How novel coronavirus is changing the world

How novel coronavirus is changing the world

After 2020, it will be a country's ability to produce or save its population from bioweapons that determine hierarchy in the chain of world power.

It is said that most wars are, in some way, a demonstration of the warring party's technolgical advances far more than their cultural, monetary or social superiority. War has, nine times out of 10, favoured the side with superior technology and scientific knowledge.

World War II was started and fought amongst European powers and science and technology played a major role. In some ways, World War II was a delayed outcome of World War I and the Spanish flu, which later generated the Great Depression, the US New Deal and the subsequent world order. Imbalances in the European power structure and emergence of new powers like the US and Japan also had to be digested by the world order.

However, World War II was unique because it was an unprecedented display of science and technology. The use of cars, tanks, submarines, advanced logistics, ships, bombs, war planes etc. was substantial in the war. Countries like Germany, UK etc. converted nearly all their industrial capacity into manufacturing war equipment. Production and human labour were focused almost entirely towards war.

Despite that, the industrial technology was largely spread amongst the blocks at war, which were mostly European. Their societies were already integrated and their technologies available widely. The war was evenly fought although UK and its allies had large armies at their disposal owing to the subjugation of their colonies.

Despite the overwhelming strength that the UK-led alliance had on paper, the war looked like a stalemate for many years. Millions died and there still was no clear winner.

During the time that the war began, theories were rife that particles in the nucleus of an atom are bound by an immense force. Most of the workings and studies on modern nuclear science were done in Europe. It was also widely believed among the scientific community that If someone could generate a lasting chain reaction that allowed the power of nucleus to be unleashed, it would create an explosion never seen before by mankind.

It was a race of scientific ideas and theories. Many of them unproven, present in the minds of some crazy scientists. Germany started working on creating an atom bomb based on the available understanding. Russia, the UK and many others started working on their own projects.

Due to the mass killing of Jews by Germany, the Jews were running away to far off places in the new world. The US was an upcoming power and didn’t have a direct role in the war initially. The UK had to work hard to get the US on its side.

In the meantime, away from war, the US welcomed many European scientists including those who were Jewish, provided them with places to stay, university jobs and laboratories where they could conduct their experiments. The US scientific community was abuzz due to the additions of these new scientists. The most well-known among the European imports was of course, Albert Einstein, whose theories of relativity and many other subsequent theories changed scientific thinking in a fundamental way. There were many others working in different universities across the US. A project (the Manhattan Project) was created to get all of their combined scientific brains to create the atom bomb in complete secrecy in a faraway place in New Mexico in the westernmost desert of the US in a laboratory that became famous - Los Alamos - as the place where the first atom bomb was created.

All powers were trying to make their own atom bombs. US teams succeeded in testing it for the first time on July 16,1945, at a place near Los Alamos - Alamogordo. It was a race among the countries and their scientists to use the new science of atoms to create new weapons. The US won that race decisively and far ahead of any other country. The creation of the atom bomb was so decisive in World War II that it was used only twice by the US on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. It happened in quick succession on August 6,1945, and August 9,1945, killing several thousands at a time and maiming millions. Japan surrendered and World War II had ended for all practical purposes.

Later on, over 70 years, Soviet Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan and a few other countries directly or clandestinely acquired atom bombs. The Cold War, a stalemate - between the US and the USSR for more than 40 years was continued on the seeming comparability of the nuclear arsenal between the two countries. Interestingly, all nuclear powers who acquired nuclear power worked hard to ensure that other countries did not acquire the same powers. The importance of being a nuclear power is so great, and rightfully so, that such power wielded lightly or without grave reasons, may annihilate the entirety of mankind and perhaps wipe out the entire planet earth and put it into a nuclear ice age. In some ways, the history of the world over the last 70 years was largely about nuclear stalemate and nuclear power acquisition by different countries. Nuclear haves and have nots are clearly different in the current world order. Nuclear wannabes like India have been trying to break into the club of nuclear haves for several decades now.

A similar situation, to an extent, has arisen in 2020. There are powers that understand the workings, the control and the manufacturing of bioweapons that come with the similar promise of nuclear bombs and even worse impact. Without making a noise, bioweapons can kill millions or even billions. Without firing a single bullet, a war can be won or a demonstration can be held for everyone to see that a powerful new weapon has been developed. Many different types of viruses and many types of bioweapons can be developed, stored and used when required or necessary.

Every society and every country worth its salt will now have to participate, even without their willingness, in this new bioweapon race that has risen on mankind. Societies and countries - or a group of countries - will have to develop their own new age bioweapons and antidotes to be able to survive. It will be a minimum condition for countries and societies to survive, stay independent and not be subjugated or annihilated.

A new invisible war is going on against mankind. Each country will have to select its side. But more importantly, the country will have to develop its offensive and defensive frameworks. It is not a choice any longer. It is a compulsion. Is our country ready?

The old world order is going to transform itself in a best case scenario. The UN, the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, the UNCTAD, the G7, the G20 etc. have become less relevant in the new world of COVID-19. New alignments and a new world order are going to be created. Where will we be? Not taking sides is also not a choice. We will have to play our cards well. We missed the bus post-independence. This time, we shouldn’t. We must take on the challenges and work to be counted. Or risk being annihilated forever.

The large scale production of penicillin after World War II and subsequent antibiotics and medicines helped the world multiply its population by 3 to 4 times within 70 to 80 years of its mass production. Penicillin was perhaps the invention that was most responsible for allowing mankind to proliferate so much over the last 70 years. It was a triumph of science and technology over nature and human stupidity. COVID-19 has shown that the golden era of the antibiotic has come to an end. We need newer thinking. Newer ways of doing. Newer directions. Newer brains. Newer commitments. Newer resolve.

(Ashish Kumar Chauhan is the MD & CEO of BSE Ltd.)

(The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of DH)