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Imperialism, International Law and the Health of the International System
09، Apr 2020

By Wesam Ahmad

The emergence of science in the media headlines, a place generally held by international politics, is just one byproduct of the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the world.  A recent statement, however, by the president of the United States of America implying that the funding to the World Health Organization was at risk, provided a welcome change to the media narrative; especially for those under home quarantine who chose to pursue law instead of medicine.  

Although the issue of American threats to the funding of an international body may have seemed out of the ordinary to many viewers; for Palestinians there was a brief sense of a return to normalcy.  Afterall, American threats to international bodies, financial or otherwise, are nothing new to Palestinians.  From UNESCO to the UN Human Rights Council, to the International Criminal Court, the US has repeatedly used its leverage to try and inoculate Israel from criticism or accountability within the international institutions that are supposed to preserve the integrity and healthy functioning of the international system.  

Unlike previous instances, however, this threat did not involve Palestinian pursuits, rather American perceptions that the WHO was biased towards China.  Regardless of the view from the vantage point of the US, the rhetoric of leverage and consequences directed at the WHO has helped to shed light on the structural weakness of the international system.  Like the Palestinian experiences with curfews, closures and surveillance, the pandemic has also provided a glimpse into the Palestinian experience involving international law and international institutions within the international system.    

Although, the differences between a localized conflict involving two social systems and those of a pandemic involving nature and humanity are many; the similarities at a systemic level should not be ignored.  In the same way that one family failing to adhere to a quarantine order can impact the entire community; one state’s disregard for international law can impact the entire international community.  It is the ability of the community to effectively ensure adherence to the rules in plac, that will determine the long-term health and viability of the whole community, and its constituent parts.  

An additional byproduct of the pandemic is the elevation of systemic problems to the level of general consciousness, along with the inquisitive curiosity into understanding the causes behind the perpetuation of those problems, and how they can be addressed.  Whether or not the virus is a cause or consequence will naturally depend on one’s perception.  In the context of this pandemic, the virus is called Covid-19.  In the context of international law and the international system, the virus could be novel imperialism.  However, rather than simply being biologically driven by the instinctive pursuit of survival and reproduction; imperialism is psychologically driven by a conscious pursuit of power, wealth and status.  

With much of humanity’s focus currently on finding a cure for Covid-19, the opportunities for research and reflection that come with isolation, in order to better understand the problems within the international system and pursue solutions that can at least better regulate imperialism, if not suppress it, should not be wasted.  Unfortunately, however, the greater challenge for humanity is found in the case of imperialism; because addressing it requires the pursuit of such an endeavor with an understanding that a 100% effective cure will never be found, and so long as human beings exist; it will never be completely eradicated.               


The views expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect the views of the Al-Haq Organization.