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Covid-19 and International Relations: Forces of Change, Continuities and Discontinuities

04 Aug 2021 at 16:19hrs | Views
Forget about all its devastating impacts to humanity, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about interesting and new dimensions to international relations as an academic discipline which raises pivotal issues that must be digested by key stakeholders in this filed, amongst them diplomats, academics, researchers, and policymakers.

The outbreak of this deadly pandemic has exposed that investing in human security in general and health security in particular must be top the priorities of states,  equally as state do in acquiring new military technologies and defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity through arms, they must also do likewise in pioneering health-related initiatives and researches.

Despite the fact that health is one of the key global public good whose benefits extends to all countries, people and generations, the manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines by major powers in the global politic has diminished the non-rivalry and non-exclusionary qualities of vaccines which fall within the confines of global public goods.

This is because the normative and multilateral efforts of mutual of cooperation which are some of the primary obligations of states have been marred by vaccine diplomacy in the advent of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Vaccine diplomacy basically is the use of Covid-19 vaccines to improve a country's diplomatic relationship and influence of other countries. Instead of uniting hands through cooperation, technological and health service exchange programs in the manufacturing of effective vaccines to save humanity, states have been resorting to the use of vaccines as soft balancing mechanisms to assume the hegemonic and super-power status in the international system.

Eradicating the pandemic has practically became the secondary objective of states whilst the primary objective of these vaccines has been to exert influence and moral superiority of states in an anarchic and unregulated international system.

India is one typical example which reveals how detriment vaccine diplomacy can be, in a bid to soft balance power against  its major regional rival China, it also partook in the race to manufacture vaccines and have their Covixin vaccine. However, they exported more vaccines to developing countries especially Africa and vaccinated less people in their country. Its vaccine diplomacy scheme was a boomerang because moments later it was hit hard by the third-wave which claimed more than half a million lives in a short space of time.

Badmouthing, de-campaigning and propaganda are also some toxic off springs of vaccine diplomacy. Longstanding rivalries between the major powers has also continued even during the times when countries are supposed to unite for a common purpose.

 This has especially been evidenced by the antagonistic and sceptical response that the European Union, Australia and US government towards the Sinopharm, SInoVacc and Sputnik V vaccines which are produced by China and Russia respectively. The manufacturing of vaccines has become the continuation of politics by other means which prolongs the war against this deadly virus.

Medical terrorism is also a fascinating vocabulary in the dictionary of international relations which has also been brought about by the outbreak of this pandemic. This term originally uttered by the Iranian outgoing President Hassan Rouhani exposes a positive correlation between the US imposed economic sanctions and denial of the much-needed medical supplies due to the frosty bilateral relations between these two countries. The term resonates well-sanctioned countries and projects how the sanctions can further the spread of the pandemic as some mitigatory mechanisms, amongst them access to medical supplies and finance to procure vaccines blocked by sanctions and multilateral financial restrictions.
Lockdown measures and restriction of movement which are by-products of the pandemic gravely affected regional integration which is a norm in this globalised world. Nevertheless, vaccine passports which are being introduced by various countries and regional organisations have brought a new dimension to regional integration, tailor-made to mitigate the spread of the virus.

European Union recently introduced the EU vaccine passport which enables holders to move freely if they have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and recently tested negative for the virus before travelling. Holders of the vaccine passports are therefore not liable to quarantine or testing the host state. These passports are essentially critical in resuscitating regional integration, specifically the hospitality and tourism industry which was greatly affected by the pandemic.

Various windows within the discipline of international relations have been opened by the Covid-19 pandemic. There is now a greater need for international relations scholars and researchers to fill in these research gaps which is part of the bigger grand strategy necessary in fighting the pandemic.

Wallace Musakanyi is a University of Zimbabwe Masters in Politics and International Relations student and writer who can be contacted on

Source - Covid-19 and International Relations : Forces of Change, Continuities and Discontinuities
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