The great powers nowadays do not just use their navies to exert influence on smaller powers, as they have for generations.
This policy, once called ‘gunboat diplomacy’ has now been supplemented by ‘vaccine diplomacy,’ which is used by countries that produce the coronavirus vaccine to influence the rest, usually the poorest countries.
In this matter, in this phase of insufficient production of the vaccine, two ethical dilemmas arise.
The first is this:
What's the obligation of a leader of a vaccine-producing country? To vaccinate its own population first and then, if and when there is a surplus of vaccines, to supply other countries? Or does that country have an obligation to share the doses that it produces with the other countries, if not equally, at least a percentage of them, i.e. at an 80%-20% ratio?
And the second ethical dilemma is:
If a leader decides to distribute a percentage of vaccines to other countries, which will be chosen and by what criteria?
As for the first dilemma, the prevailing view is as follows:
It is a mistake to take care of the health of foreigners when your own citizens are still dying in your country, the hospitals are full of coronavirus patients, your schools are closed, and the economy is in a bad state. First you take care of your own population and then you do charity work. In other words, the classic “charity begins at home” approach.
It is a tough, realistic policy that brings benefits to the people and the leadership of countries with democratically elected officials.
The second view is that of ‘the moral high road’ which says that we, as citizens of the world, all suffer together, we are all in the same boat, so together we share the vaccines that exist. We dedicate a percentage of the vaccines to the health of the citizens of our country and another, albeit a smaller amount, to other nations.
OK, but which nations?
And that is where the policy of vaccine diplomacy comes in.
They share them with friends – leaders and people of countries they want to influence.
China, for example, is pursuing this policy despite its great domestic needs, although it has so far taken internal distribution seriously.
The Chinese President does not need to do much inside his country, where what he says, goes. He follows the existing model for buying ports or financing projects in poor or developing countries in exchange for influence. He recently gave Egypt 300,000 vaccines.
Of course, at the end of the day none of us will be safe if we are not all safe from the coronavirus.
It does not matter if we are rich or poor, or if we live in America or Africa.
However, nationalism and political gain have a very large influence on the decisions of some countries.
That creates opportunities for others, such as China and Russia, to both do good and to gain ground abroad.