By Zahra Mirzafarjouyan

Biological viruses part of future ruthless asymmetrical warfare: Ogutcu

April 12, 2020 - 19:25

TEHRAN – Stating that tomorrow’s wars will no longer be fought by tanks, fighter jets, and missiles, Mehmet Ogutcu said, “The biological viruses are part of this ruthless asymmetrical warfare without causing bloodshed and physical destruction.”

The current coronavirus pandemic ravaging every corner of the world and many states are desperate in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Nations and governments are panicking and the economy has already collapsed. This crisis is expected to deepen more and more without a serious global willingness and cooperation.

Due to the great impact of the coronavirus on the world from different aspects, many believe that changes to existing world order and international relations are inevitable in the post-corona era. 

In an effort to make the dimension of the changes to the existing world order by coronavirus clearer, we reached out to Mehmet Ogutcu, Chairman of the London Energy Club.

Here is the full text of the interview:

What will be the effects of coronavirus on the current world order?

There has been no shortage of debates on the new world order, particularly during the 30 years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet we have not been able to create a viable new blueprint for the global governance in trade, finance, investment, geopolitics, and energy, boding well with all the dramatic changes and requirements.

One reason for this has been the reluctance of the US, portrayed as the “sole superpower," to open space in the international arena for other emerging dynamic powers like China, India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, as well as regional heavyweights such as Turkey and Iran.

A glimmer of hope has emerged with the corona calamity given that we all recognize that the only way out is to revive the spirit of international co-operation and solidarity. Clearly, no nation alone can contain or survive such a dangerous contagion and its aftermath. It is for this reason that the US-China-EU trio, which controls the summitry of our world, must embark upon an urgent collaborative program, not only for themselves but for the entire globe. This may also help us lay the foundations of a long-overdue world order to take account of new realities on the ground and heal the wounds of our common planet.

Yet, it is still early, in my view, for this sacred desire to materialize any time soon no matter how much we want and the current circumstances force it on us simply because the leadership in Washington, Brussels, Moscow, and Beijing is not ready to take such a vital step. They are more concerned about their declining fortunes and future aspirations of supremacy than rewriting the rules that have governed all life on this planet.

They do not want the fragile balance of power to be upset and give advantage to other aspirants that emerge powerfully in the global equation. It is a great pity and missed opportunity that will have devastating consequences.

The current world order is largely based on liberalism and to some extent on realism approaches. What are the deficiencies of the said approaches revealed by coronavirus?

We must admit that the corona pandemic, like the attacks of September 11, 2001, the financial crisis of 2008 and many great depressions before it, has brought about a tremendous shock that will not go away anytime soon.

We do not know how long it will linger on and whether there will be a second wave of another virus, as speculated, to further shock us.

Whilst we expect common, coordinated actions at the global level, the cracks amongst the traditional power centers, the US and Europe, are growing wide and internal solidarity is set to weaken. Russia is trying to create a strong position for itself in Eurasia, considered to be its ”backyard," and even in the Middle East and East Mediterranean, and has built an effective  “marriage of convenience" with China.

Can the Chinese leadership fill the gap left by the US? Does Beijing go beyond the regional superpower role and take on the global free investment and trade championship? Will it take the helm in climate change and energy as well?

China is struggling to tackle its own structural economic problems, which were challenging to the lead even before the disaster struck Wuhan. 

Whether the unchecked power of the Chinese government is the main reason the country has successfully slowed—and perhaps even stopped—domestic transmission of the virus is of course questionable. Will China emerge from the crisis a stronger global power?

True, this crisis has also laid bare gaps in American policy. Biodefense is a key component of national security; the US needs to put more technology to work tracking diseases before the next big outbreak, as China has successfully done. 

The EU faces growing problems with its cohesion: Southerners and northerners are having a shouting match over the proposal for corona bonds, while Viktor Orbán’s Hungary is turning even more authoritarian, supposedly in the name of combating the outbreak. If the EU disintegrates into a loose and weak grouping of powerful individual members, this may not be a big surprise.

I believe that free, transparent and efficient economic and political systems are needed to win the fight against the coronavirus and drive the recovery. The leadership gap is bigger than any other gap in the West.

Despite all odds, we must maintain our optimism and prepare ourselves to avoid an unexpected fait accompli.

Although the outbreak of the virus has put the realism and self-help approaches in the center of the focus, it also has revealed deficiencies of the realism which is based on state security and looks at the security issue just militarily. The outbreak of the virus also showed that militaristic economies also are not able to maintain the security of nations and governments in the post-corona era. What do you think of this?

An increasingly interconnected world means that the global impact of what has historically been local disease outbreaks can have far-reaching political, social and economic consequences.

The military cannot escape its devastating effects.

In an age of intercontinental-range ballistic missiles, long-range bombers and remotely controlled drones, the role of the military will also change.

Although we still have direct or proxy conventional wars being waged in different parts of the world, I believe that tomorrow’s wars will no longer be fought by tanks, fighter jets, and missiles. The battlefields are trade, investment, technology, currency, energy, water, food, and values.

The biological viruses are no doubt part of this ruthless asymmetrical warfare without causing bloodshed and physical destruction. Recently, 10 drones were enough to wipe out almost half of the Saudi oil production and processing facilities.

Not surprisingly, the corona outbreak has given rise to conspiracy theories that the virus is man-made and it could possibly be a Chinese bioweapon, originally developed in a military medical research facility outside Shanghai. Likewise, the Chinese government spokesman blamed the US for developing this virus and spreading it in Wuhan in a hostile action to contain the “Middle Kingdom”.

Thank God, both sides later declared a “ceasefire” in this exchange of accusations. However, even a mention of this possibility demonstrates that the coronavirus could well be an effective biological weapon if any side really wanted to use it.

It has already locked us in homes, caused the cruise industry to sink, stocks to plummet, food supply chains to disrupt and global mobility to stop. You can hardly achieve these through a conventional military action alone.

Even while most of the attention has been focused on the virus’ impact on health policy and the economy — and rightfully so — there are security implications resulting from the spread. We do not seem to have a Plan B for dealing with such outbreaks or the impacts on our military preparedness and operations. Even in NATO’s most recent strategic concept, an official policy document to guide the Alliance to prepare for future threats, there is not even a single mention of the word “pandemic”.

There are news reports that some military forces are trying to take advantage of the contagion crises in Iraq, Syria, and Libya by launching new attacks.

I believe that the coronavirus is a warning to us; unless we pull ourselves together for an effective, non-selfish global response and move towards creating a novel order to achieve peace, prosperity and ecological balance, the worst-case scenarios may come true, unfortunately.

If we accept that the post-corona world order will be different from the existing one, will the changes be structural and fundamental ones? Which meanings will experience fundamental changes?

Let’s remember that after World War II, the common understanding of why both world wars took place was nationalism and not providing room to major nations on the world stage.

If today more countries go the way of Trump’s US, saying “every sheep hangs on its own leg” and “my country first," it is unlikely that in the post-corona era we will be evolving towards a new environmentally friendly, healthy, conflict-free, equitable global order in finance, energy, trade, geopolitical that we all aspire.

It is common knowledge that effective governance is not necessarily the strong suit of liberal democracies. Rather, the true merits of a liberal society are its freedom of the press and information, and its rule of law. This does not guarantee a timely response to a virus outbreak. Singapore tolerates far more freedom of information than China, and South Korea is a liberal democracy. Their responses to the pandemic have been relatively successful so far, although their situations have not been as dire as in China’s Hubei province.

The solution, therefore, is a hybrid regime that combines the voice of the people through popular elections with more decision-making power given to the “meritocrats”. The emphasis of the Asian value of collectivism over individualism – a factor often attributed to the emergence of the “East Asia miracle” in the second half of last century – is also mentioned as one of the main reasons behind this region’s success in fighting the pandemic better than the Western nations.

As a result of the current trends we follow, we may end up with the first stage of globalization coming to a halt. The second phase will not resemble what we have become accustomed to and may not be as free and liberal as the first. It can be an ugly and dangerous one.

In this age of rapidity and in light of the lessons learned from previous crises and conflicts, it is sad to say that a common effort cannot be launched swiftly and we have to wait further until our pains and hopelessness will grow everywhere. This will accompany, it goes without saying, serious social and political disturbances that will exasperate the situation.

Mehmet Ogutcu is Chairman of the London Energy Club and CEO for the Global Resources Partnership. He was a former Turkish diplomat, advisor to the Prime Minister, a senior executive of International Energy Agency, OECD and British Gas.

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