The future of climate security and pandemic security
Interview with SPF Senior Research Fellow Kazumine Akimoto

June 22, 2020

You recently published a paper on the SPF website that begins by tracing pandemics throughout history and considering their relationship with increasing globalization. How do you see the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic potentially impacting the concept of globalization?
I suggested in my paper that international society should take advantage of this rare opportunity to reshape globalization so as to create a more favorable and stable world order. Throughout human history, pandemics have been created as a result of globalization, and in turn they have impacted the social order and international relations. For instance, the Black Death in the 14th century spread rapidly across the Eurasian continent as a result of the increasing connectivity caused by the expansion of the Mongolian Empire. Another example, the Spanish Flu, spread to every corner of the world during the First World War, and caused a pandemic after the war. The First World War began in 1914 and lasted until 1918. During this period, more than 70 million soldiers were deployed around the world. The Spanish flu was made into a pandemic by the globalization of war.
Both pandemics – the Black Death and the Spanish Flu – caused a paradigm shift in the social order and international structures in what can be called a change from “normal” to a “new normal.” The phrase “new normal” usually refers to lifestyle, though let me use this word for social order and international relations as well.
The Black Death changed the power structure of Europe in the Middle Ages. The manorial system collapsed and the feudal status system was dismantled. Religious reformation began and the Renaissance progressed. The conventional regime of medieval Europe drastically changed.
The Spanish Flu pandemic began after the end of the First World War, and it had a great impact on the reconstruction during the World War era. Territorial boundaries in the Soviet State were consolidated, and people began to seek strong political leadership. In the background of this prevailing populism, Nazism appeared. Instead of moving toward the idea of the League of Nations advocated by then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, the world proceeded to the formation of power blocs.
Responding to your question about the COVID-19 pandemic reshaping the concept of globalization, I think most nations cannot escape the international movement that comes with reshaping globalization, which will inevitably take place. We can see examples of exclusive nationalism and protectionism in the context of the current globalization, especially in the U.S., China, and the EU. The U.S. used to be a strong driving power of the global economy, but now is the nation claiming America First. China is enjoying the benefits of globalization as the center of the supply chain. Now the U.S. and China are escalating their confrontation over the outbreak of COVID-19, both in diplomacy and the military.
As for the European countries, major EU states decided to adopt lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There is a concern that the idea of the EU will be endangered by city lockdowns. The 1649 Westphalia treaties reconfirmed the exclusive national power and balance of power among the European states. I cannot deny that the European world may return to Westphalian sovereignty.
Nevertheless, globalization should not be stopped if we want to invigorate our economic productivity again. What is needed then is the idea of reshaping this globalization. Reshaping refers to the movement toward creating a more favorable and stable globalized world. The most important step is to promote liberal democratic governance and to contain the influence of authoritarianism. To realize this kind of governance, constitutional states that adopt liberal democracy and abide by international law should reconfirm the necessity of establishing a global order in diplomacy, the economy, and security.
As for the question about whether the world could return to normal or go to a new normal, I'd like to say that the international society must take advantage of this opportunity to create a new normal, which provides a stage for more stable globalism by realizing a world governed by policy based on liberal democracy.
In your paper you draw a connection between the concept of what you call climate security and pandemic security. What are these two concepts and how do you see them as related?
Pandemics are closely related not only to globalization but also to environmental problems. Nowadays, people in the world are combatting global warming caused by human-originated climate change. This challenge has been labeled climate security and placed under the broader umbrella of the overall security agenda. Pandemics are also associated with environmental problems. History has shown that unknown plagues break out on the occasion of close encounters between human kind and an unknown life form or object in an unusual or contaminated environment.
Now, human society must establish a new security concept to include pandemics on the agenda of comprehensive security. I named this new concept pandemic security. Pandemic security and climate security are common challenges in today’s interconnected world. We should incorporate pandemic security and climate security into the efforts toward reconstructing and reshaping globalization after the termination of COVID-19 so that we can resolve the problem of global warming in tandem with serious epidemics.
What are the critical actions that governments, academia, international governing bodies, or individuals should take in order to confront these new security challenges?
For international governing bodies, it is firstly recommended to investigate and verify the location and pace of the outbreak and determine what procedures are suitable to control infections. These results will provide the basis for future pandemic security. Governments should work to reshape the concept of globalization. For academics, we should urge policymakers to review the concept of comprehensive security in the reshaped globalizing world.
In the Ocean Policy Research Institute of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, the security team is now tackling a project named “Climate Security Governance,” in which we are studying how the military and law enforcement forces can contribute to resolving climate problems caused by global warming. We are planning to have an international conference in February or March of 2021 to present our proposal.
Rear Admiral Kazumine Akimoto is a graduate of the Chiba Institute of Technology. His service career began in 1967 when he joined the JMSDF. After completing the Command and Staff Course at the Maritime Staff College, he held several positions in the Maritime Staff Office (MSO) and the Operation Evaluation Office. He was assigned as a senior researcher at the National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS) at the Japan Defense Agency (now Ministry of Defense) in 1995. He retired from JMSDF and resigned from the NIDS in 2000, and joined the Ocean Policy Research Foundation (now, Ocean Policy Research Institute of Sasakawa Peace Foundation) as a senior research fellow. His fields of research in OPRI is maritime security, naval strategy, and security governance. He has written numerous articles including “Sea Power Renaissance,” “Paradigm Shift of the Sea Power,” “A Sinister Shadow Lurking in the Sea Lane,” and “Structural Weakness and Threat in the Sea Lanes.”

Additional links:

•  To read "A New Security Outlook Claimed by the COVID-19 Crisis," visit the From the Oceans page.
•  For more from the Ocean Policy Research Institute, visit the program page.

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