Covid-19 Lesson #1; National Borders are Meaningless to a Virus
There will be all kinds of lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic, but none as important as this: we live in a globalized, interconnected world, and national borders will not shelter us from the threats we face in the 21st century. The coronavirus was a global problem from the moment it appeared in China and Donald Trump's promise to seal our borders to the virus was dangerously naive.
Foreign Affairs: "It should come as no surprise that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose foreign policy doctrine is called “America first,” vastly underestimated the importance to U.S. security of defeating the novel coronavirus pandemic abroad. Trump was slow to recognize that the United States could not seal itself off from the virus: on February 26, the president predicted that the number of infected Americans would soon go down “close to zero,” while the White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow insisted that the United States had “contained” the threat because its borders were “pretty close to airtight.” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross even assessed that the troubles in China “will help accelerate the return of jobs to North America.” But of course American borders were not airtight at all, and the United States is now home to the highest number of reported cases of COVID-19..."
That isn't to say that travel bans, even those within nations, are useless. They can slow the spread of a disease like Covid-19, but don't expect them to permanently insulate you from harm. They won't. About 4.5 billion passengers boarded planes in 2019, and that number has doubled just since 2006. And travel bans will almost always be implemented too late and with large numbers of Americans still traveling within the infected nation. During the current pandemic, tens of thousands of Chinese flew to the United States even after we implemented the ban and untold thousands more before we even realized that we should impose restrictions.
Moreover, the Covid-19 coronavirus isn't the only border-defying problem we will face in the 21st century. Like Covid-19, terrorism, cyber warfare, drug trafficking, climate change, mass extinctions, water scarcity, refugees, weapons proliferation, and financial panics defy borders and the wisest global leaders have realized that since the dawn of the nuclear age, if not before. Day by day since then, science, technology, trade, and travel have been shrinking the world and that process continues to accelerate. As we have said before in these pages, globalism isn't an ideology, it's the natural process of our world getting smaller, a process that began thousands of years ago when the first traders ventured out into the Mediterranean to sell their goods. So, a return to isolationism, nativism and nationalism is worse than useless; it's dangerous and Covid-19 is proving that. Like it or not, we are all in this together now.
America's leaders can embrace this increasingly globalized world or use the current coronavirus crisis to stoke xenophobia, and promote isolationism. Some are already doing the latter, and Donald Trump's attacks on the Chinese and the World Health Organization reflect that tendency. Blaming foreigners, immigrants, and international institutions is the President's "fall back" position, and a time-honored tradition for populists in times of crisis.
And there are certainly reasons to be pessimistic about the post-pandemic world. Stephen Walt, professor of international relations at Harvard University, believes that we will learn the wrong lessons from the pandemic and that the crisis will promote isolationism, strengthen authoritarianism and fuel heightened nativism, creating "a world that is less open, less prosperous and less free.”
But, that will only happen if our nation's leaders feed into the false and dangerous narrative that Americans will be safe from global pathogens and thrive economically by building walls and closing our borders to immigrants, trade and ideas. Those arguments are demonstrably false. Increased globalization was the catalyst for America's unprecedented per-capita GDP growth in the 20th century, and has done more to raise people out of poverty than any trend in human history. And the Covid-19 pandemic is the perfect example of an international challenge that is impervious to walls and requires global solutions.
Project Syndicate, Robert Malley: "If COVID-19 persists anywhere, it will remain an incipient threat everywhere, regardless of efforts to wall it off. The more widely that testing kits and, when discovered, treatments and vaccines, are distributed, the faster the pandemic will be vanquished. The more that scientific knowledge is shared, the faster those drugs will be developed..."
Populist, nationalist politicians that use the Covid-19 pandemic to stoke isolationism and hammer international institutions like the World Health Organization, are using the crisis to further their political ambitions. Ignore them. The coronavirus pandemic should instead hasten our efforts to bolster global institutions to anticipate and battle the next global threat.
Max Bergmann, American Progress: "Today, the world faces a number of possible high-impact threats, from global pandemics to climate change to food security. These can be addressed and mitigated to prevent them from spiraling into unmanageable crises, but that will require a robust global effort. The current crisis should serve as a wake-up call for the world to get a better handle on these issues. With the right leadership, the United States can play an indispensable role in developing the international infrastructure for addressing these emerging challenges, and it should."
By: Don Lam & Curated Content