The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research Remotely holds its Symposium No. (59) on ‘The Implications of COVID-19: Reshaping Global Strategy’

Under the direction of H.E. Prof. Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi, Director General of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), the ECSSR remotely held its symposium No. (59), titled ‘The Implications of Covid-19: Reshaping Global Strategy,’ on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. This symposium was organized in line with the Center’s goal to address critical strategic issues for the region. The novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is of grave importance for the Arabian Gulf countries, the Middle East and the world. The global economy has come to a near-standstill as governments work to contain the spread of the virus, which has created one of the greatest economic crises in a generation. The symposium included four panels, examining the impact of the pandemic on healthcare, the global economy, education and regional security.

In Panel I, titled “WHO’s Regional Outlook on the Pandemic,” Dr. Rayana Bou-Haka, Manager of Country Focus and Support Program, Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO), Arab Republic of Egypt, spoke about the WHO’s future outlook on the Coronavirus pandemic and its implications at the regional level. In her presentation, she said that the Covid-19 pandemic has proven how fragile the healthcare systems are in some Middle Eastern countries. According to Haka, even more dangerous is the fragility it has exposed in society itself in some of these countries. She added that there are hotbeds of the virus in the region, where the outbreak is greater, as is the case in Iran. Haka pointed out that the situation is not dangerous in most countries, but there are some that are of great concern to the WHO, especially those countries where Covid-19 has exacerbated existing crises. Haka stressed that the WHO is committed to fighting the health emergency caused by this pandemic.

In Panel II, titled “The Impact of the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic on the International Economic System,” Dr. Shirley Yu, Senior Visiting Fellow, London School of Economics and Asia Fellow, the Ash Center, Harvard Kennedy School, United Kingdom, discussed the international economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. She explored the pandemic’s cost to the international economy, indicating that China’s first quarter GDP growth contracted 6.8 percent, compared to the same period last year. Meanwhile, several reliable forecasts indicate that the second quarter of this year will witness a double-digit contraction for the United States and some European economies. Further, Yu said that it is difficult to develop a forecast for the global economic recovery due to prevailing uncertainty over the necessary length and success of global lockdown measures. She also discussed China’s $150-billion investment in the region as part of the Belt and Road Initiative and added that China has also built the world’s largest solar tower in the UAE.

In the third session titled “After the Coronavirus Crisis: How Will Education Evolve?” Dr. Poornima Luthra, Founder and Chief Consultant, TalentED Consultancy and External Faculty at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, discussed the influence the pandemic may have on the future evolution of education systems and teaching methods. She said the pandemic has heavily impacted the education industry across the globe with approximately 1.83-billion students worldwide receiving their education remotely due to widespread closures of schools and universities to combat the spread of the virus. Luthra said that remote learning requires education to be provided in a different, non-traditional way, via the Internet, which is full of information that students can easily access. She said this raises the question of what the educator can offer students through this system. It reveals the importance of finding new and creative methods to train educators so that they acquire the skills to deal with the changing reality of the education process. Moreover, Luthra said that the novel coronavirus pandemic has created many additional challenges. This calls for a multidisciplinary education system capable of addressing all the challenges caused by pandemics or a similar crisis. Luthra noted that some countries have cancelled grade 12 exams, meaning that universities are compelled to reshape their admission processes and criteria. She added that this pandemic will deeply impact what we are teaching, moving towards those skills critical to the future labor market. Luthra wrapped up her discussion by pointing out that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to light the global inequality in the quality and accessibility of education, highlighting the digital divide that seems to exist across the world. This issue requires global cooperation and an effective partnership between various public and private institutions, to make education systems more inclusive and equitable for all globally. She used a quote by the late South African president, Nelson Mandela, to reiterate this point: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

The fourth session was titled, “The Political and Security Risks of the Coronavirus Pandemic,” in which Kirsten Fontenrose, the Director of the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council, US, discussed the potential security risks posed by the global spread of Coronavirus. She highlighted six risks, including increased cyber-attack planning around the world, a risk that is already upon us. The risks also include the drawdown, by some countries, of expatriate security personnel from the Middle East as a result of the pandemic, which may have negative implications on regional stability. Fontenrose also spoke of the resurgence of extremist groups under the extraordinary circumstances posed by the pandemic, noting that Da’esh has been active recently, threatening to carry out terrorist attacks targeting western countries. Fontenrose added that another risk from the pandemic in the long term is the crippling of defense supply chains, as factories that produce niche military materials are shut down. She explained that China’s economic warfare strategy, which aims to monopolize critical resources and prevent innovation by adversaries, will have a similar impact. Fontenrose also discussed the security risk posed by socio-economic unrest as several countries allocate significant resources for research and development in the fields of pharmaceuticals and healthcare, to fight future pandemics. She said this could negatively affect some countries’ response to the needs of their populations, as expected in both Iran and Russia.

These risks also include misinformation about the pandemic. Fontenrose said that China intentionally put out unreliable information about its response to this crisis, and sometimes claims that the virus is a bioweapon used by the United States against it, which negatively affected efforts to mitigate the danger posed by the pandemic. Fontenrose said the problem is that some decision makers may believe these claims, which will eventually lead to decisions being taken that increase the political and security risks of the pandemic. Fontenrose finished her speech by discussing the developments in the relationship between the US and Iran, saying that Washington will not ease the sanctions imposed on Iran even amid the coronavirus pandemic for two reasons. First, Iran is already receiving the medical supplies it needs to combat the pandemic and has no problem in this regard, even under continued sanctions. Second, Tehran has not adopted a transparent policy regarding money laundering issues. Fonternrose stressed that the governing regime in Tehran has a war mindset and its proxies abroad are still performing their role in destabilizing the region, saying that the UAE and KSA can play a role – under the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf – in supporting regional stability and reducing current tensions.

The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, (ECSSR), a leading think tank, has been supporting the decision making process in the UAE since the start of the Covid-19 crisis by conducting studies and research, and by producing strategy and policy papers. In addition, the ECSSR carries out regular and close follow-up analysis of the challenges posed by this crisis through its bulletins and website. The ECSSR has also been selected by the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority to manage its electronic platform, which reflects the trust our national authorities have in the ECSSR.

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