The COVID-19 pandemic has created a number of challenges for countries the world over as they have been forced to adopt new measures to ensure not only the health and safety of their citizens but also the sustainability of organizational structures.
The positive or negative lessons learned from the pandemic offer valuable experience for future crises and how they should improve state capacity.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Prof. Dr. Haluk Alkan from the political science and international relations department at Istanbul University discussed the state structure and its capacity, the importance of leadership and the role of international organizations amid the virus outbreak.
Alkan said governments, while dealing with the outbreak, had difficulty mobilizing their full capacity, including in fields such as health services, production, supply chains and security, leading to their adoption of different approaches — some of which were hailed as a success and some viewed as a failure.
“States are now in need of a revision to increase their existing capacity regarding organizational, institutional, financial and personal aspects against crises at a global level,” he said, adding it was possible for governments to adopt a more flexible organizational model to empower their organizational status.
According to the academician, the concept of political leadership is yet another area that will be significantly affected due to the spread of the disease.
Arguing that populist leaders gained public attention by tapping into the discontent within society and their criticism of the current status quo along with power relations, he went on to say that such leaders were not really that effective in bringing an organizational solution to the grievances they complained about to come to power. Among them are the leaders, for instance, who first backed the idea of herd immunity.
“Brazilian President [Jair] Bolsonaro is a really good example. The lack of [state] capacity is the main reason behind prioritizing the populist discourse and the strategy of sticking to the herd immunity in Brazil, although many other countries abandoned it,” he said.
“A similar situation also exists in authoritarian countries weak in terms of state capacity. It is attention-grabbing that countries such as North Korea have not reported any cases or announced only a few.”
Leaders who are capable of balancing democratic institutions and state capacity, remain sensitive to democratic legitimacy and accountability, and gain public trust while keeping communication channels open and use state capacity in a flexible way are likely to get more attention in the post-virus period, according to Alkan.
The virus crisis, especially in its early phase, caused the international community to question the reliability of regional and international alliances as well. One of the finest examples of this was visible in the Europe, where influential countries were busy confiscating medical equipment from one another.
“The European Union, the best example of integration, failed at establishing a cooperation mechanism with member countries to combat the outbreak. The member countries that should have taken more responsibility became introverted, and both Italy and Spain were left alone,” he said, adding member countries with smaller populations also went through hard times.
On the other hand, other countries such as Russia and China, which provided medical aid, sought to use this internal European crisis as leverage to increase their acceptance and influence in the international community by sharing their state capacity to combat the virus, he said.
He said Turkey, which extended a helping hand to 138 countries, followed solidarity-based foreign policy amid the pandemic and became part of international efforts to combat the outbreak.
“Along with capacity-sharing, Turkey also contributed to the process by becoming part of treatment and vaccination efforts and offering medical devices,” he said.
The pandemic once again proved that states should have self-sufficiency to some extent to be able deal with global crises, given that they might find themselves all alone as countries might prioritize their own grievances over others.
Alkan said many global companies had previously built factories in foreign countries due to advantages such as low costs and taxes, but home countries now could ask such companies to invest at home more so they could tackle large-scale crises such as the pandemic in an easier fashion.
“[US President Donald] Trump had already initiated this. The COVID-19 outbreak might make this approach more popular. After all, the disruptions in the global supply chain make states obliged to turn their faces to their own neighborhoods,” he said.
He further noted that the measures adopted as part of efforts against the outbreak were likely to adversely affect many sectors in the coming days, including transportation, tourism, services and education. Therefore, the states would have additional burdens on their shoulders.
As for the financial dimension of the crisis, he said the states were now in a position to reshape their approach towards the economy and humanitarian values, adding they should take more responsibilities and question the ongoing economic trend where non-state actors had been becoming more dominant since the 1980s.
Since first appearing in Wuhan, China last December, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 188 countries and regions. The US, Brazil and Russia are currently the hardest-hit countries.
The pandemic has killed more than 534.400 people worldwide, with infections surpassing 11.45 million and recoveries over 6.18 million, according to figures compiled by US-based Johns Hopkins University.
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