Some people never stop… (Or how to recycle the coronavirus into your extremist messaging)

By Stephane Baele, the University of Exeter.

Warning: the following post reproduces some extremist content, which is obviously not endorsed by the author or the editors of the blog. Similarly, we do not recommend that readers access the various sources of extremist material cited here.

For most, the COVID-19 pandemic is caused by a virus characterized by a particularly unfortunate combination of high contagiosity, slow development of symptoms, and low lethality. We also think, at times, about some of the socio-political dynamics involved in, and triggered by, the epidemic. But we don’t spend much time discussing the profound meaning and reason of this development within the grand history of our social group, nor do we seek to discover and unveil “the truth” about who ought to be blamed for it, let alone prove how this crisis demonstrates the superiority of our group and inferiority of other ones.

That’s normal — it’s the kind of reasoning that characterizes political extremists. From the far-right to the far-left, from neo-Nazis to Salafi-jihadists, a common feature of extremist worldviews is indeed to understand the world through the lenses of a grand historical narrative, which is directed towards an end-point where the ingroup confronts the outgroup responsible for its suffering (read here, there, and there for theory and evidence). In such narratives, every significant event simply has to be meaningful and tell something about the ingroup’s grand historical struggle against the outgroup. Judging from my ongoing monitoring of extremist websites,[1] COVID-19 does not escape this regularity.

From Salafi-jihadists…

Let me begin by a rapid overview of how the pandemic is presented in the communications of Salafi-jihadi groups. Indeed, this is where the impetus for the current post started: I decided to double-check a piece of news claiming that ISIS had issued guidelines warning its suicide bombers to avoid Europe while the coronavirus was active. I discovered much more than this straightforward advice.[2] I noticed that over the past couple of months every issue of the group’s al-Naba newspaper contained discussions on the virus that correspond to the type of reasoning described above. The pandemic is neatly inserted in ISIS’ grand narrative of Muslims suffering from the hands of the West and their Middle-Eastern “puppet” autocrats. On the one hand, the virus is understood as evidence that no-one, “neither America nor anyone else”, “is able to take away the harm” that results from “the will of the Almighty”, “no matter how much power, knowledge and tyranny” (al-Naba 227). On the other hand, it further reveals the wickedness of “the enemy”, who is said to lock thousands of Muslims in prisons where women and children die, unable to shield themselves from the disease. Overall, the pandemic is an opportunity given by God to accelerate the eschatological collapse of the “Crusaders”, whose “difficult time will coincide with the Caliphate’s preparations for new strikes against them” [this seems to contradict the guidance evoked above, which I could not locate], as “the level of occupancy of their security and medical institutions has reached the maximum”, meaning that the virus has “a great impact on weakening their capabilities to fight the Mujahideen” (al-Naba 226).

On its RocketChat channels, Al-Qaeda added a layer to this take, not only claiming that the pandemic is God’s will, but also that “the arrival of this pandemic to the Muslim World is only a consequence of our sins and our distance from the Divine methodology that Allah has chosen for His slaves”. In other words, the coronavirus is God’s punishment for the “obscenity and moral corruption [that] had already become widespread in Muslim countries”. There can only be one solution to this new twist in the modern Jahiliyyah narrative owed to Qutb: adhering to Al-Qaeda’s “pure” theology and confronting the “Western-led campaigns to spread atheism in Muslim societies”, confronting both the “despots ruling over the Muslim world” and the “Crusader enemy”.

Abu-Muhammad al-Maqdisi — a radical cleric who significantly influenced the recent development in the Salafi-jihadi theology, and who is often presented as al-Zarqawi’s mentor — could not stay silent on the matter. On March the 30th, released a theological guidance that argued, among others, that “there is nothing wrong for the disbelievers to be destroyed by the coronavirus”.

… to the Far-right

Unsurprisingly, this is not the presentation of the virus that I found exploring the vast and heterogeneous far-right online ecosystem. Here again, the pandemic has a deep significance within each group’s favoured master narrative.

When listening to the “Great Lockdown Chronicles” and other podcasts uploaded on Democratie Participative (the most brazenly racist platform I have ever come across), I learned that the “Judeo-Satanic” elite had been manoeuvring to let the pandemic spread in order to “turn European populations into slavery”. The pandemic, from this perspective, is yet another “great sacrifice” (like WW1 and WW2) that “they” regularly provoke to keep a grip on their “total power”. Knowing this “truth” can only lead us to support a “confinement of Africa” and take a stand on the ongoing “race war”.

It may sound absurd, but this is not too different to the kind of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories found on the popular “/pol” boards of the “chans” image-boards. On Endchan, I indeed read again that Jews have favoured the spread of the disease, this time allegedly in order to make financial gains (they are said to own vaccine companies, and therefore “to make their shekels off this”). What’s more, “what is causing the chaos, lack of supplies and hoarding” is not the virus itself, but “fear mongering by jewish media”. As always with extremists, the “truth” needs to be exposed: “It’s important to bring realization of this and that jews own the media”. 8kun and the notorious 4chan/pol blame other groups or use the pandemic to recycle old racist tropes. For instance, a poster on 4chan/pol “joked”: “Black man here how do u rape and social distance?”. The same day, someone on 8kun argued that the pandemic is the result of Chinese people’s “filth”: “one can barely even class them as ‘human’, and to class them as animals would be an insult to animals. They’re amoeba, primordial leeches, bottom-feeding slime that have never evolved to have anything at all resembling empathy. They almost literally are ant-people, working only for the colony, not stopping to help their fellow chinaman or even spare so much as a thought for another in that person’s time of need”. COVID-19 comes as a good occasion, for these extremists, to embark in their usual racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic dehumanizing rants…

The white supremacist platform American Renaissance, is, as usual, more polished — but no less racist. For them, the current crisis simply shows the problems of “open borders” (they highlight, for instance, the high number of people who moved from China to the US after the virus had been identified), which has always been one of their main themes. The pandemic creates a window of opportunity for white nationalist policies: in one of their most recent podcasts, Jared Taylor and Paul Kersey for example “celebrate the ruling class’s late-in-life understanding of nationalism”. The virus is of course also said to reveal the problems with “political correctness” — a favourite concept in the alt-right. An article for instance focuses on an Italian official telling that he was “called ‘racist’ for wanting to test China travellers in February”.

In Europe, the islamophobic Gates of Vienna blog — a key inspiration behind Breivik’s infamous “compendium”— published, among many other hogwash, videos of French polemist Eric Zemmour claiming that the pandemic spreads in France because of Muslims’ backwardness, and benefits them at the same time. “Whatever we say”, he argues, it is in neighbourhood where Muslims are predominant that the lockdown is not respected (claiming that he saw “images of war” between the police and inhabitants of the “banlieues”), which leads to a de facto “secession” of “Islamic territories” in Paris, Montpellier and Lyon.

I could go on and tell you about other similar universes, highlighting for each how the pandemic is provided meaning through its insertion within a grand narrative glorifying the ingroup and blaming the outgroup. But you get the point: as you and I are busy homeschooling or struggling to keep up with work, extremists carry on with their obsessions. Some people never, ever stop…

[1] The reader will understand that I do not provide the links to the extremist content discussed in this post — I am, however, happy to provide them in private communication.

[2] Yet at the same time, ISIS’ newspapers were very unlike ours, as they only dedicated a fraction of their pages to the virus, with the majority of articles bragging about the group’s success, explaining its attacks, and displaying gruesome pictures of executions — I told the reader, some people just never stop…

The pandemic and north-south divides

By Irene Fernandez-Molina, University of Exeter

‘The coronavirus is poised to spread dangerously south’. The global trajectory and mapping of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests a two-stage advance from east to west, and from north to south. Gramsci’s ‘southern question’ could not take long to be raised on all possible scales, from its Italian birthplace to EU politics to the world stage. To what extent is the so-called north-south divide — or divides in plural — a relevant lens to capture some of the current ‘pandemipolitics’?

A passenger has his temperature checked at a South African airport. Image source

There is indeed a very tangible, chronic global north-south gap in health capacities, including both universal health coverage and health worker density. In Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic has called attention to serious shortages of hospital beds, intensive care units, ventilators, surgical masks, medicines and even medical professionals, due to prolonged brain drain. The picture is more mixed when it comes to health emergency preparedness, as some low- and middle-income countries benefit from the experience of dealing with other recent epidemics, such as Ebola in western Africa (2014–2016), in close accordance with WHO guidance. This learning, coupled with awareness of their health system’s fragility, has led many of them to en strict containment measures, including travel restrictions and lockdowns, in very early stages of the pandemic compared to western Europe and North America (is there an additional north-south dimension to social trust, including self-perceptions and assumptions about citizen responsibility?). Also, the population ageing divide between the global north and south is likely to play in the latter’s favour.

More as a side effect but very strikingly, the sharp global north-south (im)mobility divide has suddenly levelled out due to the avalanche of border closures around the world. By the second week of April, 194 countries and territories had enforced mobility restrictions of various sorts. The first African air and sea travel suspensions to prevent access from European countries in mid-March were celebrated in social media with some sense of karma. Since then, as temporary as this might be, the pandemic has in fact put citizens from all states on equal footing in terms of passport power, and even some unheard-of reverse clandestine migratory movements have been reported across the Mediterranean.

Fewer surprises may be expected in relation to the north-south economic capabilities divide. If anything, COVID-19 has brought to the fore a global division of vulnerability whereby the weaknesses of northern economies are increasingly attributed to their neoliberalisation and deindustrialisation, while those of southern states stem primarily from dependence, lack of fiscal space and informality. Over reliance on foreign investment, exports the north, migrant remittances and tourism means that, even if southern countries managed to mitigate their own public health crises, they would still heavily suffer the repercussions of the north’s recession, as happened with the 2008–2009 financial crisis. In other words, they are doomed to pay a double economic price: the cost of domestic containment plus the cost of dependence. Meanwhile, high public debt will hinder the implementation of extraordinary measures to cushion the immediate socio-economic impact of social distancing and lockdowns as well expansionary, stimulus policies to revitalise the economy subsequently.

Finally, the pervasive role of the informal sector in global south economies, especially in terms of employment and inclusion, adds to the lack of a social safety net for much of the population. Upon this background, popular protests against social distancing have erupted in countries ranging from India to Lebanon. Ultimately, the dilemma between dying of the coronavirus and dying of hunger is what draws the line between the global north and the global south in the pandemic’s context. This, of course, distinctly includes the bits of the global south that are present within the global north, and has huge political legitimacy implications.

Two approaches in IR that may help unpack policy responses to this situation. The determinants of the global south state responses can be explored from the perspective of Ayoob’s ‘subaltern realism’ and ‘Third World security predicament’. Looking at the intersection of structural economic dependence and primarily domestic security dilemmas in which ‘the security of the state and the regime become closely intertwined’ yields two interesting observations. First, southern states appear to be now prioritising tackling the public health emergency over economic concerns, which might be unprecedented in history. Second, from Chile to Algeria to Iraq, the ruling authorities of not a few of them have seized mass gathering bans as an opportunity to pause or stifle significant political protest movements, which points towards a conflation of state/human and regime security. Still, whether this temptation is limited to the global south and/or to more authoritarian states within it remains unclear.

Southern state responses to COVID-19 can also be examined as part of north-south burden-sharing in the provision of the global public good that is health. In this respect we can distinguish between the burden of containment, which involves interrelated political legitimacy and economic costs in the short to medium term, and the long-term financial burden that will result from sharp rises in the level of public debt. How are the two burdens going to be distributed? The containment burden is currently weighing on most of the world’s states, albeit not evenly, and particularly less intensely in a few global north countries that have opted for limited social distancing measures. Southern countries are generally shouldering their part, primarily out of self-interest — as their health system’s fragility leaves them no alternative — but also as an indispensable contribution to the global control of the pandemic. The latter expectation transpires from many current comments, which raise the spectre of COVID-19’s potential re-transmission from the southern hemisphere back to the north in the winter of 2020–2021.

Global north states could compensate for the southern states’ disproportionate containment burden by stepping up their contribution in carrying the financial burden. By mid-April, 90 countries had applied for emergency support or debt relief from the IMF. The IMF has in turn called on the G20 to ‘do their part’ as creditors, easing the debt burden of poorest states, and as donors, building up contributions to international financial institutions. However, for the time being the G20 has only agreed a ‘time-bound’ suspension of debt service payments, and has refrained from any new financial resource commitments such as for the IMF’s special drawing rights.

In short, global burden-sharing in the COVID-19 crisis is likely to be asymmetrical in the sense that southern states have little choice but to cooperate in containment, while there is no compulsion for northern states to contribute more financially.

On the Securitization of COVID-19

By Stephane Baele, the University of Exeter

As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates its propagation across the world, extraordinary measures are being taken by every single government: drastic confinement is ordered, massive liquidities are injected in national economies, the army is deployed in the streets, borders are closed, and the State pays private sector salaries. These are unprecedented developments for peace time. I do not call into question the effectiveness of these measures to tackle the epidemic; rather, I  build on Pandemipolitics’ first post (Heathershaw) to further unpack the process by which they have been presented as necessary by governments, and widely accepted as such by populations. Specifically, I understand this as a clear case of securitization, which I suggest allows us to highlight some of the less obvious socio-political implications the pandemic will have on the longer run.

What is “securitization”?

One of the initial formulations of the concept argues that securitization happens when “an issue is presented as an existential threat, requiring emergency measures and justifying actions outside the normal bounds of political procedure”. In their excellent handbook, Peoples and Vaughan-Williams define it as “the shifting of an issue out of the realm of ‘normal’ political debate into the realm of emergency politics by presenting it as an existential threat”. More sophisticated definitions, such as Balzacq’s, encapsulate the full scope of “heuristic artefacts” (“metaphors, policy tools, image repertoires, analogies, stereotypes, emotions, etc.”) that can be “mobilized by a securitizing actor” in order to convince the audience that a “referent subject [has] such an aura of unprecedented threatening complexion that a customized policy must be undertaken immediately”. The concept has, in particular, proved to be useful to study the consequences of securitizing moves, especially the development of extraordinary politics in the longer run.

The securitization of the coronavirus

This is where the theory could help us make sense of the politics of COVID-19. Indeed without a doubt, the coronavirus has been securitized. The presentation of the disease has shifted from a distant health issue, to a fundamental security threat requiring emergency measures bypassing normal politics. Governments and scientists (the securitizing actors) have invested the virus (the referent subject) with the “aura of unprecedented threatening complexion” against a series of different referent objects – people’s lives, the Nation/State, health services, society, etc. – to justify the unprecedented measures evoked above.

On March the 16th, Emmanuel Macron for instance proclaimed France to be “at war” — a classic and powerful securitizing analogy that immediately justifies wartime measures such as curfews or the establishment of a State-led economy. “Never had France had to take such decisions in time of peace”, he added, calling for a “sacred union” and arguing that “all these measures are necessary for our security”, to “protect our fellow citizens and the Nation’s cohesion”.

The very same day, Boris Johnson used the same war rhetoric when talking about the “national fight back” against the virus, warning that it would require “drastic action” and “extreme measures” that “are unprecedented since World War 2”. The disease, he said, “is so dangerous and so infectious that without drastic measures to check its progress it would overwhelm any health system in the world”. “We’re going to win, we’re going to beat it”, he added, as “we have the resolve and the resources to win the fight”.

Across the globe, leaders have similarly used what we called a “security lexicon” to present the virus as a fundamental threat.

So what? Thinking points on the securitization of COVID-19

Isn’t such a framing exactly what’s needed? Perhaps, but as noted above, securitization theory nonetheless identifies a series of potentially problematic effects of such framings. I build on previous studies on the securitization of diseases (for example contributions by Elbe, Sjostedt, McInnes & Rushton, or Watterson & Kamradt-Scott) to sketch below four such effects.

First, securitization is powerful. In the right circumstances, securitizing an issue can prompt a widespread acceptance of measures that would be unthinkable in normal deliberative circumstances. Left-wing people come to endorse repression, liberals suddenly support “Big Government”. I recently ran an experiment with my colleagues Travis Coan and Olivier Sterck, to evaluate the impact of quantitative information on the convincingness of securitizing language. The issue we tried to securitize was tuberculosis, and our results in terms of numbers’ power were unclear. Why? We were simply too successful in securitizing the disease: with or without numbers, almost everyone backed our extraordinary measures, even though they were “blatantly harsh”. We observed that “even left-leaning subjects tended to agree to the idea that TB is a security threat that needs to be addressed by harsh executive security measures targeting immigrants and the poor”. With such enthusiasm for emergency measures, we could hardly detect the effect of numbers…

This leads me to the second point: securitization comes with a danger of creating enemies from categories of people that are framed as threatening. In our study, the securitizing actor suggested that the poor and immigrants were more likely to contract tuberculosis and contaminate others — our extraordinary measures, which included the use of force to test them and criminalization if they were positive, were widely accepted. Even if most official speeches in the context of COVID-19 have not singled out particular groups, xenophobic remarks against people from Asian descent have been widely reported, and Trump’s labelling of the disease as a “foreign” or “Chinese” virus certainly encourage in-/out-groups dynamics. In the longer run, new lines of categorization and marginalization are likely to appear to fill the need for blame and control.

Third, with securitization short-term security measures eclipse long-term alternative ones. When the recent Ebola outbreak spread to Western states such as the US and Spain, the virus was immediately securitized. Quite rightly, assistance to Western Africa was geared towards a strong, immediate response involving the military. Yet the epidemic — and African states’ inability to face it — was also, if not primarily, a development and poverty issue, and policies addressing these underlying, structural factors have been side-lined by the militaristic emergency approach. Relatedly, security professionals are preferred to non-security actors, creating a “militarization of public health”. As Elbe explained for the case of HIV/AIDS, “the language of security simultaneously pushes responses to the disease away from civil society toward military and intelligence organizations with the power to override the civil liberties of persons living with HIV/AIDS”. As he also showed, this logic means that national responses privilege a national conception of security than an international understanding of risk. For COVID-19, it will be crucial to ensure that the security frame does not engulf alternative ones.

Fourth, while securitization is (relatively) easy, de-securitization is hard. Extraordinary measures are a resilient beast, they are hard to dismantle and can be cumulative. They may be scaled down at one point, but rarely to the initial situation. In this regard, the laws and decrees granting almost unlimited powers to governments to “do whatever it takes” to “beat” the pandemic will generate a problematic heritage once the medical situation settles. Some voices have emerged to establish surveillance on these powers, from worries in Belgium that the Prime Minister obtained a “blank cheque” to the EU and Hungarian political opponents worrying that Orban obtained extraordinary powers for an unlimited timespan. These voices, however, are still marginal. In particular, the request by states and the EU to obtain mobile operators’ data to track movement, inspired by South Korea’s “tech” response, may set a perilous precedent. 

All in all, what the securitization of COVID-19 thus indicates, is that real political struggles will only begin when the pandemic wanes — and this will happen in the difficult context of a global economic recession…

Post-scriptum on the COVID-ization of Securitization theory

I am tempted to use this post to add some, more theoretical, afterthoughts. I would like to suggest that just like our societies are challenged and re-shaped by COVID, similarly Securitization theory is unlikely to be left intact by the virus. Let me briefly enunciate, for the reader to reflect on, three questions that will need to be (re-)asked.

First, this pandemic will inevitably transform the debate on the “normative” character of Securitization theory (see for example Aradau, Floyd, or Roe). For some, Securitization theory is a critical theory aimed at highlighting and denouncing the problematic by-products of securitization highlighted above; securitization is understood to be a negative development. Yet the current pandemic seems to show that securitization may at times be warranted. At the heart of this renewed debate will be the tension, in the theory, between the objective and subjective dimensions of the threat — a tension too often deemed secondary.

Second, the ongoing developments are likely to prompt discussions on the role of legitimacy in securitization processes. The legitimacy of the securitizing actor has traditionally been understood as a “felicity condition” enhancing the change of success — but is it necessarily the case? Divisive leaders like Johnson, presidents with ailing approval ratings such as Macron, or PMs with very low social capital such as Belgium’s Wilmes, have seen their actions supported and their position reinforced across political lines, suggesting that legitimacy can also be an output of securitization.

Third and finally, this situation is also likely to invigorate research on the role of science and technical expertise in securitization. My own study mentioned above is one of the very few that specifically looks into this issue, and could not provide a clear answer. Some key conclusions from research on statistics’ impact on public perceptions of natural threats (e.g. Kahan’s “cultural cognition” project) seem to be proven wrong. Securitization theorists will have to explain how/when/if numbers participate in the construction of an issue as a fundamental threat, with everyone now attuned to concepts such as “exponential growth”, “R0”, or “inflection point”, and anxiously accessing data-heavy platforms such as Worldometer and the WHO’s or Johns Hopkins University’ coronavirus count websites.

This pandemic is not only a severe challenge to our political systems, as explained above, but also a crash-test for our major theories of IR…

Extraordinary Measures and ‘Pandemipolitics’

By John Heathershaw, the University of Exeter

“Coronavirus is the most serious public health emergency that has faced the world in a century. We are all targets, but the disease reserves its full cruelty for the weakest and the most vulnerable. To defeat it, we are proposing extraordinary measures of a kind never seen before in peacetime.”

Matthew Hancock MP, 23 March, 2020
Matt Hancock, House of Commons, 25 March, 2020

With vivid speech, the UK’s Secretary of State for Health moved the truly unprecedented Coronavirus Bill. The virus was presented as akin to a biological weapon. Politics begat security. Hancock’s was a speech act animated by ‘the specific quality characterizing security problems: Urgency; state power claiming the legitimate use of extraordinary means; a threat seen as potentially undercutting sovereignty, thereby preventing the political “we” from dealing with any other questions’.

This definition speaks to the tension between so-called ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ security affairs which has defined the study and practice of security since before the end of the Cold War. Pandemics are non-traditional in that they are not leading matters of statecraft driven by rivalries between great powers. But they are also not new, even if they have been relatively neglected by IR journals. Plagues have plagued us for years. However, the closest comparator to Covid-19 — the so-called ‘Spanish Flu’ of almost 100 years ago — was dwarfed in political consequence by the Great War which preceded it, although this took far fewer lives.

A further tension, which our current crisis lays bare, is that between objective and subjective dimensions of security. Covid-19 is a matter of security. But it is not traditionally or naturally so. It is made so by political processes of the modern ‘risk society’ which seeks to manage every problem through expertise, management and planning. According to the logic of risk management, risks are technical and data-driven; but these techniques and data effectively politicise, and then securitise, and in so doing transform societies.

Compared to the Spanish Flu, which saw relatively few ‘extraordinary measures’ such as lockdowns, Covid-19 is a security object of far greater consequence. Few people doubt that the world will change dramatically because of the crisis we are currently living few. And yet the evidence so far, and the hope we all have, is that fatalities from the coronavirus will be a tiny fraction of the estimated 50-100 million lives lost from the flu epidemic. And it is not a simple equation of greater measures = fewer deaths. Our politicians cannot be sure whether their counter-measures will kill more than the virus itself.

Certainly science is a driver of these counter-measures but so are in-built, and often unacknowledged, political choices. When a politician condemns a critic of official policy as ‘politicizing a health crisis’, they deny the already-existing pandemipolitics.

This pandemipolitics is structural and long-term. In the UK this includes a history of under-funding and under-staffing which has led to a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ICU beds, among other NHS weaknesses which make it a service of scarcity and efficiency not abundance and effectiveness. It is also individual, short-term and contingent on the choices of leaders to prioritise the economy and emphasise certain scientific ideas (e.g. ‘herd immunity’) over others (e.g. testing and quarantining) in the early stages of the pandemic.

Pandemipolitics are also matters of act and affect. Apparently strident speech acts for extraordinary measures may be undermined by other voices seeking to protect the economy. In sum, the referent objects of securitisation are multiple. As are the modes and means, be they image, sound, or text. This cacophony seems to have created a meta-securitising affect among some where combinations of fear and confusion reign. The emotional content of politics matters.

Pandemipolitics raises questions of gender and identity. So many of the authoritative global voices are strongmen and the language is often stridently paternalistic. In England, Amber Rudd asked Boris Johnson ‘where are all the women?’ in his all-male coronavirus team that has struggled to keep to a consistent line, in contrast to the all-female trio in Scotland. When it comes to global health, women are ‘over-represented in informal care roles and under-represented in leadership, decision making, and senior research roles’. It is clear that some groups — migrants, refugees, the homeless and uninsured of the global north, those subject to the healthcare systems of the global south, — will suffer most.

Pandemipolitics are also profoundly and non-traditionally spatial. The politics of Covid-19 are quintessentially transnational, although they beget traditional great power politics — such as the spat between China and America — and new nationalisms which reassert territorial borders. The virus may have originated in China but it is not in any meaningful sense ‘Chinese’. Viruses do not know the borders that are cleaved to by many. They are exacerbated by globalization but this is not a process which can simply or easily be reversed. How different spatial effects of globalization (migratory, financial, etc…) affect the pandemic is one of the greatest questions we face.

Pandemipolitics foreground environmental, economic, and societal security questions over political and military ones. The virus emanates from a zoological environment which is literally being consumed by the Anthropocene to the point that barriers to zoonotic disease have been increasingly eroded. The economic crisis has almost been simultaneous to the public health one as market crashes and unemployment have followed the lockdowns. Destructive nativisms and anti-Chinese sentiment have been countered by new local and global solidarities.

Finally, pandemipolitics raise great questions of state power. Very often, governments have followed the most vocal groups in society not led them. Apparently ‘bottom-up’ collective action has led supposedly ‘top-down’ government. At the top there is a troubling ideological dimension where authoritarian states have proven more effective than liberal democracies. But this has been overlaid by a tremendous regional variation where Eastern states, both autocracies and democracies like South Korea and Taiwan, most affected by SARS in 2003, have been far better prepared. Institutional memory matters.

All these questions and more deserve scholarly attention. This blog invites contributions which address all these questions and more, from students and scholars of International Relations and beyond. The politics of the crisis may seem like pandemonium but there is no way we can respond to the pandemic which is not political.