’.

Traditionally, causation must be ‘adjacent’ but environmental impacts are distant and complex. English lawyers even argued that asbestos dust outside a factory comprised ‘guilty dust’ and ‘not-guilty dust’. European countries inverted the burden of proof – if pollution from a factory constituted health hazards, it became the responsibility for the polluter to prove it was not the cause of health problems. English laws, about damage caused by joy-riders in stolen cars, had already deployed this “guilty until proven innocent” principle, because the primary crime removed the possibility of proving the resultant harm.

Are we culpable for contributing to climate-change and e-waste from ICT use?

In the 1990s I suggested that ‘intended benefit’ should make us culpable for pollution from plastic bags. Now 74 countries have outlawed plastic bags. Recently I was a researcher on e-waste tips in Nigeria. I was with children recycling our e-waste who were suffering a toxic hell that even the ancient gods had not envisaged. Yes, we’re culpable.

So might environmental victimisation apply to environmental health pandemics? In 1994 French ministers were charged with ‘complicity in poisoning’ for distributing HIV-infected blood. UK poisoning law was extended to HIV/AIDs.  A virus became ‘a noxious thing’, in law.

But if Trump supports Corona virus damages claims against China, should indigenous Americans claim for their ancestors killed by white settlers with smallpox-ridden blankets?

Dr Williams is a member of the Centre’s Advisory Panel. He has held academic posts at universities in UK, Egypt and Jordan (UN University Leadership Academy), including the Global Security Programme at Cambridge University.  His other books include ‘Leaders of Integrity: Ethics and a code for global leadership’ (2001) and ‘Leadership Accountability in a Global World’ (2006).

A New Global Order? Not necessarily

Dr Fraser Cameron

I read with interest the latest views of Board members on how to improve global governance.

While I broadly share the sentiments expressed I fear they fail to take into account the enduring reality of the nation state, rivalries between these entities for various reasons, and last but not least the vanity of politicians, often supported by manipulative media empires in hock to a business culture based on greed.

The articles also rather ignore the problems of establishing a new world order when the two major powers, the United States and China, have intensified their rivalry and have very different views of how the world should be organised. What the US and China do have in common, along with Russia, India, Brazil, Turkey, Iran, etc. is that we are living in a world of great power rivalries. They do not try to hide this. Indeed the power factor is spelled out clearly in their respective national security strategies.

A note on the US is required as it is by far the most important actor in global politics. Despite their diplomatic achievements in establishing a new international order post 1945, successive US administrations failed to provide the necessary leadership apart from during the Cold War.

It is worth recalling US failure in the inter-wars years too, despite Wilson’s efforts to establish the League of Nations. At the height of its power in the 1990s and early 2000s the US showed no interest in new bodies such as the ICC. I remember well the bad blood as the US pressed the central and eastern European countries wanting to join the EU and NATO not to sign up to the ICC. I also recall Condaleeza Rice at her first meeting with EU ambassadors informing them that climate change ‘was not a priority’ and US funding of the UN would depend on ‘family values’ being accepted.

The US view on international order was best summed up by GW Bush assembling ‘a posse’ to go after Osama bin Laden.

Despite the good intentions of Obama, it was an uphill struggle on Iran and Paris; and he could not secure a majority for TPP.  With Trump in the White House the rhetoric and actions against allies and partners was worse than anyone could have predicted.  He was the first US president to describe the EU as ‘a foe’ and slap tariffs on its industries, as he did with Japan and others. His views on the UN, NATO, TPP, Paris, Iran, etc. need no elaboration.

In addition a large number of US politicians and officials now view China much as they viewed the Soviet Union – a mortal enemy. Given the extreme polarisation in America, even if Biden were to win in November, he could not return the US to its positions in the Obama era. In short, there is little or no chance of the most powerful nation in the world accepting any international restraints in the foreseeable future.

China, the second largest economic power, pays lip service to international institutions but seeks to influence them (WHO) and if blocked establishes its own bodies such as the AIIB or BRI. When court rulings go against it, as in the South China Sea, it simply ignores them. Russia follows a similar line with the Eurasia Union and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Inge Kaul laments the irrelevance of the G20 (she could have added the G7) and concludes that ‘during these difficult times an important opportunity was missed.’  But given the leadership of most of the self-appointed nations in the G20 why is she surprised? Neither forum, of course is a decision-making body.

Klaus Bosselmann contemplates ‘a new global institution’ mentioned by Carl Bildt. It is always interesting to observe how many new ideas emerge from former prime ministers and presidents! But what would this new institution do that existing ones cannot do? The first question is why the existing institutions do not function properly and the answer is simple. Apart from the EU, all international bodies operate on the basis of consensus. Everyone, from the US to Uruguay has a veto.

One reason for the success of the EU is that many decisions are taken by qualified majority. But as Covid-19 showed, despite over 50 years of working together, the instinctive first reaction of all member states was national rather than European.  The EU has now pulled back from the abyss and has put forward an impressive rescue package. The heated debate over Eurobonds, however, is a reflection of very different approaches to national economic policy.

Ken Graham argues that the 2020s is likely to be a seminal moment of systemic change to international institutions but fails to provide convincing evidence to support this assertion. He suggests a new grouping involving the IPU (to provide democratic legitimacy?) and the UN system. This begs the questions: how many parliaments genuinely reflect the views of their citizens? And how far does the UN system extend?

For the reasons I have argued above, namely the absence of political will in the major states, this is unlikely to make it to the runway let alone take off and fly.

So what can we do?

  • First, it is important to keep making the argument for greater regional and global cooperation. One should not forget the regional dimension as this is becoming more and more important in terms of trade.
  • Second, the liberal democracies must work closer together to defend and reform existing international bodies. There are, for example some legitimate criticisms about the WHO. An ad hoc group of such like-minded countries, including the EU, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Singapore, has already agreed to work around the US veto and establish a provisional dispute settlement mechanism under the WTO.
  • Third, there is a need to work more closely with the US congress, individual states and civil society in America. A long-term, consistent lobbying effort with key actors in the US system is required if we are ever to secure a fundamental change in the American approach to global issues and multilateral institutions.

An incremental process comprising an increased educational effort and building coalitions of like-minded countries may not sound ambitious but it reflects the reality of the world just now.

The impact of the current pandemic will be far-reaching but more in societal norms such as life-work balance, teleworking and digital technology.  It will have limited impact on international institutions because, regrettably, the political will to reform is absent.

Dr Fraser Cameron, a former UK and EU diplomat, is Director of the EU-Asia Centre (Brussels) and a member of the Centre’s International Advisory Panel.

The Global Pandemic – and Missed Opportunities

Prof Inge Kaul

In a study I recently undertook of the G20 (2019), I showed that during the past decade, the main joint, collective action of that body had been to issue communiqués and other types of statements.
As a group, G20 Leaders have expressed concern about all kinds of challenges, recommitted themselves to goals already agreed in other multilateral meetings or, even repeatedly, stated in earlier communiqués.

They have also lauded other entities for actions they have taken or asked others (IMF, OECD, World Bank – others) to consider taking one policy measure or another.

They have even promised they will take action individually or seek to bolster their coordination – not necessarily among themselves but, for example, with the private sector.

So, what has the Group achieved with regard to the global pandemic of 2020?

In a phrase, not much.

During their virtual Summit (26 March), G20 leaders continued with this kind of behavioural pattern. Their joint statement opens with the words:

“The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness and vulnerabilities. The virus respects no borders…We are strongly committed to presenting a united front against this common threat.”

What follows then? Words – promises on paper.  No concrete, tangible action.

Again, leaders state:

  • they “are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life”;
  • they are “committed to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic”.

This includes, they note, a readiness to:

  • ‘support and commit to further strengthen WHO’s mandate’;
  • undertake ‘immediate and vigorous measures to support our economies’;
  • ‘mobilize development and humanitarian funding’.

No mention, however, of:

  • specific initiatives that some or all of them will jointly undertake, or
  • figures, with target dates, specifying the amount of additional money they will put on the table.

I am not expecting the G20 suddenly, due to COVID-19, to take on an operational role.

But I would have expected that, this time, they would have acted differently: and lived up to the exceptional scale and urgency of the crisis the world confronts.

They could, for example, have decided to act as lead investors in a global mission-oriented project, perhaps executed, by the World Bank, in close collaboration with WHO and other multilateral development banks or other appropriate agencies.

This could have been aimed at establishing a sizeable special fund that could be used to bulk-purchase face masks (if and when available), security equipment and gowns for hospital staff, beds, medicines and, in due course, vaccines – in order to make these supplies available at affordable prices to poorer developing countries.

An action like this would, I suggest, have added credibility to the last sentence of the Leaders’ communiqué:

“We will protect human life, restore global economic stability and lay out solid foundations for strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth.”

An important opportunity of building trust and offering hope to the world, during these difficult times, was missed by the G20.

Inge Kaul is Senior Fellow at Hertie School (Berlin), Non-Resident Senior Fellow at Center for Global Governance (Washington DC), and a member of the NZCGS Advisory Panel.  This column is adapted from her article of 3 April in the IPS News Agency.

‘In the Beginning was the Word’

Dr Azza Karam

I recently took office as Secretary General of the largest global interfaith organization: Religions for Peace.

Its six inter-religious councils (IRCs) are composed of the most senior leaders representing their religious institutions in 90 countries.

This was one week before we had to ask all employees to work from home, in compliance with New York State law.

As an individual who feels functional with direct and open communication, where I can get a sense of the people I am talking with, having to take leadership over an office of people I can no longer be with, feels a little like trying to run with legs tied together. It can be done, but it is tough.

This is now the new normal, not only in the US, but everywhere in the world. For the first time in recorded human history, coming together – even within and among nuclear families – is a dangerous option, literally done at the risk of health and lives.

What does the ‘new normal’ mean, for humanity?

Thanks to more governmental regulations designed to ‘flatten the curve’ of a deadly and racing rate of Covid-19 infections, ‘social distancing’ is identified as the only viable option until a vaccine can be developed and given. Social distancing literally means not being in the presence of one another.

In the last decade, several people around the world were learning to communicate, both professionally and personally, via electronic means, which enabled us to ‘see’ each other, while being thousands of miles apart.

Some institutions were trying to move to reducing their carbon footprint from travel, by hosting more meetings/conferences/presentations on-line.

But this was only occasionally done. And it bears mention that when this was done, the sense was invariably coloured by some dissatisfaction for those of us who appreciate actually being in the same space with those with whom we can see and speak.

Most theories of communication insist that nothing can replace being together, and seeing one another face-to-face. Even corridor talk can often make the difference between a peace deal and a continuing war.

This hampering of our ability to be in the presence of one another on a regular basis will definitely contribute to changing the world forever.

As business, finance, education, civic action, religious services, governance, intergovernmental affairs, almost every profession including even many forms of health care, now move irrevocably to almost total and complete reliance on virtual communication, our words will matter more than ever.

What we say, the words we choose and use, and how we use them, will matter even more than they already did. And they already matter plenty, as increasing norms around ‘email etiquette’ also testify for instance.

Use of words, by political and religious leaders in particular, already makes a big difference to the perception of impact and capacity. Some politicians are under heavy criticism for how they are reacting to the Covid-19 crises. Few are praised.

These perceptions are not only based on the laws and regulations being put in place (and when or how these happen). A great deal of value is also placed on the words used.

Words have an impact on human consciousness, something scientists have long studied, and many researchers and health services are committed to. Articulation and eloquence have long defined culture.

And ‘having a way with words’ is a way of either praising special capacity – or bemoaning ‘spin’. Words, and how they are used, form a large part of what many bemoan as ‘fake news’.

So, we know that words matter. Now that we move into virtual communication for everything from trade to learning, from industry to worship, words will matter more than ever.

It is time to learn how to speak with mercy, how to raise interest and make deals with words, how to speak truth to power, heal wounds, raise alerts, voice concerns, convince and impact, even how to show deep love, all with words.

Faith – in anything, from a government and political leader, to a policy, to public advocacy, to all manner of relationships – will have to be elucidated and demonstrated through the word. Never before, have words mattered to so many at all times.

It is time to pay attention, therefore, to how we use the word. It’s time to listen, and learn, from some of those who come from the oldest professions of using, and understanding, and translating, the ‘word’.

Faith leaders themselves are learning to communicate to their communities and congregations, manage worship, very differently – but still very much rooted in the ‘word’.

This is why Religions for Peace has issued a call to all faith leaders from all traditions, ages, regions, and identities, to raise their voice in prayer for and with one another, and to share narratives and stories of love, in times of Covid.

For it is time for the kind words to overflow – to express love and realise healing for this Earth and for one another.

As we gaze upon this world, we recognize we have to contribute to new beginnings for all life. And in the beginning was the ‘word’.

And regardless of where we stand or what mission we serve, the word now has to be love / mercy / compassion / dignity for all life. This is the change we must realise to survive – and in Maya Angelou’s words, ‘to thrive’.

Dr Azza Karam, a former UN official, is now Professor of Religion & Development (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) and Secretary-General of Religions for Peace International.  Based in New York, she is a member of the Centre’s International Advisory Panel. This column is adapted from her article in IPS News Agency (25 March).

International aggression as a domestic crime

Prof Roger Clark

Earlier this month, the Director of the Centre lodged a submission to the NZ Parliament on the International Crimes and International Criminal Court Amendment Bill.

The Bill proposes amendments to NZ legislation to incorporate certain international amendments made in 2010 and 2017 to the Rome Statute (Art. 8) dealing with war crimes.

The submission endorsed the Bill, insofar as it dealt with the war-crime amendments.  But it recommended that the Bill should “include the other principal amendment outstanding, namely pertaining to the crime of aggression, which is one of the Statute’s four ‘most serious crimes of concern to the international community’.”

This blog-post supports this proposal – namely, NZ ratification of the Kampala Amendments dealing with the crime of aggression, and the inclusion of aggression as a domestic crime in the draft legislation currently before Parliament.

Let me explain why.

International work on aggression as a crime

The Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided by consensus, in New York on 14 December 2017, to activate the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, along the lines of the definition agreed upon, also by consensus, at the Kampala Review Conference in 2010.

Activation was effective from 17 July 2018, the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute. From that date on, the UN Security Council can refer cases of aggression to the Court, and the Court Prosecutor or another State Party can refer cases in certain situations – typically when both the aggressor State and the victim State have ratified the amendments.

I was honoured to be in Rome, and in Kampala, and again in New York, as part of the Samoa delegation. Samoa has ratified all the Kampala Amendments, and adopted legislation to give effect to them under domestic law.

In Rome in 1998, aggression was half-in and half-out of the jurisdiction of the ICC.  It was listed as one of the four crimes over which the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction.  But two challenging issues (definition of the crime and the conditions for the exercise of jurisdiction) required further work.

That work was subsequently carried out through the Court’s Special Working Group on the Crime of Aggression and concluded in Kampala.  But success came with delaying procedural conditions, namely a requirement of 30 ratifications and a further ‘activation’ resolution no sooner than 2017.

The 30 ratifications (now 39) and the activation resolution have now been achieved.  Ratification by more States will help solidify the structure of international law as promised in Rome – and before that, in Nuremberg and Tokyo.

NZ on the crime of aggression

As a relatively small state whose main protection in an often ugly world is the rule of law, New Zealand has a stake in helping to embed the proscription of the crime of aggression in that piece of the architecture of international law represented by the ICC.

New Zealand has a history of involvement with the crime.

  • Prime Minister Massey was a member in Versailles of the Commission on the Responsibility of the Authors of the War (1919) that considered the criminal responsibility of the Kaiser.
  • New Zealand was one of the 18 States, in addition to the four major signatories, adhering to the London Agreement setting up the Nuremberg Tribunal (1945).
  • It provided one of the eleven judges for the Tokyo proceedings against the Japanese leadership (1946); ‘crimes against peace, or ‘aggression’, were prosecuted in both Nuremberg and Tokyo.

More recently, New Zealand participated actively in the Special Working Group of the ICC on Aggression (2002-09) which paved the way for Kampala.  And it joined the consensus both in Kampala and in 2017 at the ASP in New York.  New York’s consensus included a renewal of the Assembly of States Parties’ call for all parties which have not yet done so to ratify the amendments on aggression.

In a statement made early in the morning after adoption, the NZ delegate “welcome[d] the activation of the Kampala amendments.”  She then explained that

“New Zealand’s treaty processes require Cabinet approval, Parliamentary treaty examination and the enactment of any necessary implementing legislation before New Zealand can be bound by a multilateral treaty or amendment.”

As a good international citizen and friend of the Court, it is time for New Zealand to go beyond merely ‘welcoming’.  Time to join the 39 others who have ratified, including Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Liechtenstein, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Samoa, and Trinidad & Tobago.

In 2016 in a lecture at the Parliament Theatrette,[1] I offered some thoughts about legislating the crime domestically, in the context of Kennedy Graham’s thoughtful 2013 International Non-Aggression and Lawful Use of Force Bill.  I shall not traverse, here, all the points I made there about the necessary legislation.

Dr. Graham’s Bill is still a good starting-point in drafting legislation. The bottom line is that, under NZ constitutional practice, a statute is necessary to penalize the crime as defined in the Kampala Amendments.

It would be unthinkable for New Zealand to become a party to the Amendments without making the crime punishable in domestic law.  New Zealand’s leaders are, one hopes, no more likely to commit aggression than to commit genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity – the other crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC.  But it is important to put a statement to that effect on the international record, by legislating and ratifying.

The Rome Statute is not a ‘suppression convention’ like the terrorism treaties and others explicitly requiring states to criminalize; but that they should do so is implicit in the Statute, in particular its provisions on ‘complementarity’ which indicate that States should exercise priority in prosecution.  Thoughtful states, including New Zealand and Samoa, have made the other crimes in the Statute criminal and prosecutable under domestic law by granting appropriate jurisdiction to local courts.

In terms of criminal law theory, strong arguments for so doing come from the deterrent and the expressive views of the law – emphatically spelling out, for a domestic and international audience, the illegality of aggression and the other crimes.

Universal jurisdiction

New Zealand and Samoa have claimed universal jurisdiction for the other Rome crimes; and Samoa has added aggression to its list of crimes over which it exercises universal jurisdiction.

Samoa’s universal jurisdiction is, however, the moderate form which applies if the alleged aggressor is, after the commission of the offence, present in Samoa. Since universal jurisdiction may be controversial in respect of the crime of aggression, I add a few thoughts on jurisdictional issues.

No-one suggests that it is improper for a State to exercise jurisdiction over what its own leadership does (at home or abroad), that is to say ‘aggressor state jurisdiction’, based on territoriality or the nationality of its leadership.  The International Law Commission (ILC), however, recommended against universal or victim state jurisdiction for aggression in its Code of Crimes against the Peace and Security of Mankind.

There is debate whether aggression, as opposed say to genocide, gives rise to universal jurisdiction under international customary law, even though it was adjudicated in international forums in Nuremberg and Tokyo. My impression was that most members of the SWGCA were comfortable at least with victim state (‘effects’ or ‘objective territorial’ jurisdiction), which was espoused in Dr. Graham’s Bill.  But practice is somewhat thin, and one of a batch of ‘Understandings’ adopted in Kampala mildly discourages what it calls the exercise of “domestic jurisdiction with respect to an act of aggression committed by another State.”

I certainly do not read the Kampala Understandings, the weight of which is debated, or customary law, as clearly prohibiting victim state or universal jurisdiction as a matter of law.  In fact, a recent study of the work-product of the first twelve States to legislate on the crime of aggression[2] since Kampala indicates that all twelve of them have adopted both aggressor-state and victim-state jurisdiction.  Four of them, Austria, Samoa, Luxembourg and North Macedonia, appear to have some form of universal jurisdiction.  This practice suggest that New Zealand has choices. Personal jurisdiction, then, is an issue to be decided.


Now is the time to forge ahead with the necessary legislation leading to ratification and resolve issues such as those on jurisdiction.

New Zealand can then join the ranks of State Parties to the Rome Statute which are bound among themselves to apply Kampala.

Roger Clark is professor of law at Rutgers University (Camden, NJ).  A former NZ university lecturer and diplomat, he has contributed extensively to the advancement of international law in many areas, including nuclear disarmament and international criminal law.  He is a member of the Centre’s International Advisory Panel.

[1] “Making Aggression a Leadership Crime in 2017: The Rome Statute and the Kampala Amendments”, NZCGS, Visiting Lecture, 2016.

[2] Annegret Hartig, “Post Kampala: The Early Implementers of the Crime of Aggression 17 Journal of International Criminal Justice (2019) 485.  (Not all countries are as diligent in legislating before ratification as New Zealand is, and many of the 39 ratifiers have not yet adopted their legislation.)

Can Nuclear Disarmament Strengthen Global Security?

Dr Lyndon Burford

Ten years ago, the US President reaffirmed in a major international speech that the United States sought ‘the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons’. Despite the vision, Obama didn’t say why he thought a nuclear-weapon-free world would be peaceful and secure.

So the question arises, from the perspective of nuclear-armed and allied states, can nuclear disarmament as a process and endpoint (‘nuclear-zero’) help to improve the global security environment?

Why would nuclear-armed states disarm?

The leaders of nuclear-armed and allied countries regularly state their support for complete nuclear disarmament. Yet there is a constant tension between this rhetorical support for global zero and their nuclear deterrence policies. NATO, for example, sees nuclear weapons as the ‘supreme guarantee’ of allied security, and Russia believes that nuclear weapons are ‘an important factor’ in preventing nuclear conflict.

So why would nuclear-armed countries want to eliminate the weapons?

This question is vital for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which marks its 50th anniversary in 2020. The NPT is a foundation of the global security order. It is the core legal basis of efforts to stop more countries from acquiring nuclear weapons, and the only multilateral treaty that creates a binding obligation regarding nuclear disarmament (Article VI) for any nuclear-armed state.

All NPT members have repeatedly and unanimously agreed that the disarmament obligation in NPT Article VI requires nothing less than achieving nuclear-zero. The NPT ‘nuclear weapon states’ (China, France, Russia, UK, US) were parties to those agreements. Yet the nuclear weapon states last engaged in multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations in 1996. Since then, the number of states with nuclear weapons has increased from six to nine. India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea also have nuclear weapons, but are not NPT members.

Meanwhile, Russia-US arms control is in freefall, and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is all but dead due to events triggered by unilateral US withdrawal, despite all Western allies except Israel opposing the US move. The world is witnessing a complex new arms race that makes the simplicity of the Cold War seem almost quaint. Most experts believe the likelihood of nuclear weapon use, whether by accident, miscalculation or madness, is increasing.

Doubts among non-nuclear weapon states

As global security deteriorates, many non-nuclear weapon states are increasingly suspicious about the claims from nuclear states to support complete nuclear disarmament. Some believe the nuclear weapon states are using the NPT to control access to nuclear technology while retaining their nuclear weapons indefinitely.

To ensure non-nuclear weapon states continue to support the NPT and refrain from seeking nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapon states need to find a way to demonstrate the credibility of their disarmament commitments. The most credible way to do that is to negotiate for disarmament and actually disarm, but as noted, that isn’t happening. An immediate step in that direction is to explain why they think a world without nuclear weapons is desirable.

Why would that world be ‘peaceful and secure’?

The security value of nuclear-zero

The most obvious reason that a nuclear-weapon-free world is desirable is because nuclear use is the most likely trigger for nuclear war, and the likelihood of nuclear use is lowest at nuclear-zero. Let me explain.

Nuclear-armed and allied states argue that they can only reduce their arsenals when a permissive security environment allows them to. Logically, that means that achieving nuclear-zero will be impossible without a fundamental transformation of the global security environment.

Put another way, arriving at zero would be proof that a fundamental transformation of the security environment had already occurred. Otherwise, states that see nuclear weapons as essential to their security would not take the final step from low numbers to zero. Any discussion of the security environment or strategic incentives in a nuclear-weapon-free world must account for this point.

Building trust through disarmament

How might that transformation happen? A 2009 joint statement from the US and Russian presidents offers a clue. It affirmed that reducing nuclear weapons in a negotiated, verified process would ‘enhance the security of the Parties and predictability and stability in strategic offensive forces’. That implies that an iterative process of verified disarmament can help to improve the overall security environment by progressively increasing predictability and stability.

In addition, such a process can help to build trust between countries. To get close to nuclear-zero, the world will have to go through multiple rounds of verified reductions in the number, and role, of nuclear weapons. Each new round of verified reductions would improve trust levels among nuclear-armed states, and between nuclear-armed and non-nuclear-armed states, because it would involve negotiating and/or promising disarmament action and then verifiably delivering it. Otherwise, further reductions would be unlikely to happen.

This cycle would also improve inter-state trust because, for political and technical reasons, the transparency and intrusive international inspections for all parties would probably increase with each round of reductions. All these developments could help progressively to alleviate security concerns related to other countries’ nuclear weapons. And if the risk of nuclear conflict continues to increase due to threats from disruptive technologies, the relative incentives to maintain nuclear weapons would decrease.

There’s nothing inevitable about this logic of course. The nuclear states achieved enormous nuclear reductions within the permissive security environment that followed the Cold War. Yet in 2019, respected experts are warning of a global nuclear crisis.

So it’s necessary to think about the difference between a permissive security environment that might allow for nuclear reductions, and the active political motivation that would drive a process towards elimination.

A key question that arises in that regard is, is it possible to achieve nuclear disarmament while maintaining the belief that nuclear deterrence increases national and international security?

New initiatives

New forums have emerged that could usefully address that question. Examples include the Swedish ‘stepping stones’ approach, or the US-led Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) Working Group, both launched in 2019.

All states should seize the opportunities that these and other similar initiatives offer to address the critical threat that nuclear weapons continue to pose to global security. In particular, they could start by urging nuclear-armed states and their allies to explain why they believe that nuclear disarmament is a desirable outcome.

Dr Lyndon Burford is Post-doctoral Research Associate at the Centre for Science and Security Studies, King’s College London, and a member of the Centre’s International Advisory Panel

Multilateralism –

Dr Fraser Cameron

If you were to read the speeches and articles of Chinese leaders you might conclude there was no country on Earth more committed to multilateralism.  Certainly, China has benefited enormously from the rules-based, international system established after 1945.  How genuine is China, along with the other major powers assembled at the United Nations, in its commitment to multilateralism – 21st century-style?

China’s commitment to multilateralism is, unsurprisingly, a mixture of world-view and self-interest. This is especially true in the area of trade.  In the two decades since it joined the WTO, China regularly achieved annual growth over 10% as it became a global manufacturing powerhouse, and built up the largest foreign reserves in history. China is now the world’s second largest economy, poised to overtake the US in the 2020s.

But now that the WTO is under attack from the US President, China has been slow to respond to proposals from the EU, supported by Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, to reform and strengthen the global trade organisation in light of changes in the world economy. It is reluctant to discuss rules for e-commerce and proposals to tackle state subsidies, one of the main reasons Western powers refused to grant China market-economy status which, it claimed, was due to it after 15 years of WTO membership.

The conundrum extends beyond trade. While professing respect for international law, China ignored the Hague Tribunal in 2016 which dismissed Beijing’s claims to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. It has subsequently been dragging its feet over agreeing on a code of conduct with ASEAN states. South East Asian leaders have also not forgotten the outburst of the Chinese foreign minister in Hanoi in 2016 when he stated: “you are all small states and China is a big state – do not forget this”.

In the UN system more broadly, China has improved its engagement and its budget contribution.  It supplies more ‘blue-helmets’ for UN peacekeeping than any other P-5 member state. It still uses its veto to defend its clients on occasion, but it has been broadly supportive of the work of UN agencies. It signed the Paris climate change agreements, and it supported EU-led efforts to agree a nuclear deal with Iran.

In the area of international finance, China arguably would not have hived off and established its own institutions if the US Congress had agreed to modest changes to China’s voting rights in the IMF and World Bank. But as a result of the US attitude, Beijing set up the Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB), along with other banks, to fund its flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China describes this as a ‘multilateral initiative’, but the reality is that 90% of all such projects are China-financed. China has also been rightly criticised for paying insufficient attention to environmental and financial sustainability of BRI projects.

China continues to attend BRICS summits but has concluded that this brings little added value to its policy aims. It also views its membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SC) largely in defensive terms, unwilling to cede influence in Central Asia to Russia. It holds irregular summits with African states, continuing to portray itself as a developing country, while seeking investment opportunities and votes at the UN.

Under the previous leadership of Hu Jintao and Wen Jibao, China employed slogans seen by many as vacuous – ‘peaceful rise’; ‘harmonious development.’ But with President Xi Jinping at the helm, China has taken a more authoritarian course. New slogans such as ‘a shared future destiny for mankind’ cannot cover up China’s its selective approach to multilateralism. Of course, China is in good company here with the US.

This leaves a small core of states aspiring to defend the liberal versions of the multilateral order which has been so beneficial to so many over the past half-century. China was not in at the ‘creation’, but it has been a major beneficiary. Someone needs to remind Xi Jinping that the alternative is anarchy, not something that it enjoyed in the 1960s under Mao.

This is not to dismiss the validity, both historical and contemporary, of China’s unique civilizational culture.  But it is to suggest that the 21st c. multilateral rules-based order requires a genuine and mutually-respectful dialogue between West and East, North and South.  China has huge potential to play a constructive role in that.

An area for New Zealand’s Centre for Global Studies to enter with insight – and circumspection ….

Dr Fraser Cameron, a former UK and EU diplomat, is Director of the EU-Asia Centre (Brussels) and a member of the Centre’s International Advisory Panel.

The new omnipotence:

Dr Chris Williams

What is the oldest organisation within the UN? What is missing from Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’?

What fuels the richest organisations in the world?

Is the digital revolution an opportunity, or a threat, to the emergent global community?

While reading this on a smartphone, how many of us immediately recognised the answer to all three: information and communications?

From 1865 the ITU standardised the use of telegraph across nations. Joining the UN in 1947, the ITU now regulates satellites, broadband, Internet, wireless technologies, navigation, radio astronomy, meteorology, mobile phones, radio and TV. The 19th century ITU had recognised a ‘global interest’. It then built a ‘global community’ of a kind – across European countries and their world-wide colonies.

Other UN agencies were slow to recognise comms as a theme. UNESCO set up a Communication and Information Sector in 1990, which runs the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) and the Information for All Programme (IFAP). 

Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), realised the significance of new ICTs, setting up the Centre for Humanitarian Data, and ReliefWeb which provides free real-time data on emergencies.

Maslow’s oversight is curious. A defining feature of a living organism is the ability to receive basic information from forces such as gravity and the sun, and to use ‘signalling’ to attract pollinators, warn-off predators and participate in bio-cooperation. Without internal and external information and communications, there is no life, no social activity, and so no ‘needs’.

Maslow’s present-day psychologist counterparts converted our evolutionary need for information into the ‘click-bait, attention economy’ of social media, now often seen as addictive and compulsive. The human need for information is on a par with sex, and binge-eating sugar, salt and fat.

The third answer then falls naturally into place. Apple and Microsoft top the rich-list, with Google (Alphabet), Samsung, Alibaba and the social network platforms included in the same league – richer than many nations and more powerful than most.

Security is an issue. Concern now exists over Huawei providing 5G coms infrastructure in the US and Europe. In the 1930s, similar concern was expressed about the presence of Siemens in Britain. It was realised that Germany controlled Siemens, and eventually a Nazi employee was found spying on British companies.

The Catholic Church is a precursor of these new power elites. It created the concept of ‘propaganda’, and hired Marconi to set-up Vatican Radio in 1931. The omnipotent power-towers around the world are not now the church spires, pagodas or minarets. They are the comms aerials. People who identify themselves by their type of religion are declining, except in Africa. Those who identify themselves by their brand of Smartphone are increasing, particularly in Africa. The Tablet predicts that 1000 Catholic churches will disappear by 2025. Since 2018 the UK permits churches to rent their towers to host cell aerials and satellite dishes.

Global security explains much of the telecoms infrastructure, and coms towers tell their own stories. The Cold War communications ‘backbone’ of concrete towers in Britain started from London’s GPO (now BT) tower. The towers are round because the designers had noted that a dome was the only tall structure to withstand the nuclear explosion over Hiroshima. Now denuded of their old microwave horn-antennas, they are now virtually redundant.

The USSR followed with a ‘radio curtain’ centred on the Berlin Fernsehturm, which included beautiful towers in Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius. In 1989 they signalled the end of the Cold War when utilised by resistance groups. Two million people then created the ‘Baltic Way’ by holding hands to link the three radio towers across 700 km.  Their beautiful ‘Singing Revolution’ deterred further Soviet occupation, without any need to threaten nuclear holocaust.

What is the interest of the ‘global community’ in all this?  In short, it requires information and communications to be acknowledged as ‘global public goods’, along with the atmosphere and oceans.

The current UK Labour Party manifesto promises free fibre-optic broadband for all. New Zealand’s distinctive contribution is to Google’s Project Loon – a series of balloon-mounted coms aerials to link remote areas. In 2013, a pilot experiment in the Tekapo area connected local users around Christchurch. This will extend around the world. along the 40th parallel, linking NZ with Australia, Chile and Argentina.

Communications intersects the global security concerns. The political and commercial power has long been recognised. Yet comms is often missing from our conceptualisation of ‘global communities’ and the ‘global interest’. Why?

In part, this is because comms companies create dependencies and vulnerabilities – a now vital service that could be wiped out by a mega-virus created by a teenager in Albania or a few solar flares. They facilitate both (in Ulrich Beck’s words) the ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ of the modern world. This creates cognitive dissonance and denial. Teachers punish pupils for using smartphones, but rush to the staffroom to check their tweets. Psychologists treat people for excessive screen-time, and check online for new therapies. Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han points out in Psycho-Politics that smartphone users now willingly submit to self-surveillance by comms companies and states. The digitalised, networked subject is a ‘pan-opticon of itself.’ So we don’t notice and question, we ‘collaborate’.

In the field of information biology, Gregory Bateson provided a crucial insight in 1979: All receipt of information is necessarily the receipt of news of difference…’ .  As he pointed out, we cannot readily perceive information that is too slow or too fast, too small or too big. ICT works at the extremes. The 20th century Cold War comms towers were too big to see; the six aerials in smartphones are too small to see. The burgeoning cell towers are static; radio waves move at a speed that is imperceptible to human senses.

For the sake of the global community – to the extent it can be meaningfully identified in this context – we need to do two things: first, make the invisible power of ICT visible; second, recognise, and better conceptualise, the omnipotence of the new gods of communications – their ‘goods’ and their ‘bads’.

It is quite a challenge; perhaps something for the NZ Centre for Global Studies.

Dr Chris Williams is Visiting Fellow at the International Education Studies Centre, University of London. He is a member of the Centre’s International Advisory Panel.