March 27, 2020
“Operation Enduring Freedom”, “Operation Resolute Support”, “Operation New Dawn”, “Operation Unified Protector”, “Operation Decisive Storm”, to name a few, were recent decades’ ambitiously titled military interventions seeking to achieve narrow ends. Although diplomacy and multilateralism were sidelined, they all claimed to have the support of the so-called “international community”. In reality, they only represented its failure.
The coronavirus is a slap in the face of the “international community”. It has instilled “shock and awe” across the globe. World leaders are struggling to contain the pandemic largely on their own terms. Their initial reactions have prioritized national interest as well as self-interest. Because, their political future matters. The UN Security Council remains invisible, perhaps also under lockdown. The World Health Organization offers advice and statistics, but it is not a global decision-making body.
Leaders of the world’s largest economies expressed confidence after a virtual G20 summit yesterday that they are strongly committed to presenting a united front against the common threat of coronavirus; that they will overcome the pandemic. However, their assurances failed to make headlines.
In brief, world’s immediate reaction to Covid-19 has been poor. To a certain extent this is only to be expected, even understandable but the current picture must change and must change soon if the phrase “international community” is not to prove a myth.
The pandemic appears to have pushed priority items of the global agenda way down the list. Now, it is all about fighting the virus and dealing with its economic impact. Pundits are looking beyond the horizon and speculating what sort of a new world order may emerge thereafter, who is to gain and who is to lose. Yet, current conflicts, particularly those in the Middle East have taken a dangerous new dimension with the spread of the disease. The “international community” does not have the luxury of forgetting about them.
Fighting is still going on in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Millions are displaced, without food, water and medical care. They are fighting for survival and in no mood to listen to advice regarding the combat against coronavirus. Unless countries which claim to lead the world ensure a broad Middle East ceasefire and provide urgent economic and humanitarian assistance, the pandemic will engulf tens and tens of thousands and those devastated regions will turn into impregnable coronavirus fortresses. Migration will become a worse problem.
Middle East countries are unable to face the challenge of the day on their own. Their administrations are opaque, undemocratic. Their economies are stagnant. Corruption is a major problem. Should coronavirus deaths and food prices skyrocket so will the crime rate. A new wave of internal violence will engulf the region.
It is time for the “international community” to admit that the regime change project in Syria has failed; one way or the other President Assad has won the war; and, any semblance of government authority is better than chaos.
The warring parties in Libya must be warned of coronavirus devastation if the fighting were not to stop. Saudi Arabia and its allies should withdraw from Yemen. External meddling in these conflicts must come to an end.
Western countries are worried about the spread of the disease at home but the front lines of defense against the coronavirus lie in conflict areas.
Turkey, reportedly, has 15,000 to 20,000 troops in Idlib. They are not only in harm’s way in a military sense but also sitting on top of a mountain which may soon prove a coronavirus volcano. The Turkish government which assumed a leading role in the regime change project in Syria must seriously consider negotiating the withdrawal of its troops from Idlib not only to end the continuing loss of its soldiers but also to escape what may prove more than a local a disaster. And, it should resume diplomatic dialogue with Damascus. These are extraordinary times which call for new approaches.