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The Financial Express

US prepares to fight wars amid surging Covid-19 infections

| Updated: May 06, 2021 21:50:09


US is accelerating deliveries of its first new long-range anti-ship missiles in decades    —Reuters photo US is accelerating deliveries of its first new long-range anti-ship missiles in decades    —Reuters photo

The United States (US) under the Biden Administration is getting on a war footing with  China and Russia as the world is experiencing a new surge in Covid-19 infections, especially in countries such as India, Brazil, Peru, Chile  and others. The US with more than 600,000 deaths from Covid 19 pandemic is set to increase its defence spending by 4.4 per cent from last year to US$870 billion this year.  This is the third consecutive year of growth in military spending.

The US accounted for 39 per cent of total global military expenditure in 2020. Such massive defence spending when money is needed for a globally coordinated emergency programme to save lives is indicative of where the US priorities lie. The fight against the Covid-19 pandemic by its nature is a global effort. In fact, it is hard to imagine a single event that could make the case for international cooperation more forcefully than a global pandemic.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) global military expenditure rose by 2.6 per cent to US$1.98 trillion in 2020 as some countries reallocated their defence fund to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. It further added that "the pandemic did not have a significant impact on global military spending in 2020". Five countries accounted for 62 per cent of military spending in 2020; they were the US, China, India, Russia and the United Kingdom. Global GDP declined due the pandemic, yet military spending as a share of GDP went up by 2.2 per cent in 2020 relative to 2019. This jump represented the largest year-on-year increase in military spending since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008.

India did relatively well than other countries  at the start of the pandemic, prompting the Hindu supremacist government of Narendra Modi to claim in March this year that the country was in Covid-19's "endgame". However, the Covid-19 situation now in India in general and its national capital Delhi in particular is terrible. Harrowing scenes from India have shocked the world, as the country struggles with soaring cases of  infection. The surge in Covid-19 infections in India brought the health care system to a state of collapse. But the new outbreak of the pandemic is not just a crisis for India, it is a crisis for all around the world. The situation in India is a stark reminder that no one is safe until every one is safe.

India now accounts for more than 1 in every 3 reported case of corona virus cases in the world, where new cases now exceed those of the US during its peak. Covid-19 death now stands at 200,000  and rising. Even this figure is considered an under-estimation. According to the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) the actual number of Covid-19 cases  and deaths is likely to be far greater than official figures. India's popular TV journalist Barkha Dutt who lost her father to Covid-19 told the British ITV channel of under-reporting of Covid-19 figures. Another Indian Journalist Rana Ayyub also told the British TV channel-4 that the death figure was 10 times more than the official figure.

Now hospitals in Delhi have run out of oxygen, a number of people died while waiting for oxygen. Reports of horrific asphyxiation from exhausted oxygen supply have become familiar news. India is now short of everything that are needed to fight Covid-19 - hospital beds, oxygen, PPE, vaccines. Even short of fire wood and space  for cremation. India's brittle health care system is now in a state of collapse.

The US has championed India to be global engine to produce Covid-19 vaccines, but the US and China now manufacture more vaccines than India. India now imports vaccines from Russia. Ironically India's attempt to produce large volumes of vaccines is thwarted by none other country than the US itself. According to the leading vaccine manufacturers in India, the Serum Institute of India, its input supply problems are the result of the US use of the Defence Production Act which limits the exports of critical inputs needed to make vaccine doses by the Indian producer. The covid-19 pandemic has triggered a ferocious eruption of nationalism and xenophobia thwarting the global initiative to combat the pandemic.

To further complicate the issue, pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to amend the world's strict intellectual property rights to enable countries to increase production and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. This is because they would lose billions of dollars in revenue earnings. Now billionaire Bill Gates has become the main public face to defend the cause of strict adherence to the intellectual property rights with regard to Covid-19 vaccines. In an interview with Britain's Sky News he explained his reasons for various formulations of for vaccine not to be shared so that production and distribution can increase. In response to  a question, Gates said, "people are very serious about the safety of the vaccine" with an implicit hint that to allow unpatented production of vaccines may lead to the production of a kind of moonshine brew.

But last week countries such as Britain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, even China in the midst of a border dispute with India offered help with vaccines, oxygen generators/ventilators etc. But it was the US that generated anger among  many Indians for its delayed response to the crisis in India in view of India being drafted as a key "democratic" ally in Asia only a couple of months ago to advance the cause of democracy and freedom in other Asian countries notwithstanding William Blum, a former US State Department official and journalist describing democracy as the "deadliest export" of the US.

The Washington Post (April 24, 2021), the mouthpiece of the American political establishment in an article entitled "Opinion: India's sudden coronavirus wave is not a far away problem" by the Editorial Board wrote " can India, population 1.3 billion, be isolated? Not easily". Such a view must be very upsetting for Indian friends of America who number millions. For the benefit of the Washington Post it should be clearly asserted that India can not be isolated and will continue to remain an integral part of the global community regardless of whatever crises India might be facing. Bangladesh as its neighbouring country must do everything possible within its means to help India at this critical time in its history.

But the US' delayed response to  its close ally India's pandemic crisis did not in anyway interfere with continuing its aggressive military posturing against Russia and China. The US or more precisely NATO's military confrontation with Russia on  the Ukraine issue remains a serious security concern for Russia with the consequences for Europe. Also, the US confrontation in the South China Sea is rising in view of the deteriorating relationship with China as a result of ongoing problematic trade relations and recrimination over the  Coronavirus and other issues.

The US and its NATO allies' policy of expanding the NATO's reach is to encircle Russia using the Russia-Ukraine conflict, but it only resulted in Russian-Ukrainian political-military standoff and also a balancing game in the Baltic and the Black Sea region. Also, the intensification of military activity near each others' borders, control over the Artic, Middle East are the long list of conflict zones between Russia and NATO.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in his recent annual state of the union address has warned the West not to cross a "red line" with Russia and then further added such a move would trigger an "asymmetrical, rapid and harsh" response. Later President Putin's spokesperson Dimitry Peskov provided what factors constitute those red lines. But the Russia-India relationship is also of great concern to the US in its attempt to get the QUAD becoming fully operational given Russia's negative stance on the issue.

But it is  China and the South China that remain principal focus of US military posturing. The US has doubled its military spending  in the Asia-Pacific region  with the intention to ring fence China with 400 military base across the region, especially bases in Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. This encirclement of China is designed to prevent China from asserting its control over its own territorial waters in the South China Sea. The US National Security Strategy clearly outlines it objective in the Indo-Pacific region to prevent China to exercise its rights in its territorial waters.

The US has decided to combine the South China Sea issue with separate lines of attack over Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Coronavirus, trade war and other issues in an all out effort to contain China. At the same time the US is also building a coalition of countries to contain China drawing in countries like Australia, India, Japan and the UK.

A senior Australian security official last week warned that Indo-Pacific nations "again hear the beating drums' of war amid rising tensions. Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton saw war over Taiwan as a looming prospect. Former Australian Defence Minister Christopher Pyne also warned recently that Australia could face war with China in coming years. The UK has already sent an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea.

In response to Dutton's remark, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that Taiwan was part of China's internal affair and further added that Australia should recognise that Taiwan was  a sensitive issue and abide by one China policy. It is to be noted that both the US and Australia recognise only one China, Taiwan being part of that China.

According to the Global Times  quoting a think tank report, "In unprecedented moves  that aimed to deter China, the US military repeatedly deployed strategic weapon platforms, including aircraft carrier strike groups, to the South China Sea in 2020. It is likely that it will continue to rally regional allies and partners to interfere in regional affairs and enhance its frontier military presence, as well as, the intensity of its activity in the region in an effort to achieve maritime containment of China". All these are designed to put maximum pressure on China. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that the actions of the US military in the region were in danger of "crossing the line".

The US-China wrangle over the South China sea is growing and the Covid-19 pandemic further added to the US becoming more aggressive because the US perceives  that China is gaining ground in the battle against the pandemic, thus giving China the ability to fill in any power vacuum. In fact,  the US is increasingly becoming very desperate to maintain it supremacy in the region in the face of rising economic and military power of China and that makes the situation more dangerous.

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