New coalition needed to lead global post-coronavirus plan of action

By Harlan Ullman, Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist
Whatever plans the U.S. government has made to deal with the coronavirus seem to lack a coherent and integrated framework.  Photo by Stefanie Reynolds/UPI
Whatever plans the U.S. government has made to deal with the coronavirus seem to lack a coherent and integrated framework.  Photo by Stefanie Reynolds/UPI | License Photo

April 8 (UPI) -- Planning rather than the plan counts more. The process of matching aims, means and ends often has different inputs. However, any serious activity, particularly government, would be derelict without strong planning, especially in crisis.

Make no mistake: The United States, along with much of the world, is in crisis. So what is being done to stem this pandemic? And what does the public know or need to know that it is not being told?


Thus far, whatever plans the U.S. government has made to deal with the coronavirus seem to lack a coherent and integrated framework. Furthermore, who is in charge of what and how any overlapping areas of responsibility are to be resolved is unclear. For example, what is the division of labor between the Coronavirus Task Force headed by the vice president and whatever parallel efforts are underway led by the president's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner?


While references to World War II are understandable, coronavirus cannot be fought and beaten as if this were a war. While wartime enemies often are unpredictable, they are rarely invisible. Still, as in a shooting war, sound planning is vital and irreplaceable if victory is to be achieved.

The virus has exposed one of the most dangerous and unintended vulnerabilities and frailties created by globalization and diffusion of power. During the Cold War, the unfortunate shorthand of MAD -- mutual assured destruction -- underscored the threat of societal thermonuclear annihilation. Today, a new and different MAD should be one of the key foundations of national and global security planning: massive acts of disruption. Disruption is now a fifth horseman of the apocalypse.

Additional disruptive threats beyond pandemics run from cyber, which can interfere with the Internet; climate change that brings destruction; and other transnational dangers from proliferation and terrorism to displaced populations. The first priority, however, must be COVID-19.

A three-pronged planning effort is needed. The first is directed at home and must include actions to defeat the virus and prevent its re-occurrence and how to lead and manage the recovery. A new form of the Old Marshall Plan is essential for accelerating recovery. Central to this plan is a coordinated organization with clear-cut assignments of responsibility, authority and accountability clearly defined. And planning must include all three branches of government, as too often the judiciary is ignored.


Second, success in a single or several countries will not defeat the virus. A global plan of action is likewise essential. The initial Group of 20 tele-meeting was a first step. Far more is needed. Whatever the format -- the United Nations is probably too cumbersome; NATO and the European Union too limited -- it must have the key players and be available for everyone's participation and involvement.

Finally, a coalition or community of like-minded states must be established to deal with MAD and future crises. Terms like "the West" or "democracies" tend to portray the wrong message. A community of free and open or pluralistic states may be more appropriate. The purpose is to minimize the impact of MAD globally, regionally and locally.

One misplaced reaction is that countries must become more autarkic, that is self-sufficient. For virtually all states, that is impossible. For example, the United States may consider itself energy independent. But the rest of the world is not. So what is the benefit for all?

This community or coalition of like-minded states can draw on David Ricardo's notion of comparative advantage in terms of divisions of labor. By guaranteeing access to markets, resources and technology, this coalition is strengthened. And disruption will be minimized.


Critics will wrongly decry this as global governance. Nonsense. The World Trade Organization is not global governance. Nor will this newer organization succumb to that mischaracterization.

The question is who shall lead this effort? The Trump administration's "America first" and anti-globalization policies to include a retrenchment from international leadership are not helpful. Perhaps a new administration is needed. However, a second term is not out of the question.

Other possible leaders such as Britain, France and Germany have lost influence. China is, however, exercising its national power in asserting a more leading role. It appears to be in a seemingly miraculous economic recovery that will contrast with what is happening oceans away in the United States and Europe.

This new community is not meant to challenge China and Chinese participation is important. However, it could be a counterweight if Chinese intent was inimical to ours.

We need to plan for the new MAD. If we do not, this crisis could be more dangerous than 1940 and Nazi Germany's assault on Europe.

Harlan Ullman is a senior adviser at the Atlantic Council. His latest book is "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Has Lost Every War It Starts." Follow him @harlankullman.


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