Conflict risks and diplomatic opportunities in the time of pandemic


Renewed diplomatic efforts from some Gulf States

The International Crisis Group has launched a new area of study on the potential impact of the coronavirus on deadly conflict:

Much remains uncertain, but it is already clear that the pandemic could cause enormous damage in fragile states, trigger unrest and undermine international crisis management systems.

One positive response has been tentative efforts by some states, for example in the Persian Gulf, to use the crisis to pursue new diplomatic openings with regional adversaries. Unsurprisingly results have been mixed. While the UAE, for example, has made somewhat successful overtures to Iran and to Syria’s President Assad, Qatar’s pandemic diplomacy with Bahrain has faltered.

While the immediate results are limited, a strategy of gradual confidence-building can help lay the groundwork for politically-focused diplomatic overtures down the line.

For the full article see: Covid and Gulf Foreign Policy (Elham Fakhro,, 20 Apr 2020)

Colombia and Venezuela need to work together to tackle Covid-19

In another report in this new series, Crisis Group details the shared response that is urgently needed from the opposing parties inside Venezuela and between that country and its neighbour Colombia:

Geography, economics and migration patterns dictate that Colombia and Venezuela, which severed diplomatic ties in 2019, will confront the coronavirus pandemic together. The two countries should temporarily mend their relations, and the Venezuelan factions should pause their duel, to allow for a coordinated humanitarian response.

For further work by the Crisis Group to identify measures to mitigate the destabilizing impacts of the pandemic on global security, see: The Covid-19 Pandemic and Deadly Conflict (

WHO update: launch of new global collaboration

On 24 April the World Health Organization held an online event featuring leaders from around the world (minus the USA) to launch the Access to Global Tools (ACT)Accelerator, an initiative meant to ramp up collaborative work on COVID-19 tests, potential treatments and vaccines.

French President Emmanuel Macron, a co-host of the event, urged all G7 and G20 countries to get behind the initiative, adding:

And I hope we’ll manage to reconcile around this joint initiative both China and the U.S., because this is about saying ‘the fight against COVID-19 is a common human good and there should be no division in order to win this battle’.

Another high profile participant, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, stated:

This concerns a global public good, to produce this vaccine and to distribute it in all parts of the world.

In related news, China has increased its funding to the WHO in the wake of the Trump administration pull-back, discussed in our 17 April blog – WHO is a vital organization we all must defend.

Whither Canada’s Official Opposition?

In the meantime, the Conservative Party of Canada continues its apparent race to the bottom with leadership candidate Derek Sloan posting a message and video on Facebook and Twitter, which read in part:

Dr. Tam [Canada’s chief public health officer] must go! Canada must remain sovereign over decisions. The UN, the WHO and Chinese Communist propaganda must never again have a say over Canada’s public health!

Globe and Mail reporter, Marieka Walsh, compared the response of some rank –and-file members of the Conservative party to the leadership cadre:

Conservative MPs Michael Chong, Eric Duncan, Eric Melillo and Michelle Rempel Garner all condemned Mr. Sloan’s comments, leaving them out of step with their party’s most senior officials. The Conservative Party did not provide comment nor did the party’s leadership committee co-chairs. None of the other three leadership candidates would criticize Mr. Sloan.

USA, Israel and West Bank annexation

In another law-flouting act by the Trump administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was an “Israeli decision” whether to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, an intention reiterated by Israeli President Netanyahu shortly after he regained power.

It is illustrative to consider how western mainstream media like the New York Times or Reuters described the relevant international law regarding such an annexation:

The Palestinians and many countries regard settlements as illegal under the Geneva Conventions that bar settling on land captured in war. Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.

Here is the actual legal status as accurately reported in Middle East Eye:

The acquisition of these territories by force is illegal under international law. Late in 2016, the UN Security Council declared that Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are a “flagrant violation under international law”.

In stunning contrast to the Canadian government’s silence on the matter, the EU was unequivocal in its denunciation, issuing a warning that the Israeli government’s intention to annex parts of the occupied West Bank “would constitute a serious violation of international law.”

A compelling article in Foreign Policy (subscribers’ only) further elucidates why a long-standing friend and supporter of Israel should strongly oppose annexation:

…because it would jeopardize Israel’s future as a democratic, Jewish state by making a two-state solution unviable; because it would damage Israel’s relations with Jordan; because it would violate international law; because it ignores the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people; and because it could be a harbinger of greater regional instability and possibly violence.

While the article was directed at Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden, the reasons it advances for forthrightly speaking out against illegal Israeli annexation of the West Bank apply equally to Canada.

Whither Canada?

We call on the Government of Canada to demonstrate a commitment to international law commensurate with Canada’s historic role therein and befitting a nation seeking a seat on the UN Security Council.

A reality check on post-covid progress toward a better world

We have devoted considerable space in some recent blogs to the apparent silver lining in this awful pandemic – a renewed sense of multilateralism, a determination to rethink security to encompass old/new notions of cooperative, human and sustainable security and to focus on the real threats to humanity – climate change, environmental degradation and gross inequality within and between states.

But Robert Malley, current President and CEO of the International Crisis Group, provides a cold dose of reality, arguing that we can take nothing for granted in a post-pandemic world:

At first blush, the coronavirus pandemic seems likely to corroborate the argument for deeper international cooperation to confront shared global challenges. But crises tend to intensify and accelerate preexisting trends – in this case, the rise of anti-globalist nativism.

He goes on:

…it is hard to believe that the socioeconomic despair caused by the pandemic will not prepare the ground for an even stronger nativist and xenophobic surge. In many countries, the scapegoating of foreigners and minorities has already begun.

For the full article, see: The International Order After Covid-19 (, 24 Apr 2020).

But we did not include this commentary as a counsel of despair, but a clarion call to action. All around the world folks are getting brief, searing glimpses of the just, peaceful and sustainable world we can create in the wake of the coronavirus devastation. Let that be our guide.

Postcript: For a chilling description of where we are headed in the event President Trump wins re-election, and the consequent need for world leaders who believe in multilateralism – and the overwhelming majority do – to stand up to the bully, see:

Jeffrey Sachs Tells Vatican Conference Trump’s Re-election Would Make US “Absolutely Dangerous” (, 5 Feb 2020).

Photo credit: Wikimedia images (ICC)


Tags: Colombia and Venezuela,, Gulf States, International Crisis Group (ICG), international law, jeffrey sachs, Robert Malley President and CEO of ICG, West Bank annexation, WHO and ACT initiative, World Health Organization (WHO)