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Wednesday, September 30, 2020, 08:15 (GMT+7)
Non-traditional security challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has been sweeping many countries and territories all over the world. While drastically taking measures for preventing and combating this epidemic, numerous nations have placed emphasis on synchronously adopting solutions for preventing and fighting against biological security challenges (non-traditional security challenges) and considered it as a matter of urgency within their national security strategy.

The COVID-19 pandemic as a global catastrophe

Since its outbreak in the city of Wuhan (Hubei province, China) in early December 2019, the severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2 (aka SARS-CoV-2) has shaken the globe due to its danger and super rapid spread. Up to now, the COVID-19 has spread across 220 countries and territories, together with more than 30 million cases and over 900,000 deaths. The pandemic has inflicted serious damages comprehensively, particularly in the economic, political, social, diplomatic and security fields on countries and the world.

Economically and commercially, according to many organisations’ statistics, the COVID-19 has made losses of over 5,000 billion USD as production has been depressed, productivity has been reduced and the global supply chain has been interrupted. Investment, trade, aviation, tourism and services as an important motivation of the world economy have been plunged into a deep recession. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), this sector’s revenue is estimated to decrease by about 55%, equivalent to 314 billion USD in 2020. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has lowered the world’s growth forecast from 3% to 1.4% and then 0% for late 2020. Governments in some countries have offered urgent packages to recover their economies amid the COVID-19 storm. The U.S. has approved a huge recovery package of 2,200 billion USD while the EU’s package has been 750 billion euro (859 billion USD). However, according to many experts, without solutions for controlling the epidemic, such packages are just “a drop in bucket.” The world economy will possibly suffer from a recession even more serious than the US Great Depression in 1930. A large number of economies around the world, even the developed ones are in danger of collapse.

Socially, blockage, social distancing, constraint of face-to-face interaction, and border closing have enabled countries to limit the spread of COVID-19 but produced an opposite effect. A series of businesses and factories have gone bankrupt. The rate of unemployment has risen sharply. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), about 1.25 billion labourers across the globe has suffered a severe reduction in their income or lost their job due to the pandemic. The rate of poverty and extreme poverty has been doubled in comparison with 2019. Apparently the COVID-19 has negatively impacted on security and social order and safety of many countries.

Politically and diplomatically, the pandemic has inflicted great damage on the centres of power. It has impacted on international relations and made geo-political and geo-strategic competition worldwide more intense, complex and unpredictable. Due to the COVID-19, a large number of political, diplomatic, cultural and sports events across the world have been postponed or even cancelled. There has been an increase in discrimination against people from the COVID-19-hit regions, greatly impacting on relations between countries and collaborative efforts made by regions and nations.

Concerning security, many studies have revealed that the pandemic has resulted in an increase in disputes in the world’s “hot spots,” made ethnic and religious conflicts in many places more intense, and more clearly posed a risk of using biological weapons in conflicts and wars. Many experts believe that without being stopped, the COVID-19 will continue causing extremely severe and unpredictable damage for countries and the world and it will destroy all fruits earned by human race for much of the past century.

A warning about biological security challenges - non-traditional security challenges

Prior to the COVID-19, the world had experienced dozens of dangerous pandemics. For example, the Plague of Justinian (541- 750 AD) left about 50 million people dead, equivalent to half of the world population at that time. The “Black Death” Plague in the 14th century killed over 75 million people. The smallpox pandemic in the 15th and 18th centuries claimed about 20 million lives, equivalent to 90% of the native Americans at that time. The cholera pandemic was first recorded in 1563 in India, then spread across the world and caused millions of deaths. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968 resulted in about 1 million deaths. HIV/AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) first appeared in 1981, with about 75 million cases and 32 deaths, and it is still haunting our world. The SARS in 2003 and the H1N1pandemic in early 2009 with hundreds of millions of cases killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19, the whole world has joined hands in response to this pandemic. Many countries with their advanced medicine have quickly succeeded in decoding the novel Corona virus genome and speeded up their researches on vaccine and medication. By early August, 2020, about 12 million COVID-19 cases had been cured. A number of countries have successfully developed COVID-19 vaccine and planned to put it into use, bringing hope of controlling this dangerous pandemic. However, there have been great challenges for the world to prevent and combat the COVID-19. To be more specific, medical experts have yet to thoroughly research into new forms of the Corona virus, the resurgence of this pandemic has occurred in many countries, and more seriously the world has yet to build a treatment regimen for the COVID-19.

According to experts all over the world, the pandemic will be controlled sooner or later. Nevertheless, the COVID-19 has provided the world with a valuable lesson on the complexity and danger of infectious diseases as the greatest non-traditional security threat to the humankind in the past, at present, and in the future. While other non-traditional security challenges, such as storm, flood, drought, earthquake and even terrorist attack only cause damage within a country or a territory at a certain time, infectious diseases could become “weapons of mass destruction” threatening the survival of the entire human race. According to the results of epidemiological investigations, the current number of cases of the new epidemics, such as SARS, HIV, Ebola virus, and COVID-19 has increased by 4 times in comparison with the last century. Since 1980, the number of epidemics breaking out annually has risen by nearly 3 times.

The paradox about an increase in infectious diseases within today’s civilised world results from several main reasons as follows. First, the wider and deeper international integration and globalisation has created a favourable condition for the increased risk of spreading epidemics. Nowadays, people can travel to any place in the world by air in a short time, which enables epidemics to spread across the globe at super speed. Second, the world population growth has increased the risk of epidemics (over the past 50 years, the world population has risen by 2 times). Third, the waves of migration (refugees from the Dark Continent to the Europe recently) and the protest waves across continents have made the spread of epidemics more complex and difficult to be controlled. Fourth, vaccination resistance has led to the birth of highly toxic and more complex viruses as evidenced by SARS-CoV-2 that has been thought to be genetically closely related to the virus causing SARS in 2003 but more dangerous. Fifth, climate change has resulted in an increase in infective microorganisms and mutant insects. The Aedes aegypti mosquito as the main vector that transmits the Zika virus causing microcephaly and neurological disorders is an example. In response to the threats posed by the COVID-19 and other possible pandemics in the future, experts think that together with urgent measures for preventing the COVID-19, countries should add considerable weight to adopting fundamental, long-term solutions for dealing with biological security challenges in particular, non-traditional security challenges in general and regard it as one of the central parts of their national security strategy.

Measures for preventing and combating biological security challenges - non-traditional security challenges

Studying the fight against the COVID-19, experts believe that in order to effectively deal with possible infectious diseases and more broadly biological security challenges - non-traditional security challenges, it is a must to adopt measures synchronously. In this regard, it is a matter of utmost importance that countries should place emphasis on raising public awareness of the goal and task of national security and then improving their citizens’ obligations and responsibilities. Governments should develop and practise plans/projects for civilian defence to maintain readiness for responding to emergencies and especially biological security threats so as to avoid falling into passivity. Due attention should be paid to establishing early warning systems so that countries could quickly implement measures for preventing and even “freezing” biological security - non-traditional security threats. More investments should be put in national and global health sector, while consideration should be given to providing sufficient human resources, finance and materials for pharmaceutical companies and centres to develop vaccines of various types. Due regard should be paid to raising the quality of public health systems and improving the national capabilities in preventive medicine and strategic medical reserves. When a situation threatening biological security arises, each family and establishment must be a “fortress” against the epidemic. It is vital to take measures for preventing and controlling the epidemic. Priority should be given to tapping on-the-spot resources and combining the prevention and control of non-traditional security challenges with economic development and social security.

In the era of globalisation and international integration, the world becomes a common home. Thus, national security and safety must be an integral part of the regional and global security and safety and vice versa. Grounded on the international law and the United Nations’ Charter, together with the respect for national independence, sovereignty, unification and territorial integrity, countries should promote and expand cooperation to prevent, push back and combat both traditional and non-traditional security challenges in order to build a world of stability, safety, and prosperity.

MINH DUC

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