Discussion – Key Debates, Viewpoints & Interviews

Theorising – The Social Definition of the Corona Pandemic Sandra Maria Pfister
Theorising – Praise of Biopolitics? The Covid-19 Pandemic and the Will for Self-Preservation Jörn Ahrens
Theorising – Problematising Categories: Understanding the Covid-19 Pandemic through the Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty (RN22) Patrick Brown
Theorising – Crises? What Crises? Conceptualising Breakdowns in Practice Theory Deborah Giustini
Theorising – If We Lose Our Humanity, We Lose Ourselves Mirjana Ule
Theorising – “It’s (Not) the End of the World as We Know It and I (Don’t) Feel Fine”: Through the Looking Glass Mirror of the Coronapocalypse Victor Roudometof
Working – Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Pandemic, Equal Pay and the Sociologist as Expert Hazel Conley
Working – Fashion in the Time of Corona: What Can the Sociology of Fashion Reveal? Anna-Mari Almila
Working – Work Disruption in a Context of Pandemics: Social Bonds and the ‘Crisis Society’ (RN17) Claudia Marà
Gendering – Coronavirus (Covid-19) and Femicide Shalva Weil
Gendering – Budgeting Gender Equality: The Israeli Central Bank and Finance Ministry, and the Covid-19 Crisis Orly Benjamin
Gendering – Be Safe, Take Care: On the Matters of a (Feminist) Pandemic Ellie Walton
Living – Overcoming the Unsouled City Carlos Fortuna
Living – Cities in Lockdown: A Few Comments on Urban Decline and Revival under the Covid-19 Pandemic Maciej Kowalewski
Living – Six Researchers in Search of A Meaning In Lockdown: A Collective Essay (RN03) Lyudmila Nurse
Living – Irony: One of the Italian Ways to Cope with Pandemic Fear and Isolation? Marta Fanasca
Living – Home Confinement and Deterioration of Social Space: Quasi-Ethnographic Notes from Córdoba Jorge Ruiz Ruiz
Masking – “I Wear My Mask for You” - A Note on Face Masks Annerose Böhrer
Masking – Corona-Masquerade, or: Unmasking the New Sociology of Masks David Inglis
Masking – The Sick and the Masks Cornelia Mayr
Health, Illness and Medicine – Together Apart? Securing Health Amid Health Inequality During the Covid-19 Outbreak in Europe (RN16) Ellen Annandale
Health, Illness and Medicine – From AIDS to Coronavirus: Who has the Right to Care? Jaime García-Iglesias
Health, Illness and Medicine – Coronavirus News: What Do All Those Numbers Mean? (RN21) Kathrin Komp-Leukkunen
Health, Illness and Medicine – Ethical Principles versus Algorithms and AI Medical Biases in Pandemics Ana María López Narbona
Health, Illness and Medicine – The Double Exclusion of Older Adults During the Covid-19 Pandemic Alexander Seifert
Political Economy and Politics – Covid-19, Critical Political Economy, and the End of Neoliberalism? (RN06) Bernd Bonfert
Political Economy and Politics – It’s the End of the World... As We Know It: The Last Capitalist Pandemic? Mariano Féliz
Political Economy and Politics – The Corona-Shuttle: Arriving Mentally in the Anthropocene? Ludger Pries
Political Economy and Politics – Pandemic Diplomacy: Peace in our Time? (RN08) Ilan Kelman
Being Cosmopolitan and Anti-Cosmopolitan – The Covid-19 Pandemic as a Cosmopolitan Moment Peter Holley
Being Cosmopolitan and Anti-Cosmopolitan – The Complex Risks of Covid-19: The Demand to Move from the ‘Society of Normalisation’ to Global Medical Surveillance Sergey A. Kravchenko
Sociological Experiencing and Reflecting – Letter to a Godchild Clemence Fourton
Sociological Experiencing and Reflecting – The Covid-19 Emergency and the Sociological Memory Teresa Consoli
Sociological Experiencing and Reflecting – Contemplative Diary Krzysztof Tomasz Konecki
Sociological Experiencing and Reflecting – The Loss of World in Times of Corona Martin Repohl

Political Economy and Politics – Pandemic Diplomacy: Peace in our Time? (RN08)

Issue 45: Pandemic (Im)Possibilities vol. 1 Tue 2 Jun 2020

Ilan Kelman, University College London, UK and University of Agder, Norway
RN08 Disaster, Conflict and Social Crisis Board Member

Joining hands across pandemic boundaries.
Photo by Ilan Kelman.

As Covid-19 disrupts day-to-day life around the world, could it also disrupt decade-to-decade political animosity? Might long-standing conflicts be set aside, and then continue on peaceful pathways, in order to deal with the Coronavirus disaster? This is the question asked by research into disaster diplomacy [1], examining how and why dealing with disasters (before, during, and after) does and does not create new, lasting diplomatic initiatives.

Case studies include the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunamis affecting Aceh in Indonesia and Sri Lanka; India and Pakistan after the 2001 Gujarat and 2005 Kashmir earthquakes; and sea-level rise from climate change affecting low-lying coastlines. So far, disaster-related activities have not yet been shown to create diplomatic initiatives, but they frequently influence ongoing reconciliation in the short-term. Then, over the long-term, other factors supersede a specific disaster or disaster initiative, such as a leadership change or resurgence of historical prejudice.

For instance, the peace deal reached in Aceh in 2005 was based on negotiations which had started before the tsunami. The parties involved already had reasons for seeking peace and used the tsunami disaster and aid operation as excuses for achieving their goal. Conversely, many protagonists in Sri Lanka preferred the violent conflict, and so wrangled over humanitarian aid and the reconstruction as one part of pursuing the war. Eventually, Sri Lanka’s military defeated the Tamil fighters.

But, like climate change, Covid-19 is a global challenge, affecting everyone. Why would global disease diplomacy not bring us together, especially given the long history of medical diplomacy [2], vaccine diplomacy [3], and health diplomacy [4]? The disaster diplomacy angle shows how both historical examples and ongoing coronavirus diplomacy initiatives continue to conform to the standard pattern that crises sometimes catalyse cooperation in the short-term, but do not create new endeavours in the long-term.

History is full of health-related diplomacy with short-term, but not long-term, gains. One of the contributors to the smallpox vaccine, Englishman Edward Jenner, was so respected that in the early nineteenth century, he mediated England-France exchanges of prisoners [5], but it did not stop the continuing conflicts between those countries. Soon after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959, he started the country’s medical diplomacy of offering health services and medical training around the world, which continues today [6]. This work did not alter hostile relations between Cuba and the US through the decades, nor did offers of post-disaster aid from each to the other.

Disease eradication has notable successes, with smallpox [7] and rinderpest [8] completely gone, while polio and Guinea worm disease (Dracunculiasis) are close [9]. In all cases, the medical interventions took place in major conflict zones, with the health actions successful, but not leading to conflict resolution. Polio and Dracunculiasis remain prevalent only in war zones which are clearly inhibiting the diseases’ eradication, yet dedicated health efforts are making inroads into the diseases, but not the conflicts.

So far, the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates a similar pattern. Aid has been proffered by many countries to others, with the typical reaction of some being accepted and some being declined, but no evidence of any new changes to diplomatic relations on the basis of this disease diplomacy. Here are some examples, all based on media reports up until the beginning of April 2020:

10 March: China provides masks to South Korea while responding to Japan’s visa restrictions on Chinese by imposing visa restrictions on Japanese.

12 March: Iran asks for help from the International Monetary Fund for the first time.

19 March: China touts the medical equipment and personnel sent to numerous countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe.

22 March: Iran refuses an offer of aid from the US.

22 March: Russia sends medical equipment and personnel to Italy.

23 March: China and the US exchange words blaming each other for the pandemic.

27 March: Over 100 countries had asked for Coronavirus testing kits from South Korea as the country’s President talked with leaders around the world about what South Korea could offer.

30 March: China donates masks to Japan.

31 March: Russian disaster aid arrives in the US.

1 April: A senior government Member of Parliament in the UK calls for frostier relations with China due to Coronavirus.

1 April: Uzbekistan sends medical and food aid to Afghanistan.

1 April: China sends medical aid to Russia.

1 April: Israel says that Coronavirus aid to Gaza might be contingent on recovering the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed there in 2014.

2 April: The US accepts medical equipment from China.

2 April: France, Germany, and the UK send medical supplies to Iran.

3 April: Taiwan donates medical equipment and personnel to the US, Europe, and several countries elsewhere.

In the meantime, Cuba continued its long-standing medical diplomacy, sending doctors to Italy and around the world. North Korea also maintained its typical diplomatic stance, by quickly closing its borders entirely to enhance its isolation while claiming to have zero Covid-19 cases. Even in the cases of reported aid listed above, diplomatic dancing lingered with disputes over whether medical supplies sent to the US were humanitarian gestures, as stated by the supplying countries, or purchases, which is the narrative preferred by the US. Claims even surfaced of donor countries faking evidence of gratitude from recipients.

As has always been known [10], and reinforced during this pandemic, disaster and humanitarian aid is fundamentally political. No matter how much aid organisations proclaim principles such as neutrality, independence, and impartiality -with detailed discussion of the resulting successes and challenges [11] – and no matter how often a noble ethos is espoused, such as “Do No Harm” [12], politicians and other power-brokers typically get involved and politicise the aid for their own purposes.

One consequence from disaster diplomacy analyses is that leaders seeking rapprochement and diplomacy will use disasters, including potentially Covid-19, and disaster-related activities, such as prevention and risk reduction, to support and achieve their pre-determined peace-related goals. Conversely, those preferring acrimony will use the pandemic for it. The question for researchers then becomes the roles which we wish to play in trying to convince leaders to reduce conflict and augment peace, not just during times of crisis, but also in tandem with avoiding crises.

[1] Kelman, I. (2012). Disaster Diplomacy: How Disasters Affect Peace and Conflict. Abingdon: Routledge.Kelman, I. (2016). Catastrophe and Conflict: Disaster Diplomacy and Its Foreign Policy Implications. Brill Research Perspectives in Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, 1(1), 1-76.
[2] Lyster, T.C. (1922). Medical Diplomacy. Bulletin of the Pan American Union, 54, 375–378.
[3] Garon, J.R., & Orenstein, W.A. (2015). Overcoming barriers to polio eradication in conflict areas. The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 15(10), 1122–1124.
[4] Barbara, J.S., & MacQueen, G. (2004). Peace Through Health: Key Concepts. The Lancet, 364, 384–386.
[5] Hotez, P.J. (2001). Vaccine Diplomacy. Foreign Policy, May/June, 68–69.
[6] Feinsilver, J.M. (2010). Fifty years of Cuba’s medical diplomacy: from idealism to pragmatism. Cuban Studies, 41(1), 85–104.
[7] Breman, J.G., & Arita, I. (1980). The confirmation and maintenance of smallpox eradication. The New England Journal of Medicine, 303(22), 1263–1273.
[8] Morens, D.M., Holmes, E.C., Davis, A.S., & Taubenberger, J.K. (2011). Global Rinderpest Eradication: Lessons Learned and Why Humans Should Celebrate Too. The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 204(4), 502–505.
[9] Bodimeade, C., Marks, M., & Mabey, D. (2019). Neglected tropical diseases: elimination and eradication. Clinical Medicine (London), 19(2): 157–160.
[10] Cuny, F. (1983). Disasters and development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[11] Terry, F. (2002). Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action. Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press.Terry, F. (2011). The International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan: Reasserting the Neutrality of Humanitarian Action. International Review of the Red Cross, 93(881), 173–188.
[12] Anderson, M.B. (1999). Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace—Or War. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner.

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