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[Research Reports] Human Security in Tackling the Coronavirus Pandemic: Japan's Role in a Global Solution

Daisaku Higashi (Professor, Sophia University)
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Global Issues No.4
“Research Reports” are compiled by participants in research groups set up at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, and are designed to disseminate, in a timely fashion, the content of presentations made at research group meetings or analyses of current affairs. The “Research Reports” represent their authors’ views. In addition to these “Research Reports”, individual research groups will publish “Research Bulletins” covering the full range of the group’s research themes.


The global expansion of the COVID-19 infection continues to affect our health, economic activities, and international politics, making it one of the most serious global threats that has menaced humanity in the 21st century. In this report, I first will emphasize the relationship between COVID-19 and "human security." Second, I will present my proposals on Japan's role in international efforts to address the global pandemic. Third, I would like to overview the efforts by the UN Secretary-General, who called for a "global ceasefire" in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts. Last, I would like to emphasize that Japan should play a role as a "global facilitator," together with the UN and EU, in tackling global challenges such as the pandemic, global warming, and armed conflicts.

COVID-19 and "Human Security"

In considering the problem of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential to understand that there is no solution by one single state to a global pandemic. This point was made clear in a paper by Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, published in Foreign Affairs magazine in April 2020, titled, "Finding a Vaccine Is Only the First Step:
 No One Will Be Safe Until the Whole World Is Safe." Even if one country is temporarily successful in bringing COVID-19 under control, the virus will return as soon as borders are opened and more foreign people come in, as long as infections keep increasing worldwide.

Moreover, if the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the global economy will continue to shrink, driving people around the world into poverty. This will deal a direct blow to Japanese companies, which rely heavily on exports, and will drastically increase unemployment in both Japan and the world. In short, the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be overcome unless the entire world solves the pandemic.

In this sense, I believe that the COVID-19 problem is a question of human security that a single state cannot solve. And in order to solve the global threats to human security, such as pandemics, global warming, and armed conflicts, we need to take global actions.

My Book and Japan's Role in Promoting Global Dialogue

In January this year, I published a book titled Civil War and Peace: How to End Modern War. Based on my accumulated field research on South Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan, I argue in the book that "In the Middle East, Africa and other regions, Japan appears to gain the trust of both parties to the conflict as a peace-seeking nation. Japan should take advantage of this trust to play a role in facilitating dialogue between the parties to a conflict so that they can resolve problems through face-to-face meetings." I call this role a "global facilitator."

In the book I also emphasized that the role of a "global facilitator" should cover not only conflict resolution, but also the promotion of dialogue among UN member states, NGOs, and experts to address the threats to human security that cannot be solved by one nation alone, such as global warming, natural disasters, and infectious diseases. In fact, Japan has a record of promoting international discussions in the fields of climate change and global health coverage by regularly holding international conferences and issuing reports. Two months after I published the book, the world came to be dominated by COVID-19.

My Proposal for Japan's Role in Addressing COVID-19

Facing the expansion of the pandemic, I wrote an essay published in Mainichi Newspaper on June 11, 2020 and appeared on NHK's Morning Show program on August 16; I argued that the COVID-19 pandemic should be defined as an issue of human security and urged Japan to play a central role, together with the EU and UN, to promote dialogue to address the pandemic by disseminating safe and effective vaccines. At the end of August, 170 countries announced their participation in the "COVAX Facility," a new global framework to disseminate vaccines for COVID-19 to the entire world once they are developed, and Japan also officially announced its participation.

COVAX is being led by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), which was established in 2000 under the leadership of Bill Gates to provide vaccines to developing countries at low prices; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which is a framework for global partnership established in 2017 to develop vaccines against infectious diseases; and the World Health Organization (WHO). Through this new global regime, countries that participate in COVAX and make a certain contribution will be able to access the vaccine for up to 20% of their population. On September 20, the government of Japan decided to contribute approximately 170 million USD to secure vaccines for 20% of the Japanese populace.

I believe it is crucial for Japan to play a central role in supporting this global framework to address the COVID-19 pandemic. On 25 September 2020, a cross-party group of Japanese parliament members on international affairs asked me to deliver a speech on "Tackling Corona Using a Human Security Approach: Japan's Role in Solving the Global Pandemic." In the meeting, I proposed that Japan should (1) contribute an amount equivalent to the funding by the EU (about $500 million) to the COVAX Facility's framework to support developing countries to gain access to the vaccines (Advanced Market Commitment, or AMC); (2) announce to COVAX that Japan is ready to chair an international conference to promote the COVAX Facility globally in the future; and (3) actively contribute to the establishment of a framework for the inexpensive dissemination of effective therapies in parallel with vaccines. I emphasized in front of the Japanese parliament members that "contributing to global solutions for COVID-19 will also contribute to protecting the health, economic activities, and employment of Japanese people as well."1

On September 26, the day after the above speech, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga mentioned human security and COVID-19 in his speech at the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. "The spread of the coronavirus is a human security crisis, posing a threat to the lives, livelihoods and dignity of people across the globe.... Japan fully supports the development of therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostics, and works towards ensuring fair and equitable access for all, including those in developing countries."

Following this statement, on October 8, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi announced that Japan would contribute about 130 million USD to the AMC, the financial framework to support developing countries to obtain Corona vaccines. Seth Barclay, a representative of GAVI, COVAX's main body, expressed his gratitude to Japan, saying, "We are very excited that this commitment has made Japan one of the leading donors for global vaccine deployment."

Although there has been some progress, the fight against COVID-19 will be a long one, and it is extremely important for Japan to continue to view this pandemic as a matter of human security and to play a leading role in supporting a global solution. China announced its participation in COVAX in October but, as of October 21, the United States and Russia have yet to participate. It is expected that Japan, which maintains good relations with both countries, will continue to persistently urge the United States and Russia to join the framework.

Global Infectious Diseases and Peacebuilding

The ongoing armed conflicts around the world are major obstacles to a global solution to the pandemic. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), there were 54 military conflicts around the world as of 2019 (note: UCDP defines "military conflict" as one that kills more than 25 people a year in violent clashes)2. In the regions with armed conflicts, it is extremely difficult to take measures against infectious diseases. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Ebola broke out in 2018, conflicts underway mainly in the eastern part of the country and numerous attacks on foreign medical staff made it very difficult for a long time to settle the situation. On the other hand, when Ebola broke out in Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2014, it was brought to an end in about one year with the help of thousands of international medical staff; both countries had already established a certain level of peace and stability through many years of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts before the outbreak in 2014.

United Nations Secretary-General's Call for a Global Ceasefire

Thus, it is crucial to settle military conflicts and to ensure a certain level of peace and stability in order to resolve the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, UN Secretary-General Guterres called for "global ceasefire," saying, "Our world faces a common enemy: COVID-19. The virus does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith. It attacks all, relentlessly... I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives." Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said in an interview with me, "The Secretary-General made the appeal to send a very simple and decisive message to all of us; if we, human beings, continue military conflicts, the virus will beat us." Dujarric emphasized, "In the areas of military conflicts, there are many conflicting parties who do not know how to extricate themselves from the fighting. The Secretary-General wanted them to hold the fighting for a while, think about a way out, and find a solution to achieve peace and to fight against the Corona virus."

The members of the UN Security Council attempted to adopt a resolution to support this call for global ceasefire; however, the United States and China were not able to reach agreement over whether to include the WHO in the UN Security Council resolution and, for three months, the resolution was not adopted. This was a typical and symbolic example of how the confrontation between the United States and China can damage international cooperation.

However, other countries were able to counter this impasse. In particular, Malaysia called on ten countries, including Japan, to become "co-sponsors" and to issue a joint statement in support of the UN Secretary-General's call for global ceasefire. These co-sponsors actively engaged with other member states to increase support. On June 25, a statement was issued with the signatures of 170 member states. Under the mounting pressure, the UN Security Council finally adopted a Security Council resolution on 1 July to support the UN Secretary-General's appeal, avoiding direct reference to WHO and calling for a "global ceasefire of at least 90 days."

This development was a typical demonstration of the current challenges to global cooperation even during a global pandemic. At the same time, this also symbolizes the efforts by some member states who want to maintain international cooperation to address the global crisis.

What Are the Impacts of the Call for a Global Ceasefire?

The effect of this call for a global ceasefire is still unknown. In the Yemeni conflict, Saudi Arabia announced a two-week unilateral ceasefire in April, but then resumed its military intervention one month later amid continued fighting in Yemen. On the other hand, the Syrian government is showing signs of hesitation in carrying out all-out military offensives against the opposition. In South Sudan, a new interim government for national unity was inaugurated in March 2020 based on the peace agreement reached in 2018, and a ceasefire and a peace process have been basically maintained for now. In Afghanistan, a historic peace agreement between the Taliban and the United States was concluded in February 2020. In mid-September, peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government began in Qatar over the future governance of Afghanistan. The warring parties in Libya announced a ceasefire and a basic peace agreement brokered by the UN in October 2020 and decided to hold an election in December 2021. In short, the impact of the global call is yet to be determined, but it is time for the international community to utilize this opportunity to advance peace processes around the world.

Summary: Role of Japan as a Global Facilitator

Considering the fact that the COVID-19 disaster has stricken millions around the world and is having a serious negative impact on the global economy, it is essential that Japan play a central role in advancing a global solution to the global pandemic. With regard to armed conflicts, I insist that Japan can start playing a role in facilitating dialogue among conflicting parties in some peacebuilding states, such as Afghanistan and South Sudan.

Through my presentations to the government and media, I keep insisting that Japan should position itself as a "global facilitator" to facilitate talks among conflicting parties and promote international dialogue to address the threats to human security, including the pandemic and global warming.

If Japan's government clearly expresses its determination to play a role as a global facilitator as its national strategy, I am convinced that there are many Japanese diplomats, ambassadors, and JICA officials working on the ground who would like to contribute to promoting dialogue among conflicting parties.

Likewise, if the top of the Japanese government sends its strategy as a global facilitator to the entire government, then individual ministries and agencies will consider and implement a wide range of international cooperation. For example, the Ministry of Defense could share with people in Asia and Africa its expertise on how to save lives during natural disasters, as the Japan Self-Defense Forces have accumulated expertise on life saving as a result of the natural disasters that happen almost every year in Japan. The Ministry of the Environment could promote dialogue on global warming—and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare on infectious diseases and universal health care—with other member states, the UN, NGOs, and international experts to create better solutions together.

The experience of the COVID-19 pandemic presents an important opportunity to add concrete policy to Japan's long-held concept of "human security." As the confrontation between the United States and China intensifies, I am convinced that Japan's facilitative role is welcomed by many countries around the globe, based on my field research in different conflict areas for three decades.

(Daisaku Higashi specializes in mediation and post-conflict peacebuilding. He also served as team leader for reconciliation and reintegration in UNAMA, as well as a Minister-Counsellor in the Japanese mission to the UN in charge of mediation and peacebuilding issues.)

1. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincerest thanks to Dr. Kayo Takuma, a professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University, for the wealth of advice he provided me on the COVAX Facility.
2. Pettersson, Therese & Magnus Öberg. 2020. "Organized violence, 1989-2019". Journal of Peace Research. 57(4).