Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Combating Infectious Diseases in East Asia: Securitization and Global Public Goods for Health and Human Security

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Combating Infectious Diseases in East Asia: Securitization and Global Public Goods for Health and Human Security

Article excerpt

Since the Asia-wide outbreak of the SARS virus in 2003, the threats from infectious diseases have become more severe. No sooner had the region begun to recover from the devastating impact of SARS than news about the rising incidence of avian influenza cases--on almost a daily basis and with an ever-expanding geographic reach--raised alarm about the potentially imminent outbreak of a pandemic of global proportions. (1) In this era of globalization and regionalization, such infectious diseases have the capacity to detrimentally affect the security and well-being of all members of society and all aspects of the economy. This point was highlighted at the 2006 World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland with the release of the 2006 Global Risks Report. The report ranked pandemics and natural disasters among the highest in the list of risks currently confronting the international community. The study also concluded that despite the interplay of these multiple global risks and their combined ripple effects, which can be potentially devastating, "disaster planning and crisis management suffer from a number of shortcomings." Among these are limited investment of resources in health systems and varying responses to different assessments of threats. (2)

In a region that has a history of being the breeding ground for flu pandemics, the WEF report has come at a time when an abundance of policy statements, studies and other reports have been written, amidst a flurry of official and non-official meetings, which have altogether raised the urgency within and outside the region of finding a common approach to prevent the outbreak of a new and devastating pandemic. As momentum is building in the international community to increase cooperation in mitigating possible risks from pandemics, it is an opportune time to review current approaches and policies in East Asia, from local to regional levels, which address challenges to health and human security. Of particular interest here is the capacity of states and societies to mitigate the risks and challenges involved. Such a review would speak not only to efforts at combating the threats from infectious diseases, but also to the broader issue of how states respond to other threats from a host of emerging nontraditional security issues. These issues have been defined in the international relations and security studies literature as those threats that are not confined to the conventional notion of deliberate military threats to the physical protection of the state. These issues include environmental degradation, economic security, transnational crimes, ethnic conflicts and infectious diseases. (3)

In some of the recent studies that assess domestic and international approaches to non-traditional security threats, arguments have been raised for states and non-state actors to "securitize" these issues so that immediate attention and resources can be commanded to address the ominous risks that endanger the lives and well-being of states and people. (4) Specifically when applied to the threat of infectious diseases, a point has been made to use the language of "security" in framing this issue in order to persuade the relevant audience of its immediate danger. Analysts who have employed this approach draw heavily from the "securitization theory" proposed by the Copenhagen School, represented by a group of European scholars from the Copenhagen Peace Research Institute. These scholars, who include Barry Buzan and Ole Waever, argue that security is a socially constructed concept. The securitization theory essentially offers a systematic framework to determine how and when a specific issue is perceived as an urgent, existential threat to a given referent object, such as state, a community, the biosphere or the economic system. (5) An issue is successfully securitized when an audience accepts that there is an existential threat to a shared value. (6)

Perhaps as a result of more readily and widely circulated information regarding infectious diseases, there is growing interest among scholars in international relations and security studies to securitize infectious diseases to protect state and human security. …

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