Realism runs Global Health – Conservative Article
Recently, world leaders such as Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, and Angela Merkel have proposed a global health accord to unite countries in fighting future pandemics. This move would be similar to what happened at the end of the Second World War when the United Nations was formed. However, this is just internationalist talk from leaders that have proven themselves to take an individualist approach to global health, especially regarding vaccines. The current global measure, COVAX, shows why global health accords aren’t likely. The proposed global health accords are nothing but words.
Firstly, it is important to give a brief explanation of realism. It suggests states pursue their own agenda above all else, and only help others if it helps themselves. States, and by extension their leaders, act in a rationally selfish way. Even if the cost of such benefit comes at the cost of others. States are the only key actors in the international system, and most importantly states are placed in a system of anarchy, as there is no authority higher than the state.
Johnson’s UK will be looked at first. Currently, the vaccination programme is steaming ahead in the UK. Over 50% of the adult population has received at least one dose. However, it is clear that the UK acted in a way of greed to secure vaccine deals for its citizens, ordering 400 million of the most promising candidates. Assuming each requires two doses, that’s enough to vaccinate the population three times over.
Johnson even admitted that the UK’s greed and capitalism was the key to its vaccine success. The UK secured deals faster than the bureaucratic process of the European Commission. Johnson knew that the state was the best actor to sort vaccines over international institutions as well. This is pure realism. Johnson acted in a rational way in order to secure vaccines for UK citizens and did it independent of the European Commission’s procurement scheme. The UK’s success compared to the EU’s highlights this even more.
Macron proved the realist mantra in his rhetoric and actions toward AstraZeneca. Earlier this year, he criticised the jab as ‘quasi ineffective’, and the jab was previously blocked from being used in over 65s because it was deemed ineffective in the group. France also temporarily halted the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, over claims that it increases blood clotting. This ignored the advice of two international institutions, showing that states are still the most important global health actors. States make the decisions, while international actors advise. These claims were a selfish attempt to big up France and downplay the success of a UK made vaccine. Macron believed that by undermining AstraZeneca’s credibility, and by extension the UK’s, he can better France’s position. This is realist politics, bettering your state at the cost of another.
Merkel has also shown realism in her actions. The insights of Macron halting the rollout of AstraZeneca also apply as Germany halted its programme due to fears of clotting despite the aforementioned advice of liberal global institutions, and initially did not allow the jab for over 65s. However, Merkel highlighted the flaws of the EU Commission’s vaccine scheme when Germany bought 30 million extra Pfizer doses outside of the Commission’s scheme. This shows that when an international institution attempts to take on a bigger role in global health, even member states seek to correct flaws on an individual state basis, not by liberal cooperation on an institutional level. Germany acted in a rational, self-interested way knowing that the Commission had no power to sanction Germany’s actions.
Finally, the COVAX scheme should be looked at. Set up by the WHO to help lower-income countries get vaccines, it however has struggled to do this. Deliveries have been delayed to recipient countries, Canada, a high income state selfishly benefitted from the scheme at the cost of other countries (a realist move), and COVAX has struggled to secure doses because of the hoarding of higher-income countries, showing that those countries understand the realist notion of prioritising their own state. This prioritisation comes because the primary goal of a state is survival, and the pandemic has threatened the survival of the state from a health and economic perspective. COVAX also struggled with administrative and bureaucratic failings, which is unsurprising when an organisation is trying to tackle global vaccine supply instead of leaving it to individual states.
All of what has been discussed above proves that the vaccination phase of the pandemic was driven by realism. States have acted in a way that has benefitted themselves the most. It doesn’t matter if that meant pushing another state down. When it comes to the future of global health, leaders can poetically wax about the benefits of global cooperation, however, that isn’t what happens. Realism will continue to drive global health policy.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
Point of Information
Politics is Driven by Realism – A Labour Response
The proposed global treaty is not a bad move. We all know too well that the unprecedented nature of the pandemic has shocked both governments and individuals globally. And this shock has brought significant hardship to so many. So naturally, governments want to do more to prepare and prevent further catastrophic effects of potential future pandemics. If a global treaty is the way to achieve this, let’s do it.
Looking at realism, I would argue that everything political is driven by this. The lack of a global government and the duty of individual governments to protect their own citizens secures this. From the COVID vaccine, individual coronavirus responses, to every law and unwilling compromise or treaty, there always exists a sense of realism.
For global health specifically, Kieran is certainly right in saying realism is involved. But is it a good or bad thing? Understandably, as I said, governments have a duty to protect their own citizens and, by looking to improve their national vaccination programs first, they are doing just this. Perhaps I’m being too trusting (some might say naïve) of their intentions. I’m sure there is an element of concern for the state’s repute, but states have a duty to their citizens to prevent further hardship caused by the pandemic – maybe they simply wish to rebuild as quickly as possible for the benefit of their citizens.
However, I actually responded to one of Kieran’s previous articles on the UK vaccine drive, in which Kieran himself was somewhat driven by realism – ironic. I stated that I wished every country was equal in regards to their vaccination programs because the world will only start to return to ‘normal’ when every country is in recovery. So, even if support is extended to struggling countries for inherently selfish or realist reasons, it will benefit everyone in the long run. Not to mention how joyous it would be to see every country doing so well.
Will realism continue beyond the pandemic? I’m in agreement with Kieran that it will, for both global health and everything that is inherently political.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo
Politics is Driven by Votes – A Liberal Response
Kieran perfectly explains the situation of realism. I have argued on a podcast surrounding this very situation that realism is the obvious thing for countries to do. Having the vaccine will save their economies, their citizens lives and their jobs effectively.
However, that is the point. Realism is, at the end of the day, about being selfish. ‘Life is nasty brutish and short’ is a phrase every realist lives by, self-interest rules supreme. So their interest should be their job, and with its votes. They will listen to voters, and that is why the only way to roll out a fair vaccine scheme is for voters to care and force the government to take action in the appropriate way. It will benefit all of us when countries around the world start to return to normal.
However, will voters bother to take a stand? Yes, but they will use the minium amount of effort required. They of course want to do something; maybe a share of Facebook, defend it in a conversation or at most write to their MP. It is enough to make voters feel like they achieved something, and gain a small slither of satisfaction from it. This unfortunately will not be enough.
So Kieran is right, although arguably they are not fighting for their country, but rather for themselves and their job. The only way this will change is if voters bother to make their voice heard. But alas, this seems unlikely and so are kept in this world that Kieran has described.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Max Anderson