COVID-19 Pandemic and National Security
16th Jul, 2020
The past experiences show that pandemics not only destroy immune systems but also undermine the social, economic, and political systems that underpin entire nations and regions.
- The past experiences show that pandemics not only destroy immune systems but also undermine the social, economic, and political systems that underpin entire nations and regions.
- There has been considerable debate regarding the linkage between the pandemic and the national security. As Coronavirus or the COVID-19 reaches over 200 countries infecting millions of people and killing over 250, 000 (and counting), it is time to examine the threat not just from health or medical point of view but a larger perspective of national security.
- Treating the Coronavirus crisis as a national security issue would make the battle against it more organized.
Pandemic and National Security
- The growing COVID-19 pandemic and the outbreak of HIV/AIDS, Influenza H1N1 and SARS in recent past are just a few examples of diseases that can profoundly threaten the physical integrity of a state.
- The pandemic poses not only a greater level of severity in its threat to the highly afflicted states but also substantially endangers the security of the less affected states.
- The pandemic presents a range of challenges to the integrity of a state and may best be tackled by various states through different institutions, diplomatic instruments, economic schemes, and public health strategies.
- The inevitable connection of pandemics and security was best explained by the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He emphasized the increasing need for “collective security” and “biological security.”
- Looking at the present situation, national security needs to be redefined as conventional war is no longer the primary physical threat to a state; rather, the focus must shift to include threats from the disease that challenge the interests of states both internally as well as externally.
How national security of a state can be threatened by a pandemic?
Strains on Public Health
- Increased rates of illness and mortality putting huge strains on public health and the nation’s workforce, leading to political instability, class strife, and economic recession. For example, HIV/AIDS has led to numerous problems in many African countries.
Vulnerability to biological warfare
- The most direct threat posed by a pandemic to the international community arises from its vulnerability to biological warfare. It is important to note that the result of a naturally spreading disease and something like bioterrorism is the same.
- The failure to prevent the biological weapons’ attack results in the same outcome – infection of the population – and requires the same solution. The preparation for the widespread disease should, therefore, be a key focus of national security.
Social, economic, and political stability
- The pandemics pose more indirect threats to national security which include “the health of the armed forces and most significantly, to the social, economic, and political stability of certain key regions.”
Coronavirus and Human Security
Recession & Unemployment
- The scope of human security could be expanded to include not only traditional, political, and military security but also economic, educational, food, and health security among others. On the economic front, the Corona pandemic has plunged the world economy into a recession with the potential of deep consequences and historical levels of unemployment and deprivation.
Learning and Human Interaction
- The closure of the education sector due to the spread of Coronavirus is adversely affecting the children and young people. It is disrupting the process of learning and human interaction which is essential to social and behavioral growth.
Global Health Security
- In the absence of specific anti-viral therapy, Coronavirus has seriously damaged the prospects of global health security. Despite apparent decisive actions by the governments, it is evident that it has affected people from all over the world -- rich as well as poor countries.
- The food security, another important component of human security, is also seriously threatened because of the global pandemic of COVID-19. COVID-19 will have significant negative effects on people along the food supply chain involving producers to processors, marketers, transporters, and consumers.
Coronavirus and Migration
- The issue of migration and refugees poses a serious security threat to the affected countries. This is because refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) often don’t have fixed places to live, and authorities might not know how to contact them or have the capacity to coordinate a response. Given the condition in which the refugees live in the camps of Syria, Myanmar – Bangladesh border, it would be disastrous if the Coronavirus reaches there. The human rights approach critically comes within the broad framework of national security as human rights and human security are inseparable components of national security.
COVID-19: Violent Extremism
- One of the disturbing features of the ongoing Corona crisis is the emerging pattern of the relationship between actors of political violence and the pandemic. Violent extremists probably are seeking to exploit public fears associated with the spread of COVID-19 to incite violence, intimidate targets, and promote their ideologies.
- Cyber terrorism has grown into a major security threat in this era of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the situation and already started new techniques to inflict more damages on states and the people. More and more hospitals, research hubs, and medical centers are being targeted for information, intelligence, and system accessibility.
- For Example, a hacker group attacked the computer systems of the UK's Hammersmith Medicines Research (HMR), which is performing trails on COVID-19 vaccines; publishing personal data of thousands of former patients after the company failed to pay the extortion demand.
- COVID-19 brings in more challenges for the Left-Wing or Right-Wing infested countries. For example, India, where the Maoist Movement is considered to be the greatest internal security problem, faces the daunting task of tackling two invisible enemies (the Coronavirus and the Maoist insurgents) simultaneously.
- As the Coronavirus pandemic escalates, the task of rethinking the political, economic, diplomatic, and strategic fundamentals of a more coherent approach to national security becomes more urgent than ever. As the battle against COVID-19 is seemingly uncertain, one thing is clear that it is going to alter a whole lot of ethos of national security.