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A new Arms Race.

Three times in the last 120 years, the developed economies have embraced a full on arms race – in the run up to two world wars and then in the protracted cold war that followed. Countless millions died. Towns and villages were destroyed and the European Economies never fully recovered.

The Beneficiaries? Now that would make for an entertaining geo-political evening. Certainly no one seems to have learned the existential lessons of the sanctity of friendship over enmity, of mutual self help over isolationism. Now we are about to set out on a fourth race as futile, as falsely positioned and surely as little welcomed by our people – the race for a vaccine. And this time our nation, despite all of its helpful efforts in the past may be one of the ring leaders of hostility, a refusenik of welcome, of neighborliness or of friendship.

The first four months of 2020 have seen Little America’s administration making enemies of its nearest neighbors, its oldest allies and its one new and fully competing superpower. Our President and Secretary of State, not content with denigrating China have doubled down stigmatizing the Chinese as the source of the Corona Virus, looking for a blameworthy smoking gun where offering a helpful hand would have been more useful and possibly a political game changer. Canada, Mexico, the Europeans have all been sidelined, and the WTO threatened. The search for a vaccine has been forced into a win/lose race away from a compelling opportunity for collaboration and mutual support. This has huge implications, almost entirely negative, for the future world economy and politics.

The NYT reports roughly 90 programs being pursued world wide by different governments, pharmaceutical makers, biotech innovators and academic laboratories. In every case the aim is the short term win of the next battle. Unlike Roosevelt in 1941 no politicians, least of all those of Little America, are looking to how they can win not just the battle but also the peace that follows.

This time we may not be the obvious winner. China has greater innovative capacity, its pockets are as deep as ours.  It is ahead in the race and its leadership is the more focused. India has the greater production capacity and has vowed to treat India first. For Europe, led by Oxford University, this may be the testing ground that saves the Community. All three have populations many times that of ours. All three are looking to their own at the expense of the others. 

The inevitable survival of the fittest was an observation not related to being fit. The words in the early 19th century had an entirely different meaning – that of “fitting in” of “adapting” – and we have not adapted. Indeed despite the upheavals of the last century – possibly because the United States was so lucky – it survived relatively unscathed. It experienced instead a golden century of its own. Now, God save us, we may be going to share an experience we never wanted and for which we are unprepared. We may be going to be very “scathed” indeed.  Already we lead the dread catalogue of death and illness. Already we are turning our backs against using this emerging threat as a means of opening a new and Christian rapprochement with the rest of the world. We are placing ourselves on the sidelines when we have a chance to join in and cement a new community of worthwhile endeavor. 

This arms race should be against the virus – not against each other.

Have a good day, James.