Descending into destruction – Abdul Sattar

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In the face of an existential threat even animals can get united, making collective efforts to deal with the situation. But it seems that humans, despite making tall claims of rationality, cannot summon enough courage to put their differences aside in times of crises and put up a united front against their common foe. Even amidst the ravages of a natural calamity, humans manage to find the time for conspiracies, clandestine preparations for war and bickering over issues that can easily be sorted out after the disaster is over.

This is what one feels when one sees global leaders quarrelling over petty matters of hegemony and superiority amidst the destruction caused by the coronavirus. The contagion has claimed millions of lives and created economic tremors that have rocked global business and trade. But leaders in Moscow, Beijing, Washington, London and other parts of the Western world seem to be unfazed by this greatest tragedy of the 21st century.

Their indifference to human suffering and their irrational preoccupation with strategic matters has stunned billions across the world. Many have been flabbergasted by the irresponsible statement of American President Joe Biden who characterized Russia’s head of state Vladimir Putin as a killer. The statement has led to concerns over a possible showdown between the nuclear powers. Such an assertion reflects a complete disregard for diplomatic norms and principles.

Biden, who is widely considered a dove in many political circles of the world, has created a specter of warmongering by hurling threats at President Putin. The latest round of recrimination kicked off by Biden is really unfortunate. It seems that he is trying to appease the warmongers sitting in the power corridors of Washington. His tedious acolytes opened another front by being hard on China for a litany of issues. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan blasted China in face-to-face talks last week. Biden threw blanket support behind the harsh statement of his secretary of state, heaping eulogies on the man who infuriated the Chinese.

The maverick president of Russia, to the utter surprise of many, appeared composed and calm reminding the United States of its own monstrous past which is replete with slavery, genocide, massacres, annihilation of indigenous people and barbaric attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Putin demonstrated his political sagacity by making an offer of talks.

The Chinese in their meeting with American officials took exception to the criticism directed towards the Communist Party of China and the People’s Republic. The officials of the Chinese government ardently defended their government, making it clear to American mandarins that Beijing would not compromise on its core interests, declaring that any attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of the communist country would not be acceptable.

In the midst of this tense atmosphere, Beijing is trying to hobnob with Russia while Washington is trying to appease its Western allies, convincing them to put up a united front against ‘expansionist Russia and hegemonic China’. American officials are also in contact with anti-China elements like India, Japan and Australia. France, the Netherlands and the UK have already expressed their willingness to support their traditional ally. Washington and its allies are likely to pressure other countries into joining the camp of the sole superpower while Russia and China will also make efforts to solicit support from different parts of the world.

No one with a modicum of political consciousness can understand the utility of this tension at a time when humanity is going through one of the worst crises of modern times. This pandemic should have prompted global leaders to put their differences aside and battle the onslaught of this contagion that is wreaking havoc with country after country. Collective efforts should have been made to tide over the economic devastation triggered by the marauding infection. But it is really unfortunate that these men, who claim to possess political sagacity, are fighting for a myopic war of superiority. Such a confrontation would be very catastrophic. Russia and China with their supersonic missiles, America and its allies armed with weapons of mass destruction would play great havoc.

We have committed the same mistakes in the past as well. Even after the horrific effects of the Justinianic Plague, European countries waged a number of senseless wars and conflicts that paved the way for more infectious diseases. Even the second plague failed to teach any significant lesson to the recalcitrant ruling elites of Europe. The conflicts between the myopic leaders of the Western world remained unabated even during the greatest calamity that befell the world in 1346. The plague was triggered by the Mongol siege of a town in Crimea in 1343 where Italian traders caught it bringing it to Europe, killing according to some estimates around 50 to 60 percent of Europe’s population.

Health experts see a close link between infectious diseases and conflicts because wars lead to mass migration, forcing people to live in cramped camps. In the past 40 years, outbreaks of infectious diseases have also been underpinned by population exodus. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that conflicts, persecution, or human rights violations forced round 40 million people to flee by 2016. In 2018, it is estimated that 25 people were forced to flee insecure areas every minute.

The devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic should have prompted global leaders to make hectic efforts to halt the ongoing conflicts in different parts of the world so that the spread of the virus could be arrested. But instead of dedicating their times to such important tasks, they seem adamant in fanning new conflicts. What they should remember is: in ancient wars people could still flee seeking refuge here and there but a conflict between the titanic powers of today would spare nothing.

The world has suffered a lot because of wars and conflicts. The Mongols’ conquests burdened the heart of the globe with 40 million corpses, the Hundred-Year War between France and the UK claimed over two millions lives and the thirty-year strife between different European powers decimated four to eight million souls. The two global conflicts led to the slaughtering of more than 70 million people, while the Korean conflict and the US invasion of Vietnam pushed more than six million people towards destruction. The world has witnessed more than 240 major and minor conflicts since 1945. Given this bloody history, how can we even think of a conflict – and that too a nuclear one.

It is time we paid attention to areas that have the potential of descending into the abyss of destruction. But global leaders seem to be on a collision path – a path that is not only disastrous for Europe, a major site of two global conflicts, but for the world as well. Only a massive anti-war movement seeking denuclearization of the world, disarmament and an end to weapons manufacturing can turn the world into a place worth living for human beings.

The writer is a freelance journalist.