Author: Josh Busby (page 1 of 20)

Revisiting the Fear-Apathy Cycle in Global Health in Light of COVID-19

This is a guest post from Ashley Fox, an Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Policy at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, SUNY.  who researches the politics of health policy and population health.  She can be found on Twitter @ashfoxly.

Since the novel Coronavirus, Covid-19, was discovered in Wuhan, China in late December 2019, it has spread to nearly every country on the globe, culminating in more than 5.5 million confirmed cases and nearly 350,000 deaths (and counting). Moreover, the epicenter of the outbreak has now migrated from Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim to Western Europe and the United States and increasingly now Latin America.

The draconian social distancing measures utilized to bring China’s outbreak under control that many speculated would not be possible to use effectively in the West are now being undertaken under the threat of a health system tsunami. Moreover, the global economy is in a complete tailspin threatening to tack on a global economic crisis to what is already a public health crisis. 

It is now painfully clear that the world collectively underestimated this pathogen and its pandemic potential and that, once again, our containment efforts have been reactive rather than proactive, with deadly consequences. How did an emergent pathogen with a (likely?) 1% case fatality rate manage to bring civilization to its knees in a matter of months? What happened to the lessons learned from SARS, MERS, Ebola, and other recent pandemics that had resulted in promising reforms to pandemic preparedness?

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Democracy (still) on the Edge: An Analysis of Brazil’s Political Response to the Covid-19 Crisis

This is a guest post from Matthew B. Flynn, André Pereira Neto, and Letícia Barbosa.

Matthew B. Flynn is an Associate Professor of International Studies and Sociology at Georgia Southern University. His work focuses on pharmaceutical policies in Brazil, the immigration detention complex throughout the world, and the intersections between globalization and global health.

André Pereira Neto is a full professor at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil, where he coordinates the Internet, Health and Society Laboratory (LaISS) and teaches at the graduate program in Information and Communication in Health. Most recently, he co-edited an anthology Internet and Health in Brazil: Trends and Challenges with Matthew B. Flynn.

Letícia Barbosa is a PhD candidate at Oswaldo Cruz Foundation. Her thesis aims to identify how health information circulates among breast cancer patients in online and offline settings. She also has experience researching the emergence of the expert patient, online health information and patient empowerment and virtual ethnography in online health communities.

Brazil’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic ranks as the worst of all the countries around the world. This is surprising, especially given its past experiences in fighting infectious disease and in light of the existence of a national public health system, known as the Unified Public Health System, or SUS in Portuguese, that provides public and free health services from preventive care to medical assistance. Why has Brazil fallen so far behind in confronting the novel coronavirus?

Any discussion about Brazil’s failed response to the COVID-19 pandemic must start with the country’s far-right populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, including his worldview and rise to power amidst increasing political polarization.

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COVID-19 is accelerating the power transition between the U.S. and China

This is a guest post from Collin Meisel and Jonathan D. Moyer.

Collin Meisel (Twitter: @collinmeisel) is a Research Associate at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. At Pardee, Collin works with the Diplometrics team to analyze international relations and build long-term bilateral forecasts for topics such as trade, migration, and international governmental organization membership.

Jonathan D. Moyer (Twitter: @moyerjonathan) is Assistant Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and Director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures. For the last 15 years, Jonathan has used long-term, integrated policy analysis and forecasting methods to inform the strategic planning efforts of governments, international organizations, and corporations around the world, including sponsors such as USAID, the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the UN Development Programme.

As COVID-19 disrupts life the world over, many of the pandemic’s long-term consequences remain uncertain. However, using multiple long-term forecast scenarios, one geopolitical consequence is beginning to come into focus: COVID-19 is accelerating the transition in power between the U.S. and China. Despite assertions from political scientist Barry Posen that COVID-19 “is weakening all of the great and middle powers more or less equally,” economic and mortality projections suggest that China will see material gains relative to the U.S. that could translate into broader geopolitical gains.

Quantified in terms of the distribution of relative material capabilities, China’s forecasted gains are roughly the magnitude of the current relative global capabilities of Turkey.

What do we mean?

Power is a relative concept, always requiring a comparison of capabilities across at least two actors. For example, Pakistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) of 254 billion dollars (constant 2010 USD) was more than ten times the GDP of Afghanistan (21 billion) in 2018. At the same time, however, Pakistan’s GDP paled in comparison to India, which had a GDP of 2.8 trillion. As such, Pakistan might have held significant economic sway over its northwestern neighbor while failing to hold a candle to its neighbor to the southeast. Depending on what you are comparing it to, 254 billion dollars affords you either a lot or very little in terms of relative material capabilities.

The relative material capabilities that matter in the international system are multidimensional and stretch across economic, security, and diplomatic variables. Together, they can be used as a proxy measure for national power. Power itself is difficult to measure—the fact that a country wields more capabilities does not necessarily translate into favorable outcomes all the time; however, it often translates into favorable outcomes more times than not relative to less powerful opponents.

What do models suggest the effect of COVID-19 is on the distribution of material capabilities?

Using the International Futures (IFs) integrated assessment model—which has been employed widely to assess issues of geopolitics, security, and the economy—we constructed scenarios that draw upon the research of others to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the distribution of power in the international system. Our analysis compared six simulations of global development using assumptions based on recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) growth forecasts—allowing for baseline and faster or slower economic recovery—and various mortality projections, where the latter were determined by an extrapolation of current disease case counts.

In particular, we examined the effect of between 93,000 and 334,000 COVID-19-related deaths for the U.S. in 2020 and between 20,000 and 80,000 deaths in China. Our baseline scenario, which assumes 40,000 COVID-related deaths in China, is a ten-fold increase from the current official count. For the U.S., we assume 175,000 COVID-19 deaths through the end of 2020 as a baseline projection. This is just under double the current official case count and roughly in line with current projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which projects between 115,000 and 207,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. by August 4, 2020.

The IFs tool’s real GDP growth projections, shown in the figure above, illustrate that the U.S. (in blue) is expected to take an outsized hit relative to China (in red). In absolute terms, this results in Chinese GDP at market exchange rates surpassing the U.S. between one to two years earlier than previously projected (2025 or 2026 vs. 2027).

Qualitatively, expert opinion regarding the long-term relative effect of COVID-19 on Chinese economic dominance is mixed. Still, short-term indicators for certain elements of China’s economy, such as manufacturing, have begun to show signs of economic recovery while the rest of the world lags behind. For example, China’s Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) score—a metric designed to assess the health of a country’s manufacturing sector, where a score above 50 indicates expansion while a score below 50 indicates contraction—moved into expansionary territory in both March (52) and April (50.8) after a severe contractionary dip (35.7) in February. Meanwhile, the U.S. PMI score has remained in contractionary territory since March, standing at 49.1 and 41.5 the past two months.

Similar to recent analysis from RAND and prognostications from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, our forecasts also suggest that the U.S. military will see increased budgetary constraints compared with a pre-COVID-19 world. While we forecast that China will see a reduction in military spending relative to pre-COVID projections (a likely prognosis for its Southeast Asian neighbors as well) that are between $13B and $49B each year through 2030 in our worst case scenario, it is less than the worst-case reduction that we forecast for the U.S. (between $58B and $94B each year). For our forecast to play out differently, U.S. military spending as a percent of GDP (hovering just above 3 percent in recent years and higher than China’s projected military spending as a share of GDP across this time horizon) would need to increase significantly.

While the COVID-19 forecasts display differential impacts on Chinese and U.S. development across other areas as well, these effects are relatively smaller than those of COVID-19 on the distribution of economic production and military spending.

What happens when these factors are considered together?

When exploring how the distribution of these relative measures of material power changed the distribution of the Global Power Index (GPI)—a composite measure of material capabilities previously featured in the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 report—the results suggest that China (below in red) will gain approximately one percent of global power relative to the U.S. (in blue) by 2030. This share of global power is similar to the relative capabilities of Turkey today.

It’s worth taking a moment to unpack this conclusion. The global sum of GDP, military spending, and other gross measures of material capabilities will continue to grow in the coming decades. Because relative power is a measure of a country’s share of the global total, our forecast translates to an absolute gain in material capabilities for China relative to the U.S. that is even larger than the sum of material capabilities possessed by Turkey today.

Quantifying some of the core components of GPI (which comprises 11 subcomponents in total), China’s absolute gains relative to the U.S. in 2030 in our baseline scenario are equal to an additional: $904B in GDP; $168B in trade; and $38B in military spending. Such is the cost of COVID-19 to U.S. power.

For China’s gains in relative power to be erased in our baseline scenario (displayed above in thick red and blue lines), its annual growth would need to undershoot currently forecasted values by roughly 2 percentage points each year for the next decade. In fact, given that these forecasts do not account for the current shock to the global oil market—a shock that is likely to harm the net oil-producing U.S. more than the net oil-consuming China—the hit to Chinese economic growth would likely need to be even greater for China to not gain power relative to the U.S. post-COVID-19.

The reality is that economic growth is the primary driver within these scenarios. Thus, even if we were to assume much higher case count within China—in an earlier analysis we assumed two percent of each country’s population becomes infected with COVID-19—China would likely see only somewhat smaller gains (~0.7 percent) in global power relative to the U.S.

Why does this matter?

Countries with the preponderance of global material capabilities have been wont to shape the international order in their image. This was true of the United Kingdom’s imperialist approach to interstate relations as well as the American-led order that followed (former Secretary of State Dean Acheson famously reflected that he was Present at the Creation).

What might a Chinese world order look like? The WHO’s cold shoulder to Taiwan and its 24 million citizens during the worst pandemic in a century provides one relevant anecdote that can help to answer this question. The Chinese Communist Party’s imprisonment of over one million Uighurs provides another. On a more positive note, President Xi Jinping’s recent promise to treat any Chinese-produced COVID-19 vaccine as a “global public good” presents an air of magnanimity that has recently been conspicuously absent from the foreign policy of the world’s current hegemon, the U.S.

Meanwhile, we are already transitioning to an international system that is characterized by increasingly entrenched bipolarity. From the perspective of balance-of-power theorists, this could turn out to be a positive development. Regardless, China will get its way more moving forward, particularly within its own back yard. This reality has been a long time coming. From the perspective of future historians, however, it is likely that “COVID-19 will come to be seen as a chapter break,” as Robert Kaplan recently observed.

Does this mean that the Chinese Century will inevitably dawn much sooner and much more abruptly than expected?

Not necessarily. There are many factors that should be considered when broadly assessing the rise of one country relative to another. The U.S. will retain significant advantages in many aspects of international relations that remain difficult to quantify or include in an index of this type (remaining the reserve currency of choice, for example). Additionally, measures like these do not capture network effects, especially the strength of alliance systems. Finally, the relative distribution of material capabilities does not include the quality of their use: governments can squander opportunities or leverage them. Where broad measures of material capabilities are concerned, however, the picture is clear: COVID-19 is closing the gap in relative capabilities for the U.S. and China and accelerating the U.S.-China transition.


The World Health Organization already has a review mechanism: here’s how it works and how it can be better

This is a guest post from Dr. Joshua R. Moon is a Research Fellow at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex, researching biomedical research global health security policy. This post is based upon his PhD research, and further investigation into UN SGM Reports. Josh can also be found via his Research & Twitter

Donald Trump’s withholding of WHO funding, pending an independent review of WHO’s activities in the COVID-19 pandemic, has been lambasted around the world (some examples here, here, and here). In response, WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “In due course WHO’s performance in tackling this pandemic will be reviewed by WHO’s Member States and the independent bodies that are in place to ensure transparency and accountability … This is part of the usual process put in place by our member states.” This seems to be alluding to the WHO’s IHR Review Committee, a body which is enshrined in international law and is composed of independent experts.

On top of this, a proposal from more than 50 member states at the ongoing 73rd World Health Assembly calls for “in consultation with Member States, a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation, including using existing mechanisms,  as appropriate, to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19.” This explicitly calls for the use of an IHR Review Committee in the text of the agenda item. The key questions are what is this mechanism, how does it work, and how can it provide the accountability and learning opportunity that Dr. Tedros seems to be referring to?

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Thoughts on Political Science in a Time of Plague

This is a guest post by Jeffrey C. Isaac, James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. You can follow him at his blog at Democracy in Dark Times.

The coronavirus has thrown the entire world into a terrifying crisis that challenges public health and the very possibility of normal social interaction.

If ever there were a time when scholarly research and relevant knowledge were needed, it is now. Public officials and journalists have clamored for new scientific and medical research, and universities and university-based scholars have answered the call.

And yet, while our situation presents not simply a crisis of public health but a crisis of public life itself, the demand for relevant scientific knowledge is strangely silent about the contributions of political science.

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What We Know About Political Leadership and Pandemics

This is a guest post from Robert L. Ostergard, Jr., an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Reno – follow him on twitter @RobertOstergard

History sometimes has a way of rearing its ugly head repeatedly. The COVID-19 pandemic is something few people have ever seen, but it is not new in history. Neither is the fragmented nor uneven and missing policy responses to it. How political leaders respond during the initial stages of pandemics can affect their trajectory and duration.

Research from political science, public health, and government agencies shows that political leadership at the executive level generally serves three critical functions in combatting pandemics: mitigating risk, framing the collective problem, and providing direction and purpose for a plan to battle the virus. 

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Too Soon for a Coronavirus Commission

This is a guest post from Erik Dahl, an associate professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and the author of Intelligence and Surprise Attack: Failure and Success from Pearl Harbor to 9/11 and Beyond (Georgetown, 2013). The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Naval Postgraduate School or the U.S. Department of Defense.   

As many parts of the United States begin to slowly reopen amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic, there are increasing calls in Congress and from emergency management experts for a national commission to examine how well we were prepared for, and responded to, the global crisis. Congressional committees are beginning to hold hearings about the pandemic, including testimony expected soon from Dr. Anthony Fauci, and pressure will likely build for a more extensive investigation. Supporters argue that a commission is needed in the same way national investigations in the wake of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 helped us understand how those disasters could have happened. 

Just as with those previous cases, such an effort will be needed eventually to help the country heal from the current crisis. But history suggests it is too early now to begin that process, because early efforts to investigate national calamities tend to produce more heat than light.    

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Will Covid-19 reshape government-NGO relations? Observations from India

This is a guest post from Suparna Chaudhry, incoming Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Lewis & Clark College. Her research focuses on human rights, international law, and political violence, with a focus on state persecution of NGOs. She can be found on Twitter @SuparnaChaudhry.

On March 24, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a three-week national lockdown on India’s 1.3 billion people. Domestic and international air travel, passenger trains, interstate buses and metro services were all suspended. State borders were sealed and states had to ensure, “no movement of people across cities or on highways.” The lockdown has since been extended twice, most recently on May 1, when the government announced its continuation until at least May 17.

While the latest announcement relaxed movement restrictions in districts relatively unscathed by Covid-19, a large part of the population, including all major cities, remain in the severely-hit red zones under complete lockdown. What have been the effects of the lockdown? What role have non-state actors played, in particular non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in Covid-19 containment and relief efforts? What challenges do these groups face from the state and how might the pandemic influence state-NGO dynamics?

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Bridging the Gap in National Security Studies

This is a guest post from Paul Johnson, who is an operations research analyst with the US Army. His personal research ranges on topics from political violence and militias to security force loyalty and design.  The views expressed here do not represent the perspective of the US Army or Department of Defense.

Given this forum’s focus as an outlet helping bridge the gap, this post discusses ways that academics working on national security-related topics can make themselves and their work more accessible to potential end-users, as seen and experienced from the author’s perspective as a national-security practitioner.

A Wide Variety of Vital Contributions

Previous articles on this topic (e.g., see here and here) have pointed out a variety of contributions that scholars can make to applied work, including:

  • Theory, which provides an idea of how to view an emerging event or string of events, helping users “see the forest for the trees.”  From an analytical perspective, being able to point to a solid body of social-science literature backing up a framework — especially a literature with fairly settled empirical findings — increases the credibility of that framework for application to real-world problems.
  • Data, which may be quantitative or qualitative.  Publically accessible social science datasets often find their way into analytical usage in national-security settings as the best available data on a topic of interest.  Similarly, the perspective of area specialists, also known as subject matter experts (or “smees”), on a given country or set of countries can provide highly valued information.
  • Forecasts, which can be as simple as a most-likely-outcome statement.  Bonus points for willingness to take a stab at a probability point-estimate for that statement, and more points for being explicit about uncertainty.
  • Advice about what to do in a given real-world situation.  Since most empirical scholars focus on establishing ceteris-paribus relationships across a large number of cases, practicing applying that work to a specific case usually requires a bit of a mindset shift, but adopting that mindset is necessary for any applied work.
  • Analytical methodology, which finds its way into applied work through a variety of means. Some of these means include PhD students being hired into federal government, ongoing professionalization for current civil-servant analysts, and academics working as government contractors or other forms of participation on a per-project basis.
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Responses to COVID-19 in South Africa: The centrality of food security

This is a guest post from Kurt Ackermann, a civil society leader in South Africa who works through urban social agriculture to strengthen community resilience in cities. He is executive manager and co-founder of The SA Urban Food & Farming Trust and an associate at the Global Risk Governance Programme at the University of Cape Town.

COVID-19 in South Africa has followed a trajectory atypical of any other nation. For speculated but still uncertain reasons the country managed to flatten its curve dramatically, with one of the world’s strictest lockdowns likely to have played a major role. This included no freedom of movement for exercise, no sales of alcohol, cigarettes or hot prepared food, a ban on travel for funerals, a requirement for all businesses to register and be approved for a permit to operate as an essential service, police roadblocks checking for permits and the illicit transport of unauthorised goods, and more. The disease continues to spread, but slowly and without throwing the nation’s health care system into crisis.

However, the slowed course of the pandemic and severity of the lockdown have amplified pre-existing stresses arising primarily from the staggering level of inequality that has, in fact, worsened since the end of apartheid 26 years ago. Most prominent among these stresses has been a crisis of hunger.

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“Déjà vu All Over Again: The EU, Coronavirus, and the Eurozone Crisis”

This is a guest post from Sean D. Ehrlich, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Florida State University who researches international and comparative political economy, trade policy, and democratic institutions. His first book, Access Points, was published by Oxford University Press in 2011 and  his second book, The Politics of Fair Trade, was published by Oxford University Press in 2018. He can be found on Twitter @SeanDEhrlich.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the European Union, the EU itself has been relatively inactive, leaving it up to the member states to address the medical crisis and its economic and social consequences. Largely, this is by design, as public health issues were intentionally left to national discretion.

Where the EU has taken action, it has been limited and technocratic such as pooling money for joint ventilator purchases and funding vaccine research cross-nationally. The one exception has been the European Central Bank, which has taken major steps by injecting over €750 billion into the economy through quantitative easing to support the region’s economies.

Otherwise, what the EU has not done is offer any European-wide fiscal stimulus or aid for countries that implement their own policies. While the EU does not have ready mechanisms to do much of this, they do have tools like the European Stabilization Mechanism (ESM) to lend money to countries that have increasing debt which was developed to address the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis that started in 2008. However, though negotiations are ongoing and a preliminary deal has been struck, the members of the EU have yet to agree on a final plan to use the ESM.

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The Militarization of COVID-19 Enforcement: Observations from the Philippines

This is a guest post from Andrew Yeo, who is an Associate Professor of Politics at The Catholic University of America in Washington DC and a Fulbright Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of the Philippines Diliman. His most recent books include Asia’s Regional Architecture: Alliances and Institutions in the Pacific Century and North Korean Human Rights: Activists and Networks (with Danielle Chubb).

As a US scholar on research leave in Manila, I’ve been following the COVID-19 response in both the Philippines and the United States closely. I was bemused last weekend reading headlines about anti-quarantine protestors in several US state capitals, and the outrage geared at (what I presume to be) mostly Trump supporters in risking the further spread of the coronavirus.

Having experienced a different reality here, I’ve pondered the pros and cons of stricter quarantine enforcement as we have seen in the Philippines. Would either country envisage the imposition of martial law, a growing concern among some in Manila as the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) boost their presence?

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The Oil Price Crash and International Petro-Politics

This is a guest post from Emily Meierding, who is an Assistant Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. Her book, The Oil Wars Myth: Petroleum and the Causes of International Conflict, has just been published by Cornell University Press. The views expressed here do not represent the perspective of the US Navy or Department of Defense.

The global oil market has entered uncharted territory. On Monday, the price of WTI crude, the US oil benchmark, went negative for the first time in history, closing at -$37 per barrel. What happened? And what does it mean for international petroleum politics?

What Happened?

Two factors drove the oil price collapse: market fundamentals and the quirks of oil futures trading.

Market fundamentals—oil supply and demand—were the proximate cause of the price collapse. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier this year, global oil demand has dropped by twenty to thirty percent. In the United States, consumption of petroleum productions has fallen thirty-one percent since January.

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We Already Know What To Do

This is a guest post from Annick T.R. Wibben is Anna Lindh Professor of Gender, Peace & Security at the Swedish Defence University. Her research straddles critical security and military studies, peace studies, international theory, and feminist international relations. Her books include Feminist Security Studies: A Narrative Approach (Routledge, 2011), Researching War: Feminist Methods, Ethics & Politics (Routledge, 2016), and Teaching Peace and War: Pedagogy and Curricula with Amanda Donahoe (Routledge, 2019).

The effects of COVID-19 are invariably exacerbated by existing inequalities; those already in crisis on the margins of (global) society, whether as a result of wars, colonial legacies or current economic priorities, are disproportionally dying. We can see this clearly in the first sets of disaggregated data coming out of the US/ UK – already underprivileged regions, classes, races, especially when these intersect with age, are disproportionally affected.

The widely-adopted policy of social distancing is a policy of privilege. Social distancing is not possible for those who are incarcerated in crowded prisons or trapped in camps, whether at the edges of Europe and the U.S., in Bangladesh and Syria, or elsewhere in the world, displaced by war and environmental devastation. It is not achievable for those whose survival depends on being in close proximity to others or whose obligations to others mean they have to go “out there”. At the same time, strong community support and solidarity is key to survival for many, and social distancing itself can be the cause of new deaths.

COVID-19 will affect women and girls differently on a variety of levels, both because of the already existing devastating impact of domestic violence which is exacerbated during lockdowns, and because they are doing much of the crucial caring labor at home and in their communities.

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Paradiplomacy & Pandemics

This is a guest post from Jiun Bang, PhD (University of Southern California, political science and international relations), currently a visiting scholar at the Korean Studies Institute at USC.

In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, cities have been making the news, from the harrowing daily struggles of New York City with COVID-19 to President Trump’s erroneous estimate of Seoul’s population of ‘38 million’ [more like just shy of 10 million].  I happened to listen to Dr. Robert T. Yanagisawa, MD and Professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Co-Director of the Mount Sinai Global Health Program in Japan, talk about the bond between New York City and Tohoku (Japan) based on the ‘9/11 to 3/11 Survivor Exchange Program,’ which references the attacks of September 11, 2011 and the Fukushima disaster of March 11, 2011.  According to Dr. Yanagisawa, there are plans by Japanese medical students to send N95 medical masks to Mount Sinai hospital in New York.

All this got me thinking about the concept of paradiplomacy: diplomacy by sub-state political units, including cities. As a big fan of diplomacy and one who often laments the lack of appreciation for both the practice and discourse of diplomacy by mainstream IR, I thought I would introduce paradiplomacy—especially between cities—and its potential applications for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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Comparative Responses to COVID19 : Interview with Duck contributor Sofia Fenner

Last month, Sofia Fenner wrote a terrific post for us on comparative responses to COVID19, focusing on regime type, state capacity, leadership, and civil society response.

Mark Leon Goldberg interviewed her for UN Dispatch to talk about the piece and further reflections. Embedded below.


What’s wrong with the war metaphor

This is a guest post from Eric Van Rythoven (PhD) who teaches International Relations and Foreign Policy at Carleton University, Canada.  His work has been published in Security Dialogue, European Journal of International Relations, and Journal of Global Security Studies, among others.  He is the editor (with Mira Sucharov) of Methodology and Emotion in International Politics: Parsing the Passions (Routledge, 2019).   

As governments around the world grapple with the Covid-19 crisis several are reaching for the metaphor of war to convey the urgency and gravity surrounding the pandemic. 

There are obvious advantages to this strategy.  Historically, the language of war has functioned as a powerful mechanism for collective mobilization and emergency action.  It can suspend partisanship, free government agencies of burdensome rules, and activate extraordinary powers on behalf of the executive.  Even more, it can revive memories of shared sacrifice—as in World War 2—which can serve as inspiration and even comfort in uncertain times.

At the same time the war metaphor comes with a number of risks.  One problem is that it risks positioning militaries as the leading responders to the Covid-19 crisis.  As academics studying the securitization of AIDS/HIV have noted, this can lead to limited resources being diverted from public health systems and towards the military

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Deploying targeted digital health conversations to fight the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and misinformation

This is a guest post from Ben Bellows, PhD (UC Berkeley, epidemiology), currently a researcher at the Population Council in Washington DC and a co-founder and the Chief Business Officer at Nivi Inc., a digital health company empowering consumers in emerging markets. Nivi is supporting the COVID-19 response here.  

Background: the problem

Disease outbreaks are as much a social phenomenon as a biological one. Rumor, innuendo, and public sentiment drive disease transmission dynamics. Covid-19 is no different; the fact checking website,, has a dedicated “covid-19” tag to run the equivalent of public health containment and mitigation on misinformation.

As the World Health Organization reported 2nd February, this pandemic, similar to past epidemics like SARS in 2003 when the term was coined, risks spawning an “infodemic” that exacerbates disease control and treatment efforts (e.g. there is no high quality evidence that hydroxychloroquine leads to significant improvements in COVID-19 outcomes, drinking hot water will not kill the virus, and this video does not show mass COVID-19 graves in Italy).

Drawing lessons from the 2013-16 West Africa Ebola epidemic, we already see health authorities trying to balance centralized mechanisms to promote consistent and high quality messaging with decentralized programmatic communication that is flexible and adaptable to local needs, as Gillespie and colleagues recommended post-Ebola.

As a part of the global response, on March 20th, the WHO and Facebook launched a WhatsApp chat bot and resource page to improve information quality, allowing anyone with access to WhatsApp to learn more about coronavirus and receive updates. This proactive strengthening of health authority messaging pairs well with effective efforts to weaken transmission of misinformation on social media platforms (e.g. YouTube has a 24-hour incident-response team to remove misinformation and Facebook partnered with the International Fact Checking Network awarding grants to fact check Coronavirus misinformation).

National governments and corporate partners have also launched digital messaging services including in India, Kenya, and South Africa. These messaging services, and similar web platforms the US CDC Coronavirus Self-Checker, convey consistent and vetted health information intended to inform citizens and empower healthy decisions.

Next phase in pandemic response

Anticipating the next step in the COVID-19 response, digital health companies are launching consumer-facing COVID-19 messaging for specific populations. One company that I co-founded in 2016, Nivi, began to develop messaging after noticing an uptick of in-bound questions from its users.

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Experts, Public Intellectuals, and the Coronavirus

This is a guest post from Peter Verovšek, a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Politics/International Relations at the University of Sheffield

The Coronavirus has turned us all into amateur epidemiologists. This desire for greater understanding makes sense in the face of a threat as novel and as dangerous as COVID-19. The shutdown of massive sections of the economy and state-mandated orders to engage in social – or, more accurately, physical – distancing has left the majority of us stuck at home, wondering when things will go back to normal and worrying that they never will.

As a result of this uncertainty, we are all breathlessly reading scientific reports on pandemics, such as the paper from Imperial College London, which serves as the scientific basis for government policy in the UK. Previously obscure experts on viral pandemics, such as Neil M. Ferguson and Nicholas A. Christakis, have built massive followings on Twitter almost overnight.

Clearly experts have an important role to play in combatting the novel Coronavirus by advising governments, informing citizens, and conducting the basic scientific research necessary to address the crisis in real time. In the words of Michel Foucault, these “specific intellectuals” are supposed “to pose problems, to make them active, to display them in such a complexity that they can silence the prophets and lawgivers” by making the severity of the crisis clear.

However, in addition epidemiologists and scholars of public health, many other researchers – including many political scientists and philosophers – have also sought to cope with the current situation by putting their thoughts down on paper (myself obviously included). In and of itself this is not a bad thing.

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Take a lesson from Hong Kong: don’t wait for your government, save yourselves from COVID-19

This is a guest post from Karen A. Grépin, Associate Professor, School of Public Health, University of Hong Kong

As cases of COVID-19 soar globally, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan have garnered accolades from the international community for having kept their epidemics relatively under control through mid-March – despite the incredible threat they all faced earlier in the year of imported cases from China. With all of the praise flowing to Hong Kong, one might expect citizens to also have good things to say about their government’s handling of the outbreak – but you would be wrong.

In fact, according to data from a recent public opinion poll (20 March 2020) conducted by the independent Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (HKPORI) only a quarter of Hong Kongers are satisfied with the way that government has handled COVID-19.  While this represents an improvement in support since an earlier poll (14 February 2020) found that only 7% of survey respondents supported the government – an all-time low – it is clear that people here are not enthusiastic about the way government is handling the outbreak.

So, why are Hong Kongers so dissatisfied?  One thing that is clear, the seven months of violent protests that ravaged this city in the lead up to the outbreak undermined overall support of the government. But this is unlikely to explain all of the dissatisfaction: support for the government actually declined in February relative to January, even after the protests had largely quieted down.

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