The pandemic slogan must be applied globally

By Keith Best

This article is part of the New World Federalist Paper series.

It has become axiomatic to hear epidemiologists, scientists and even politicians mouth the slogan “No-one is safe until everyone is safe.”  It is applied, of course, to the need to extend vaccination across the world and not to approach it in a narrow, nationalist and selfish way so that only the rich countries which can afford to purchase or have the manufacturing capacity give it exclusively to their own citizens. Covax was a start – a commitment to share the vaccine although unenforceable and reliant on the voluntary donation of vaccine by those countries and in those amounts to which they had committed. The recent G7 took this a stage further by reiterating the commitment – although much of this applied to an endorsement of earlier commitments and, indeed, of actual previous transfers of vaccines. The system is not perfect and has the added problem that, apart from there being no stimulus save the donor countries’ international reputation to abide by the commitments, with many people in parts of the world where the need is greatest still being reluctant to have the vaccination some vaccine, which cannot be stored properly in such countries, has already gone to waste. We should not be curmudgeonly about what has been achieved, however, as it augurs well for the possibility of greater global co-operation on health issues. Organisations such as WFM/IGP can agonise over whether and what further powers should be given to the WHO (certainly, there needs to be a greater authority to inspect and give early warning of any pandemic outbreak so that the world can prepare) even if the nations will baulk at an international organisation having any power of coercion over a sovereign state.

I wish to take the argument to a different plane. The slogan “no-one is safe until everyone is safe” or a variant can be applied, of course, to most if not all of the global issues that confront us – whether climate change, poverty, access to nutrition, potable water, general health care, education, employment and the list goes on. We should adopt it as a simple way of transmitting the message that global humanity is in this together, that we are indeed our bothers’ and sisters’ keepers, that our obligations go way beyond national borders and that, even if out of basic self-interest, one person’s suffering in another part of the world impacts on us all. The parochial attitude towards development assistance and investment, for example, is that the money can be spent better domestically – and every nation however generally prosperous can find the need for further public expenditure. The more enlightened and informed approach, however, is that lifting people out of poverty and increasing their purchasing power has a direct impact on their ability to buy your goods and services apart from any philanthropic considerations. In health there should not even be this bifurcation of opinion – as the D4 Indian Variant of Covid-19 has shown unless a nation can live in a hermetically sealed bottle the travel of persons around the world soon means that a virus or disease can carry easily across international boundaries.

It is the belief in international co-operation, backed by the enforceable rule of law and global democratic governance that identifies world federalists as those with vision for the future. We are not idle dreamers. We know that it will take a long time to achieve and in the meantime there are national interests which are seen as paramount but we are equally confident that this truth must prevail if we are to combat serious issues that go beyond the individual state and even groupings of states (although the latter is a good start).

We deal with building blocks towards a better governed world. Accountability, through democratic institutions and international courts applying accepted and recognised international law, is a corner-stone.  That accountability must apply not just to states but also to individuals that make decisions affecting the well-being of others even beyond their borders – this is the essence of the International Criminal Court which currently entertains four international crimes but to which we should like to see ecocide added. Assemblies of states, often self-appointed such as the G7, must have inherent within them that accountability not just to their citizens in democratic countries but to the wider world which is affected through the active involvement of civil society and, hopefully, Parliamentary bodies. Many such groupings formed by international treaty, of course, do have their associated Parliamentary assemblies to scrutinise their workings whether, Council of Europe, Asean, NATO etc. If it is good for those bodies then it should be good for all such assemblies of world leaders and states.  Both democratic accountability and the rule of law applied by international courts are essential to a major pillar of global governance: enforceability. This, of course, goes to the very heart of sovereignty and the right of nations to determine their own future. Yet, on closer inspection, such unfettered sovereignty does not exist. John Donne’s meditation should be engrained in every world federalist’s heart:

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

It is an affirmation that we cannot exist in isolation. Those countries that have tried have always failed and often ended up imprisoning their own populations in an unrealistic straight-jacket.

Enforceability of world law will continue to be resisted both in terms of institutions and its applicability by many member states yet even the most powerful and those with the greatest resources realise that they have to operate in the real world of give and take and that by trading a certain degree of sovereignty they gain a greater benefit. The countries of the EU learned that the hard way after their continent had been ravaged through war twice in one generation. The institution of the EU now makes war among member states unthinkable after centuries of bloody enmity. You can find France as one of the most strident nationalist countries in its sentiment but recognising that the EU, Council of Europe, NATO and the other alliances to which it belongs bring enhanced benefits even at the cost of (in NATO’s case) being brought into a war in which it is not a major protagonist. The message is clear and simple – there is no diminution in culture, cuisine or history for a country entering into alliances which necessarily involve some curtailment on their freedom of action. Such alliances need to be seen as an enhancement of capacity rather than its diminution and action of self-interest.  For far too long the narrow nationalists have portrayed such alliances as a restriction rather than as a reaching out to achieve in combination with other states what individual states cannot achieve acting on their own.

In the wake of and, sadly, the continuation of the pandemic which may be with us for a long time (previous outbreaks in history have endured and returned with varied ferocity) the time is now right to re-interpret and explain the slogan. Truly, until everyone in the world is given dignity and the ability to lead fulfilling lives free from disadvantageous circumstances then none of us can rest easy in our beds.