Covid-19 as a National Security Crisis.
By and large, Covid-19 has forced all states to revisit the conventional understanding of national security. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, most analysts have been discussing its far-reaching impacts on global healthcare systems, socioeconomic well-being, and existing national security priorities of countries throughout the world. Although national security has featured infrequently in the discussions, given the devastating impacts it had, the post-Covid-19 world might compel national leaders to reassess their priorities between the traditional and non-traditional security paradigms.
Covid-19 is quickly becoming a threat to our national security. The second wave of the pandemic is truly here and is wreaking more havoc than the first wave. It is high time we started prioritizing and treating Covid-19 as a national security emergency.
It is interesting to note that pandemics, like the current Covid-19, have always been recognised as one of the non-traditional security threats, but palpably never regarded as a likely or serious one. Even prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, reminding the world of how quickly a virus can spread beyond borders, viruses, not war, were anticipated by some to be what would kill millions in the coming years. Hence, the post-Covid-19 world might compel national leaders to reassess priorities between the traditional and non-traditional security paradigms. There is no doubt the pandemic is set to leave in its wake human misery of epic proportions, ravage the world’s economies, challenge the efficacy of national and international institutions and engulf the world in an unprecedented geopolitical morass. Calls to make livelihoods a top security imperative, as much as traditional security, could force nations to reallocate their defence budgets in the coming fiscal years in order to revive sinking economies and support research and development (R&D) in science and medicine.
National security as a concept was introduced in the 17th century after the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the 30 Years’ War in Europe. Following this, nation-states were considered sovereign and they had complete control over their internal borders. Moreover, they were also responsible for the external security of their territory and people. During its early days, national security mainly dealt with military matters exclusively; however, that reality has now changed especially after the end of World War II.
Today, national security can broadly be defined as “the safekeeping of a nation as a whole.” While traditional military threats do continue to exist, they aren’t the only threats affecting a nation. The threat of the global pandemic referred to as Covid-19 today, is the single biggest threat to the safekeeping of the Pakistani nation that has, as of December 27, affected 473,309 people and claimed around 10,000 lives.
The severity of Covid-19 can only be understood by comparing it to previous natural disasters that have struck Pakistan. The tsunami of 1945 in Balochistan led to the loss of more than 4,000 innocent lives. Additionally, in the tragic 1974 Hunza earthquake, 5,300 people lost their lives. Other natural disasters that devastated the country include the 2010 floods, which are considered among the worst floods to have ever affected Pakistan, in which over 2,000 people lost their lives.
While every human loss is a setback and a huge loss for the country, the numbers above look pale in comparison to the toll Covid-19 has taken so far. Covid-19 is among the most dangerous and destructive natural calamities to have hit Pakistan. This is outside of the impact that Covid-19 has on the economy which will be affecting the lives of millions of working-class Pakistanis.
An example of the effects of natural disasters on the economy can be seen in the study conducted to analyze the impacts of natural disasters on economic growth in Pakistan by using time series data from 1975 to 2010. The study concluded that natural disasters slowed the GDP growth by 1.483 percent and the industrial production rate descended to 2.1 percent.
Today, Pakistan’s economy for the first time in 68 years is expected to go through to the next fiscal year with a negative growth rate of 0.38 percent. The impact of slow growth directly affects the working-class population of Pakistan, which forms the majority of the country. A nation-state’s biggest concern outside protecting its borders is to ensure a healthy and prosperous people within its borders. Covid-19 is actively making an impact on a large number of people which will inevitably not just overburden our healthcare system but will also increase unemployment, and result in economic instability. Any domestic instability will directly impact Pakistan’s national security paradigm and put the entire nation at risk.
It is also important to remember that Covid-19 is an ongoing crisis and that the numbers quoted above are likely to increase. The question is how quickly do we realize the magnanimity of this threat and treat it with the emergency that is needed. National and provincial governments did an effective job in controlling the first wave of the pandemic; however, the second wave of the pandemic is a much bigger political, as well as an economic and social, challenge. There are warnings that if Covid-19 cases continue to multiply, the country might have to go into a complete lockdown again. These warnings come in the background of the fact that the leaders of opposition political parties continue to hold rallies amid increasing Covid-19 cases. Today, Covid-19 can only be successfully dealt with if all stakeholders in Pakistan come together and collectively treat it as a national security crisis.
In times of national security crisis, Pakistan has, in the past, come up with a National Action Plan for the menace of terrorism and for water scarcity. It is time that all political forces in the country let go of their political differences and come up with a National Action Plan that prioritizes the commitment to protect working-class Pakistanis from the threat of Covid-19. The time to control the pandemic may run out if all stakeholders don’t collectively act soon. Just like terrorism, we need a National Action Plan to deal with Covid-19 on which all stakeholders must agree.
HOW A NEW POLICY SHOULD LOOK LIKE?
Former Vice Chief of Naval Staff and Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Khan Hasham Bin Saddique, in his article Rethinking National Security Post-Pandemic (The Nation; April 28, 2020) has proposed the following strategy:
Firstly, the notion of national security should be re-evaluated in the context of “Comprehensive Security” and not just the defence of territorial integrity. If human security is conceptually agreed to as a subset of comprehensive security, this non-military component must receive the desired resources to fully complement national security. A continuation of low government investment on health (0.8%of GDP) and other social sectors would be detrimental to national security.
The second issue relates to visualising the nature and character of future war. Future wars would be shaped by the impact of modern technology including cyber and space warfare, ballistic missile defence shields, precision munitions, disruptive technologies and the combined use of hard and soft powers of a state. Add to it the nuclear overhang in our context, which makes it even harder to make accurate hypotheses. Hybrid war is the new buzzword these days with the tendency to lump everything under it. Resultantly, there is a predilection to securitise threats which ordinarily would be amenable to a soft power blandishment. The dimensions of non-state actors, information warfare and the increasing salience of law-fare would shape the future war environment. In essence, the outcome of future war is unlikely to be determined by military prowess alone, but a contest involving overall power potential.
The third issue of importance is that, despite our full-spectrum deterrence, the Indians have been trying hard to discover the space for conventional war by resorting to “Cross Domain Strategic Coercion” for the past 20 years. The coercion is, in fact, part of “Compellence” strategy in concert with international partners, using multiple levers and thrust lines simultaneously, to affect a policy change in Pakistan. The Damocles’ sword of FATF is a case in point which is continuing to haunt us. Since India is relentlessly using political, diplomatic and economic leverages to sidestep and weaken our deterrence regime, there is a need, therefore, to develop a “Cross Domain Deterrence” strategy to ward off complex threats in the future. The military potential is likely to retain its primacy in the geopolitical context, but modern, non-traditional threats can be equally damaging in the absence of effective response. The coronavirus has caused colossal economic losses and excruciating pains on societies far beyond wars, apart from rendering the world’s best military machines utterly helpless.
Finally, if the strategy is aimed at meeting the desired ends, scarce resources must be allocated imaginatively and more judiciously to achieve synergy of effort jointly at the armed forces level as well as the national level through an approach that includes the whole government. Considering the panoply of threats featuring military as well as non-military ones in equal virulence, the capacity-building of civilian institutions should also be given equal attention in the interest of comprehensive national security.
Some people might point out the fact that there have been vaccines announced in the West by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. The logistics of distribution and storage will still be a challenge for developing countries like Pakistan. On the other hand, there are Chinese vaccines the trials for which are presently ongoing in Pakistan, which may be more suitable for our region. However, it is estimated that once these trials are finished, the results will go back to China for processing, and this entire process by itself will take a few months before any vaccines can be approved by the healthcare regulators.
It is important to stay hopeful about the possibility of a global vaccine ending the pandemic, but we must not let our guard down. It is time to act collectively not just for ourselves, but for our families and our nation. Pakistan has, in its past, faced existential threats, but it did successfully come out of them, and there is every reason to believe that Covid-19 will also eventually be contained. But at what cost, it still depends on us!
The writer is an educator.