STRATEGIC ASSESSMENT- Jakarta. According to WHO, ECDC, CDC-US, NHC-PRC, Worldometers and other datas until on May 8th, 2022, at least 517.082.081 people around the world have been infected Covid-19 since it initially appeared in late 2019, at least 6.275.884 have died from the virus, 38.835.087 have reportedly positive and 471.971.110 have returned to their home.
Many countries have stories related to this virus, and some of them have occurred security and political chaotics, national economic turbulence and abuse of power in several countries has been contributing people distrust to the government handling the virus.
During the outbreak, we can learn some of lesson learned. Indeed, the Covid-19 outbreak has been triggering several strategic issues and matters which can create global uncertainty such as stealing intellectual property right on vaccine products, fueling violent protests from anti-vaxxers and anti-government extremists, doubting and disinformation related to the virus, several countries enact travel bans, and last but not least, abuse of power have been implementing by several government in many countries such as Brazilia, Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines, China, India, Israel, and Russia.
Security and political chaotics
Since the pandemic began to sweep the world in January, there has been a steep rise in domestic violence cases, which is not entirely unexpected given the implementation of sheltering in place orders across the globe. In early April 2020, France 24 reported a 30% increase in domestic violence cases over the course of the first week of its national shelter in place order. In a tweet from early April, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on governments to ‘put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic’ in response to the surge in domestic violence worldwide. U.S. law enforcement agencies are also dealing with a drastic increase in cases.
As a result of the pandemic, local law enforcement agencies have been attempting to reduce the number of people arrested and taken into custody (being arrested does not always mean going to jail) by detaining people involved in misdemeanor crimes and then releasing them on a subpoena for a later court appearance. Yet many localities and states have, in recent years, finally started to address domestic violence more seriously, with additional sentences or conditions imposed on certain misdemeanor crimes.
In many localities, if an individual is arrested for a misdemeanor offense that is also domestic violence (for example, simple battery/domestic violence), the police are legally required to take that person to jail. This commonsense approach is designed to prevent the offender (not always but overwhelmingly male) from returning immediately after an arrest and committing further violence.
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is already forcing vaccine mandates and new waves of lockdowns in countries worldwide, fueling violent protests from anti-vaxxers and anti-government extremists. The boundaries between far-right extremists, anti-vaxxers, and COVID-19 conspiracy theorists are continuing to erode.
The pandemic has brought together seemingly disparate groups, constituencies, and online communities to form a toxic miasma of anti-government sentiment, far-right extremism, and conspiracy-mongering. The pandemic has been an ideological godsend for anti-government and anti-authority extremists, who are now more relevant than any point in the last two decades.
The violent extremists were motivated by their opposition to COVID-19 restrictions and were planning to murder Saxony State Premier Michael Kretschmer, as well as other politicians. The recently discovered Omicron variant of the coronavirus is already forcing vaccine mandates and new waves of lockdowns in countries worldwide, fueling violent protests from anti-vaxxers and anti-government extremists.
In Italy, anti-government extremists and far-right gangs have joined with anti-vaxxers to stage demonstrations and protests, some of which have turned violent. The Netherlands has also experienced an uptick in violence related to anti-vaxxers and others opposed to more stringent COVID-19 measures, with rioters attacking police in Rotterdam and The Hague at various points over the past several months. The international community, especially Western countries, should expect to see more of this type of extremism, particularly the focus on targeting politicians.
As the world struggles to stem the tide of the pandemic, a new and extremely concerning COVID-19 variant was recently identified in South Africa as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO). There are concerns that South Africa is being penalized for its transparency and that the travel ban and other measures will make it less likely for countries to be forthcoming with alarming data in the near future. Vaccine nationalism, hoarding of stockpiles, and rampant disinformation have all played a role in the delay of disseminating the vaccine on a more global scale. Anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists have proliferated and become more militant and dangerous in some countries, including Italy and the Netherlands.
Also known as B.1.1.529, and now given the Greek letter “Omicron,” the variant was first identified in South Africa, prompting countries around the world, including the United States, to restrict travel to several countries located in southern Africa, among them Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Mozambique, and others. Even as countries enact travel bans, cases of the Omicron variant have been identified in the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and Israel, among others. In a statement last weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced a two week ban on the entry of all foreigners into the country.
Economic prices hikes and uncertainty
On April 1st, 2020, Saudi Arabia responded to the collapse of the ‘OPEC+’ alliance by immediately cutting crude oil prices for sales to China and announcing a major increase in production from 9.5 million barrels per day (mbd) to a new level of nearly 12 mbd. Saudi officials indicated that the steps were intended to bring Russia back to the bargaining table on a new production cut. But, the net effect of the Saudi action has been a collapse in world oil prices to below $20 per barrel by the end of March – a 20-year low.
“Abuse of power” and public distrust during tackling Covid-19 outbreak around the world
Leaders in Hungary, Turkey, the Philippines, China, and Russia have all taken advantage of the coronavirus to solidify political power during a time of uncertainty, when most of the public is simply trying to survive. Several countries have passed new laws against the spread of so-called ‘fake news’ surrounding coronavirus, making these governments and regimes the ultimate arbiters of the press and media. The dangerous erosion of the media and other institutions vital to a functioning civil society is one of the most far-reaching consequences of how countries are responding to the pandemic.
At the end of March 2020, Hungary passed emergency legislation, ostensibly to deal with the coronavirus, that essentially moved the country toward authoritarianism. The parliament voted by 137 to 53 to give Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban the right to rule by decree, while also canceling all elections. These emergency powers also sideline Hungary’s parliament indefinitely.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the face of Israel’s response and declared a state of emergency. This included suspending all court activity, including Netanyahu’s own corruption trial. His main political opponent, Benny Gantz, has decided to step back because he believes the coronavirus response requires unity.
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used the crisis to arrest political opponents. There are legitimate fears that widespread arrests could follow, with Erdogan targeting members of academia, journalism, and civil society, much as he did following the failed 2016 coup against his regime. And in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered police and the military to shoot and kill anyone breaking official lockdown orders.
This Administration has repeatedly demonstrated a pattern of rejecting or ignoring the advice of its agencies, which has contributed to a wider erosion of public trust in the coronavirus response. For example, months into the crisis President Trump continued to regularly downplay the dangers of coronavirus, emphasizing, until earlier this week, the need for the country’s economy to normalize, despite warnings from the leading U.S. adviser on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who underscored that ending social distancing too soon could lead to a spike in cases. In turn, a spike in cases would likely overwhelm hospitals and lead to more deaths – as evidenced by what is currently occurring in New York City. The Administration appeared more concerned with opening the economy than heeding the advice of its top experts in global health, who have been advising on ways to prevent the further spread of the virus.
After surpassing three-quarters of a million cases, Brazil now has more cases of COVID-19 than any country in the world other than the United States. Daily deaths in Brazil are the highest anywhere in the world, with residents of Brazil’s favelas, densely populated areas plagued by poverty and little access to resources, disproportionately impacted. The chaos has led foreign direct investment to suffer and increased concern throughout the country that the Brazilian military could look to get involved in politics under the guise of providing stability. Political leaders who resort to strongman tactics and authoritarian rhetoric have further exacerbated the coronavirus crisis and the underlying socio-economic issues that COVID-19 brought to the forefront.
While the coronavirus has killed over 103,000 people in Brazil resulting in the country recording the second highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the world (after only the United States, at 165,000 plus), a decree called a ‘land-grabbing amnesty’ by former Environment Minister Marina Silva has been allowed to proceed, legalizing self-declaration of land ownership in the Amazon. It will soon be up for a vote in the House and Senate, before final approval into law.
As COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly in many regions around the world, countries are racing to develop a reliable and effective vaccine. Russia and China are openly promoting their respective trial vaccines, with some positive results, but no shortage of ethical and safety concerns. The U.S. has continued to eschew international cooperation, working on numerous possible vaccines in various stages of development. The backlash against science in the U.S. will hamper public health campaigns to distribute and administer a vaccine once it is developed and approved.
In the lead up to the vaccine deployment, several governments were engaged in efforts to pilfer intellectual property associated with COVID-19 vaccine research. Last week, Chris Krebs, former Director of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, revealed that Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran were engaged in economic espionage efforts to steal intellectual property related to the COVID-19 vaccine. Industrial espionage, the stealing of commercial secrets and intellectual property to gain a commercial advantage over adversaries, remains a primary objective of intelligence services. Just like state actors, transnational actors, especially criminal organizations, have a history of engaging in illicit activities to gain an economic advantage. In this regard, the pharmaceutical industry has been a top-tier target for organized crime and private sector spies. More than 80 companies and institutes are developing vaccines in the United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia, and many more countries, creating a unique environment for global crime syndicates to seek to exploit. Tactical and strategic synergies between various non-state actors, as well as concerns over the crime-terror nexus, elevate the sense of urgency for law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and security services.
Now that vaccines have been developed and approved, delivering and administering effective doses has touched off an ‘arms race’ between states. Vaccine competition and public health diplomacy will be defining features of geopolitics in 2021. Appearing altruistic and benevolent in the distribution of vaccines is a unique soft power opportunity for countries like China, India, and the United States. Wealthier countries will need to donate and help distribute billions of vaccine doses to struggling regions, which is both a moral and practical imperative.
Despite warnings of an impending second wave, Indian Prime Minister Modi has been widely criticized for mismanagement of the pandemic response. Rather than preparing for the second wave, Modi’s BJP government devoted its energy to campaigning in the West Bengal elections. For the first time since Modi was elected in 2014, his government is facing criticism from all sides of the political spectrum. Many experts feel that, notwithstanding the new more virulent strain, the current chaos in India is a result of the government’s own myopic policies.
The writer had earned his master graduate from the University of Indonesia (UI).