Could corona evolve into a strategic threat?

A systemic crisis represents a strategic threat to a country because of the devastating effects it could produce. Thus, understanding its causes is of great importance.

Employees of KANDO, a wastewater management technology firm, demonstrate a project of sewer surveillance which they say aims to pinpoint unknown outbreaks of coronavirus by identifying traces of the virus in the sewage system in Ashkelon.  (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Employees of KANDO, a wastewater management technology firm, demonstrate a project of sewer surveillance which they say aims to pinpoint unknown outbreaks of coronavirus by identifying traces of the virus in the sewage system in Ashkelon.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Let us observe the similarities between the current COVID-19 crisis and the precedent international systemic crises in order to reach new clear solutions.
Between 2007 and 2020, a series of serious and unexpected international crises occurred across the globe. The 2007 financial crisis and the 2008 economic crisis became the most serious ones since the 1929 Great Depression. Also, in 2009, the public debt crisis broke out in the eurozone. For the first time, a member country, Greece, was bankrupted followed by Arab States crises in 2010, which became extremely violent in some of these countries where revolts transformed into civil wars causing many hundreds of thousands of deaths and lead to the partitioning of Libya, Syria and Yemen. As a result, refugees flocked to Europe in numbers unprecedented since the population transfers following World War II and decolonization.
This was followed by a security crisis that arose in the wake of the Syrian crisis which led to the creation of the Islamic State. That organization carried out numerous terrorist attacks as never before in Europe and the world. In Ukraine, the political crisis led to a civil war which, for the first time since World War II, involved the great powers in Europe: on the one hand Russia supported the rebels in eastern Ukraine, whereas on the other hand the US and the EU backed the new Ukrainian government. The UK, in 2016, was – with the Brexit vote – the first country to leave the EU, causing the EU to enter a critical situation. The COVID-19 crisis closely followed, becoming the most serious pandemic since the 1918/1920 Spanish flu crisis.
None of these crises seems to have been resolved. Either they continue at low intensity, or they worsen. The systems involved are weakened (eurozone, financial system) or dismantled (Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine, the EU).
A systemic crisis is a perturbation which produces chain effects that could endanger or destroy a system. This expression has been used for the first time to characterize the 2007-2008 financial crisis. It also applies to each above-mentioned crisis.
A systemic crisis represents a strategic threat to a country because of the devastating effects it could produce. Thus, understanding its causes is of great importance.
In my 2019 comparative study published in France, two types of mistakes are identified which have caused these international crises: mismanagement of frontiers opening and curative solutions.
Mismanagement of frontiers opening means a lack of anticipation of the consequences of the rapid frontiers opening (on a historical scale) coupled with a deficiency of controls, which weakens the system while it was going to be hit by a violent disturbance.
Historically, a frontier – whether physical or not – defines the identity of a community. It also functions as protection and control. Opening frontiers poses a vital dilemma to a community. On the one hand it facilitates adaptation to a changing environment; on the other hand it may endanger the cohesion of the community.
When the crisis appeared, governments sought to suppress or to alleviate the apparent problems. Their actions have been inefficient. Indeed, as in management, complex problems that are treated by curative solutions will reappear.
Also, the curative solutions applied to already fragile systems worsened the crisis, which continued. The cohesion of systems was weakened, or even destroyed, and the crisis spread to two other systems. Indeed, the financial crisis led to a global economic crisis, followed by the sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone. As to Arab crises, they caused a migration and security crisis. The Ukrainian crisis brought about a cold war between the EU and Russia. Finally, the economic, security and migrant crises favored the rise of sovereignist parties in Europe and allowed for the Brexit rupture.
How did Israel ride though these systemic crises? Let us take two contrasting examples.
Israel was less affected by the 2007-2008 financial crisis than, for instance, European countries. The main reasons – according to a September 2011 Bank of Israel report – are the following: a higher growth before the crisis (the economic system was more stable) and a conservative banking system: no holding of complex financial assets (cautious opening), strict regulations and a conservative policy concerning mortgage loan (efficient controls).
CONCERNING THE COVID-19 crisis in Israel, it is too early to make a final judgment but, so far, it follows the structure of the contemporary systemic crises.
A rapid and unprecedented opening of frontiers has taken place: the multiplication of exchanges and the free movement of populations caused by the economic globalization favored the spread of the virus in Israel.
There could also be noted a lack of anticipation and control: these tasks were largely delegated by Israel to the World Health Organization (WHO), which – it seems – did not perform them effectively. For example, the White House letter sent to WHO ‘s General Director last May mentioned the following mistakes. WHO had insufficient access to precise data concerning the spread of the virus in China. Besides, WHO made initial errors of assessment regarding the risk of human virus transmission, or of the virus spreading outside China. WHO also delayed declaring a pandemic.
As a result of this situation, Israel lost a period of three months for marking preparations to fight against the coming pandemic.
A curative answer was privileged: sanitary lockdown was adopted by Israel like by many other countries. The sanitary COVID-19 crisis generated other crises. For example, the lockdown resulted in an economic crisis that threatens developing into a social crisis.
Weakened systems resulted from these choices. The authorities – as in most countries in the world – could not communicate any clear vision of how and when this crisis would end nor what would be the consequences for Israel.
Systemic crises bear a considerable capacity of destabilization. They do not need classic curative recipes but a strategic vision. Our recommendations are as follows.
The authorities should avoid solutions that have already been proven inefficient in similar crises. For instance, choosing to delegate health system controls without taking precautions, and taking on the risk of giving the responsibility for analysis tasked to external bodies and resorting mostly to short-term curative solutions.
Contrasting scenarios must be developed (either pessimistic, or current, or optimistic) based on the potential evolution of the crisis factors. During the first wave of the pandemic, Israel tackled the COVID-19 crisis under better economic conditions than other countries (debt, credit rating). However, its delicate and complex political situation, and its unstable and dangerous Middle East strategic environment present additional risks to it in the current situation that are unlike those of other countries.
Moreover, the COVID-19 crisis occurred in Israel while the previous systemic crises had not yet been resolved or had even worsened in Europe, as well as in some nearby Arab countries.
Consequently, no scenario should be excluded.
There are no quick fixes for systemic crises when they get out of control or when they are stabilized in a deteriorating situation. To find an effective solution to this serious problem, an external audit should be carried out based on interviews with stakeholders at all levels: sanitary, economic, social, and defense factors. This approach would aim to identify and summarize their needs, analyses and suggestions in the present context. This work, carried out in close collaboration with Israeli authorities, would shed new light, produce a synthetic and common understanding of all the current problems and help define a shared vision for the future. It would lead to a new refined approach to the present policy: a more selective, consistent and effective one.
The writer holds a Doctorate in Management Sciences from Paris Dauphine University. He is a lecturer, consultant and researcher in Management and has applied systems analysis and design to various domains, notably quality management and crisis management.


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