The coronavirus pandemic has overturned many assumptions about the current world order. As a matter of urgency, it is time to revisit the principles of international security.
In the pandemic, for the first time in living memory, humanity is confronting a common threat that it must defeat collectively. Most arguments currently revolve around the cost of that victory in terms of loss of life and economic damage. The disruption will indeed be huge, comparable only to that wrought by major global conflicts.
But, it is already time to start planning for the moment when that eventual victory comes. Like the end of other global conflicts, such as World War II, the end of this conflict will be a watershed moment.
The virus teaches us that the hierarchy of global security threats is changing rapidly, and we are dealing with radically new enemies. That calls for a fundamental change in our security priorities. National security should no longer be defined solely by a country’s military capabilities. Nuclear arms and other modern weapons are unable to combat pandemics, climate change, uncontrollable migration, and other challenges faced both by humanity as a whole and each country individually. Now we see clearly that many of the old instruments we inherited from previous times for ensuring security are all but useless, merely consuming huge resources that could be redirected into developing science, education, and medicine.
Many have already woken up to the global challenge. UN Secretary General António Guterres has called for a ceasefire in all conflicts in the world today. The pope has also called for an end to all wars so that we can pool our efforts to combat the pandemic. The Saudi Arabia–led Arab coalition has already announced a suspension of its military operation against the Houthis in Yemen to “combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic” there. Israel and Hamas have begun negotiations on a prisoner swap.
These developments show that many are already recognizing that the coronavirus, as Guterres said, is “our common enemy.” And we can confidently assert that there will be more such “common enemies” in the future.
We are also of course witnessing another trend that is also characteristic of a crisis such as this one: the traditional tendency of nation-states to use a time of turmoil to seek to win comparative advantage over their traditional rivals. The coronavirus has fueled information wars and finger-pointing about which country bears responsibility for the spread of the virus. There is fierce debate as to whether authoritarian states or democracies are better equipped to fight the pandemic and on which kind of economic model will prove more effective.
These petty fights show that, as it combats the virus itself, humanity is facing an equally hard political struggle (one that has essentially already begun) over the shape of the new world order. Each country will have advocates of both old and new ways of thinking. The front lines in this new fight will run primarily within states, not between states or alliances.
A positive outcome in this struggle will depend on the ability of politicians to prioritize global security over their personal political ambitions, subjugate tactics to strategy, and give up on traditionally prioritizing national interests to the detriment of the interests of the international system as a whole.
In August 1944, when victory in World War II was near, members of the Allied powers met at Dumbarton Oaks to discuss the establishment of a global organization that would promote peace and security. A year later in San Francisco, they signed the Charter of the United Nations. The winning parties managed to come to an agreement despite the fact that their views on the most fundamental issues in international relations and even on the future of human civilization overall were very different, and sometimes even diametrically opposed.
Right now, we have no idea how long it will take before humanity can declare victory over the coronavirus. Yet even now, the permanent members of the UN Security Council could launch a joint initiative to start negotiations on bringing the entire system of international relations back under shared control. A global initiative of this kind would both bring our common victory over the virus that much closer and give humanity a reason to have greater confidence in the post-pandemic world.
How Canadian churches are helping their communities cope with the wildfires
As wildfires burn across Canada, churches are finding ways to support their members and the broader community directly impacted by the crisis.
According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, as of June 13, there are 462 active fires across Canada – and 236 of them classified as out of control fires.
Whether it’s through phone calls or donations to community members, here’s how a few churches across Canada are handling active wildfires and the aftermath in their regions.
Westwood Hills, N.S.: St. Nicholas Anglican Church
In Nova Scotia, St. Nicholas Anglican Church and other churches in the area are collecting money for grocery cards to give to families impacted by the Tantallon wildfire.
The fire is now considered contained, but Tanya Moxley, the treasurer at St. Nicholas is organizing efforts to get grocery gift cards into the hands of impacted families.
As of June 12, four churches in the area – St. Nicholas, Parish of French Village, St Margaret of Scotland and St John the Evangelist – raised nearly $3,500. The money will be split for families’ groceries between five schools in the area impacted by the wildfire.
Moxley said she felt driven to raise this money after she heard the principal of her child’s school was using his own money to buy groceries for impacted families in their area.
“[For] most of those people who were evacuated, the power was off in their subdivision for three, four or five days,” she said. “Even though they went home and their house was still standing, the power was off and they lost all their groceries.”
Moxley said many people in the area are still “reeling” from the fires. She said the church has an important role to help community members during this time.
“We’re called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless and all that stuff, right? So this is it. This is like where the rubber hits the road.”
Is it ever OK to steal from a grocery store?
Mythologized in the legend of Robin Hood and lyricized in Les Misérables, it’s a debate as old as time: is it ever permissible to steal food? And if so, under what conditions? Now, amid Canada’s affordability crisis, the dilemma has extended beyond theatrical debate and into grocery stores.
Although the idea that theft is wrong is both a legally enshrined and socially accepted norm, the price of groceries can also feel criminally high to some — industry data shows that grocery stores can lose between $2,000 and $5,000 a week on average from theft. According to Statistics Canada, most grocery item price increases surged by double digits between 2021 and 2022. To no one’s surprise, grocery store theft is reportedly on the rise as a result. And if recent coverage of the issue rings true, some Canadians don’t feel bad about shoplifting. But should they?
Kieran Oberman, an associate professor of philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom, coined the term “re-distributive theft” in his 2012 paper “Is Theft Wrong?” In simplest terms, redistributive theft is based on the idea that people with too little could ethically take from those who have too much.
“Everybody, when they think about it, accepts that theft is sometimes permissible if you make the case extreme enough,” Oberman tells me over Zoom. “The question is, when exactly is it permissible?”
Almost no one, Oberman argues, believes the current distribution of wealth across the world is just. We have an inkling that theft is bad, but that inequality is too. As more and more Canadians feel the pinch of inflation, grocery store heirs accumulate riches — Loblaw chair and president Galen Weston, for instance, received a 55 percent boost in compensation in 2022, taking in around $8.4 million for the year. Should someone struggling with rising prices feel guilty when they, say, “forget” to scan a bundle of zucchini?
The homeless refugee crisis in Toronto illustrates Canada’s broken promises
Canadians live in a time of threadbare morality. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Toronto’s entertainment district, where partygoers delight in spending disposable income while skirting refugees sleeping on sidewalks. The growing pile of luggage at the downtown corner of Peter and Richmond streets resembles the lost baggage section at Pearson airport but is the broken-hearted terminus at the centre of a cruel city.
At the crux of a refugee funding war between the municipal and federal governments are those who have fled persecution for the promise of Canada’s protection. Until June 1, asylum seekers used to arrive at the airport and be sent to Toronto’s Streets to Homes Referral Assessment Centre at 129 Peter St. in search of shelter beds. Now, Toronto’s overcrowded shelter system is closed to these newcomers, so they sleep on the street.
New mayor Olivia Chow pushed the federal government Wednesday for at least $160 million to cope with the surge of refugees in the shelter system. She rightly highlights that refugees are a federal responsibility. In response, the department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada points to hundreds of millions in dollars already allocated to cities across Canada through the Interim Housing Assistance Program, while Ontario says it has given nearly $100 million to organizations that support refugees. But these efforts are simply not enough to deliver on Canada’s benevolent promise to the world’s most vulnerable.
The lack of federal generosity and finger-pointing by the city has orchestrated a moral crisis. It’s reminiscent of the crisis south of the border, where Texas governor Greg Abbott keeps bussing migrants to cities located in northern Democratic states. Without the necessary resources, information, and sometimes the language skills needed to navigate the bureaucratic mazes, those who fled turbulent homelands for Canada have become political pawns.
But Torontonians haven’t always been this callous.
In Ireland Park, at Lake Ontario’s edge, five statues of gaunt and grateful refugees gaze at their new home: Toronto circa 1847. These statues honour a time when Toronto, with a population of only 20,000 people, welcomed 38,500 famine-stricken migrants from Ireland. It paralleled the “Come From Away” event of 9/11 in Gander, N.L., where the population doubled overnight, and the people discovered there was indeed more than enough for all. It was a time when the city lived up to its moniker as “Toronto, The Good.”
Now, as a wealthy city of three million people, the city’s residents are tasked with supporting far fewer newcomers. Can we not recognize the absurdity in claiming scarcity?
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