This entry is inspired by Scott McPherson’s piece from this morning, alluding to the days of the Cold War.
I admit it, sometimes I actually miss the Cold War; the world seems so much more complicated and unsafe since the collapse of the old Soviet Union. But, I also know that humans seem to be predisposed to nostalgia, so perhaps it’s nothing more than an example of viewing the past with my biologically wired rose colored glasses.
The Soviet Union/Russia is a long time obsession of mine, much older than the PanFlu issue, and I still note all “things Russian” in the news with rapt attention. It isn’t that I am some sort of Communist Sympathizer, to use the old phrase, but as Sun Tzu admonished: “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles and not know defeat.”
As a young person (when the obsession took hold) I embraced that ancient homily with an obsessive’s thoroughness. Forgive the ramble… but a harkening back to the Cold War era will invariably grab my attention, and set me to just that… a ramble.
The Soviet Union dissolved December 8, 1991, and the UN officially acknowledged all the international niceties on December 31. Sixteen years ago the world (officially) changed, but in reality it was the culmination of 11 years of overturning the old for the new. Russia is still overturning and reinventing; the struggle has been long, messy, and prone to setbacks, especially more recently.
OK… why the mini Russian history lesson?
The world operates under different guidelines and undercurrents since the fall of the Soviet Union. We no longer sit back and ignore nations behaving badly when they can endanger the rest of the world, or a goodly portion of it. The UN’s IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) is a good example of the wider-world expressing the fact that we, all 6.x billion of us, have a stake in certain things, irrespective of national borders and nationalistic tendency. Coincidentally, the IAEA celebrated its 50th anniversary three days ago.
The IAEA is an agency of the United Nations, as is WHO. Now, I am about as big a fan of the UN as I was of the USSR, but I also understand that sometimes you have to work with what you have, and at present that’s the WHO. And WHO needs to take a lesson from the IAEA.
The IAEA may be just this side of ineffectual, but not totally ineffectual. Through their authority the Big Guys can make life anthing from difficult to impossible (as in dead) should the world’s governments believe a nation is developing nuclear weapons to threaten, or use on, their neighbors.
Everyone knows that a nuclear bomb would do damage on a massive scale, even if it’s relatively localized. Potentially an untold number of innocent civilians could be instantly vaporized, with some exponentially larger number dying later from the after effects. Thus the rational for why the world community believes it has a Right to have a say about what a nation does or doesn’t do with nuclear weapons.
A moderate-to-severe influenza pandemic will cost the lives of millions of people, innocent people undeserving of a death sentence. Should the PanFlu (if it happens) be of catastrophic severity it will threaten the very nationhood of any number of countries, no doubt many of the countries that made up the former USSR, including, and especially, Russia herself, given the difficulties of becoming a democracy. This is the very reason that the threat of an influenza pandemic has been classified as a national security threat by the US federal government.
It was these musing that reminded me of Dr. Tara O’Toole‘s dramatic statement back in October 2005 (I attempted to find the transcript, but was only able to find the media’s reports of the Congressional Briefing, this one from The Washington Post):
“This is a nation-busting event!” warned Tara O’Toole, CEO of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Biosecurity. Speculating that 40 million Americans could die — that’s about one in eight – she warned: “We must act now.”
That statement of Dr. O’Toole’s has never entirely left my consciousness. As I was feverishly trying to track down the transcript of the Congressional Briefing I contemplated emailing her and asking if she still had the same level of concern she stated almost two years ago. Perhaps I still will, and perhaps she will be kind enough to respond. If she does I will post an update.
So, as I may have been able to demonstrate in my own clumsy, rambling way, a severe influenza pandemic is a national security issue, as such it affords the world a certain interest over and above the sanctity of national sovereignty. Stated another way: When millions, or 10′s of millions, or 100′s of millions of lives are at stake Indonesia, or any other country for that matter, has no right to claim ownership (a tenuous claim…at best) over viral samples of H5N1. There is no more right than a country has to develop nuclear weapons to threaten… or use… against its neighbor, an action that at least certain governments will not allow, or at minimum make one hell of an effort to prevent.
There is no room in this world for a Viral Cold War. Extortion is extortion, whether it’s accomplished with a nuclear ballistic missile, or a virus. The world changed sixteen years ago, now instead of two countries holding the world hostage to Armageddon any country potentially can. Not only do (certain) countries believe they can, that belief is being facilitated and coddled by the WHO, an agency of the UN, the very agency charged with protecting the 6.x billion citizens of this planet, and that simply cannot be allowed to continue.