The international order beyond the mask is shaking unstably. As COVID-19 has prolonged, depression and resentment across the world are also growing. It’s everyone‘s challenge and concern to figure out what is the consensus keyword and mindset that penetrate this era, and what can be the proper response in this fear of the virus. Already it has been a year of facing the COVID-19 era. The Beijing Xiangshan Forum, the most distinguished security forum in Asia along with the Shangri-la Dialogue, was held Dec. 1-2. Due to COVID-19, this year’s forum was held online.
This year’s main agenda was enhancing international cooperation to respond to the new security challenges, and we have four subtopics that are global strategic stability, Asia-Pacific security, major power relations and international cooperation in nontraditional security. While the first three subtopics are regarded as the traditional challenge, COVID-19 falls into the category of nontraditional security since it has created an unprecedented sense of crisis.
When traditional challenges are deeply rooted and expecting a resolution is almost impossible, the nontraditional challenge relatively still has space and opportunity to go for cooperation, although it won’t be easy. What and how can we achieve international nontraditional security cooperation? I would like to raise some thoughts focusing on COVID-19.
First of all, each country must have sufficient capability to respond. The respective countries should domestically establish a strong pangovernmental crisis management system to reinforce a unified legal system. The governments must be able to mobilize the capacities to respond in golden time, have an initial response system and establishment of a command system. We should also think about the role of the military. In order to build the optimum response capacity to natural disasters, the response force should be designated and operational concepts must be developed.
We are also in need of global governance. Wouldn‘t it be cheaper to prevent whatever will come as a bigger burden in the future, or should we let it be? It does not necessarily mean that you’re over your obstacles now because you overcame them today. If you don‘t prepare enough, you will pay a higher price. National instability follows social instability. International instability follows national instability.
Advanced Western countries should be the exemplars. Just like the Korean film “Parasite,” which won the 2019 Academy Award for Best Film, the suffering in human security in small and weak countries must be protected. We need to support the countries in need of continuous control and help against COVID-19, and we need to provide support for a rapid economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 era. We need global altruism.
US-China relations should remain stable. The US should have a will for global leadership. It almost fell into the Kindleberger trap, but now it is about to return to world leadership. We still have to wait and observe whether the US will eventually recover or not, but the US return will be the centerpiece of international cooperation. On the other hand, China should make sure that China’s sincere intention is conveyed properly. For example, the title “Community of Common Destiny” has been changed into “Community With a Shared Future Mankind.” This is because China was also aware of the negative views on destiny. China‘s emphasis on the Community of Common Destiny should focus more on the community itself, rather than the destiny.
The international distance should be narrowing. Excessive emotions and behaviors, which are more than just the infectious disease issue, can trigger a Western vs. non-Western civilization confrontation. In the case of human security, we must stop three battlegrounds of warfare: legal warfare, public opinion warfare, and psychological warfare. Taking advantage of middle-sized countries can be another breakthrough. The international community can let middle powers lead on these issues by giving them opportunities and space, while the big powers support them from the back. Or, the pandemic declaration led by the US and China seems nice as well. Just as French President Macron mentioned that a new modern agreement is needed to address these international challenges, we need a conference such as a “Global Health Roundtable,” which involves the World Health Organization and other main health-related countries.
In conclusion, the international community was overconfident because the contagions before COVID-19 spread relatively slowly and were controlled promptly. The fear and sense of crisis that we can be infected has intensified more due to the absence of political leadership. Even if we go back to the past with successful COVID-19 vaccines, what we will confront is the liberation from fear and security from fear.
Although each country is self-sustaining due to a lack of reliable international mechanisms and a vacuum in international leadership, international solidarity and cooperation are optimal, and nontraditional security should be directed toward building the community. In the future, discourse should be activated, including preemptive proposals of philosophical visions and practice road maps of post-COVID-19 international norms and orders.
Hwang Jae-ho is a professor in the division of international studies at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. The views reflected in the article are his own-Ed.
By Hwang Jae-ho