Security in the age of coronavirus

The genuine security threat of global pandemics and the coronavirus outbreak world consequences

It is too early to draw historical assumptions, but it is possible that the coronavirus pandemic will be commemorated along with 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis in the future.

That is of course in terms of global impact as a landmark point when we reshape our views towards the world. In 2001, terrorism introduced itself aggressively in the global agenda and in the years that followed 2008 efforts have been made to contain the toxicity of the global economy. After 2020, it will be time for global security preparedness and risk assessment to be reevaluated.

The majority tends to view security threats traditionally: war and violent conflict. In fact, the things that pose as potential menaces to the social, political and economic cohesion of our societies vary: natural hazards, cyber-warfare, mass immigration, nuclear proliferation, climate change, and of course pandemics, all fit into the same category with war and violent conflict. All these security threats affect us and, many times, with fatal consequences.

A state is responsible to provide, alongside freedom, prosperity, justice and order, security to its population. Therefore, states are also responsible to counter any security threat by ensuring safety. This issue implies tremendous dimensions, especially in a globalized world, as many threats, such as viruses, know no borders. Although the international framework exists for such cases, the majority of states tend to respond individually towards collective dangers.

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak caused by SARS-CoV-2 started in Hubei, China in December 2019. The first reported death in China occurred in January 2020. By February, the deaths in the mainland were thousands and the reported cases hundreds of thousands. Up until now, the virus has been transmitted across the world with more than 200,000 confirmed cases and over 10,000 deaths. With WHO eventually declaring a global pandemic in March, it was more than obvious that states needed to act and implement measures against the disease outbreak. The security measures that were required often included social distancing and halting economic activities.

Out of this situation, a crucial dilemma poses upon policy-making: It is either sacrificing the economy for human lives or the opposite

Although China tried to limit national and global awareness for the coronavirus, as it has successfully done with SARS in 2003, the message traveled fast. At the same time, the Chinese response was rapid also. Beijing enforced strict quarantine strategies in Hubei province to contain the spreading of SARS-CoV-2. Draconian lockdowns and monitoring have been enforced and, for now, the numbers of infections have been significantly decreased. In other words, China successfully confronted the threat.

But the same strategies were not adopted from the beginning in other states.

The policy-making dilemma has been answered by the UK in the exact opposite direction. London adopted the so-called “herd immunity” strategy which requires a large amount of the population to be infected in order to improve their immune mechanisms. It seemed that the control of the economy was much more important than the upcoming British deaths, especially under the Brexit circumstances. However, only recently Boris Johnson decided to avert this course as the infections and the death toll grew.

Right now, there seems to be a consensus towards quarantine tactics all over the world. The social distancing pattern is an absolute necessity for people to avoid overcrowded places and contain spreading the virus. France has imposed lockdowns while the US acknowledged the threat as far as to invoke the Defense Production Act. To that extent, some countries, such as Serbia, went even deeper introducing curfews with military help.

It is widely acknowledged that the example of Italy enabled the reflexes of other states to act decisively. Italy has suffered the most deaths so far while its reported cases are the halves of China’s. The damage for the country is massive considering its demographics.

The question is if such situations could be easily avoided without extreme paradigms.

It’s been a while since the last pandemic hit hard the western world. In the age of globalization now, security threats can grow easily into a free-flowing environment. Freedom of movement has contributed to the exacerbation of the novel coronavirus situation before imposing counter-measures. And it is quite reasonable that authoritarian countries, such as China, could easily lockdown a whole province while, at the same time, using resources to construct a new hospital.

But the role of security in contemporary societies cannot be an inversely proportional amount to freedom

The answer is a new “culture of prevention“. Preparedness and risk assessment policies have to be espoused not only by national civil protection units, but in correlation with other institutions such as health and education. Alongside globalization exist globalized norms, subjects to the will of states of course, nevertheless, ready to be used by them. If there is something to be learned out of the coronavirus pandemic is understanding the value of such a culture and the essence of security as a good.

The most conservative estimates are stating that the global economy will be at shards at the end of the year due to the large decrease in economic activities. In a chronic worldwide quarantine, people could develop psychological problems due to the enclosure. The containment period of the pandemic is due to last very long and, in the meantime, lots of dead people will be mourned. This is a fate already decided.

And it is at times of great tragedy that the world readapts and strengthens its capabilities for the challenges that the future holds.