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COVID-19: Global solidarity or retrenchment?

While the pandemic caused by the SARS-COV-2 has united the world in common concern it has also exposed fault lines between rich and poor countries and magnified the inequalities in the world system and structures of global power. The severity of the crisis is not only an urgent call for immediate steps to help mitigate the economic fallout in developing countries, but should also open a space to think of radical questions about the global economic model and the limits of ‘liberal democracy’ beyond and perhaps in opposition to predominate forms of international exchange measured in capital[i].

The two main concerns for most societies worldwide are first how to mitigate the health impact of the virus and limit the number of fatalities and pressure on the public health infrastructure, and second how to mitigate the economic catastrophe that has resulted from the measures to address the first concern. For most societies in developing countries, the latter is a far more pressing concern despite the widespread consensus that many of the precautionary measures are necessary.

The pandemic has exposed the absurdity of national priorities and the fragility of the international economy system. Military spending by the United States government amounts to over $600 billion annually[ii] and the United States maintains hundreds of military bases in over 80 countries around the world[iii], yet in late March 2020 the US federal government and several US states were fighting over control of the limited supply of masks and ventilators crucial to fighting the epidemic[iv]. Rich countries such as the US cannot escape the economic or health crisis but can throw money to address at least some aspects of their problems as evidenced by the recent $2 trillion stimulus in the US and other large spending bills in Germany, the UK and elsewhere[v].

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[i] Omar S. Dahi, the author would like to thank Pete Moore, Rabie Nasser, Nabil Marzouk and Amr Dukmak for comments on a previous draft

[ii] SIPRI 2018

[iii] https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/the-us-has-military-bases-in-172-countries-all-of-them-must-close/

[iv] https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/03/27/us/politics/27reuters-health-coronavirus-michigan.html

[v] https://www.ft.com/content/26af5520-6793-11ea-800d-da70cff6e4d3

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