The greatest tragedy of Covid-19 will be if we fail to learn from the experience, to which we will allow history to repeat itself.
While every country will have its own inquiries to examine how they handled their crisis, the much larger need is at the international level, or how the hyper-globalised community dealt with the worst pandemic in more than a century which has swept the Earth, destroying both lives and economies. To answer this, two, not one, inquiries are required.
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The first inquiry needs only to answer the most simple questions: where did Covid-19 come from and what role did humanity play in its creation? The second, needs to focus on the response of the international community. Although the World Health Organisation should be at the forefront of this second investigation, it will also need to examine all of the other relevant international actors in this emergency, from those who wield the power (the Security Council) through to those who control the money (the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) and those who distribute the food (the World Food Programme) to the hungry.
Fundamentally, the way that information science and medical technology has been co-operatively developed, and shared, needs to be central to any such focus.
Despite this obvious need for such work, there is a large risk that such a universal review may not occur. This risk of failure is because political will for such an investigation may drown beneath an increasingly angry debate over whether there should be an international and independent inquiries at all, and if so, which questions should be asked, and by which organisations.
The way such work is meant to occur at the global level is that where there is a problem, an empowered international organisations sends out a team to investigate and report. Thus, if it was a dispute about nuclear questions, a team from the International Agency on Atomic Energy would be dispatched. Or, if a dispute about chemical weapons, one from the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The problem we have with Covid-19 is that it is complicated over which international organisation has primacy. That is, in origin, this disease is either natural or human made.
If it is the latter, it may have been manipulated for either benign, or malicious purposes, and escaped, by either an accidental or intentional pathway.
In this situation of uncertainty, ideally, the two organisations which work in this area – the World Health Organisation and the Biological Weapons Convention - would come together, and unify in solving the problem, for the common global good.
The difficulty with this is two-fold. On the one hand, the Biological Weapons Convention has no verification protocol. This means, that although defensive (but no offensive) work is allowed on biological weapons, there is no way to verify, via an intrusive regime, who is doing what or if leaks have occurred. On the other hand, the World Health Organisation, has the mandate to conduct some work of this sort, and often does so by looking at specific questions post-pandemic, but it is at the moment, neck deep in very dangerous diplomatic politics, which range from its membership, to its capture and lack of autonomy.
Solving this problem requires two steps.
The first is to remove the science from the politics, and thereby answer the initial question of where did this come from and what role did humanity play in its creation ?
The best international precedent for this type of project is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Here, hundreds of the world's best scientists from all around the world are grouped together, to collectively and independently review the evidence, and answer specific questions from a non-partisan perspective.
The second inquiry, of the international architecture, also need to be removed from the hands who are complicit in the existing situation and have their own turf to protect. Former heads and other high level diplomatic engineers from within the global system should be shoulder-tapped for this exercise.
The culmination of these two pieces of work should be a new international instrument specifically on pandemics. This could be a stand alone convention or an associated protocol. The World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco is a good example of this type of pathway, whereby a particular problem is splintered from the primary body, and is then the global community is free to work, unencumbered by the politics of the other.
Such radical advances in international law only come once in a generation, and typically, after a calamity has struck humanity. That has now occurred.
In this, new laws, standards and goals, can be set for dealing with the next pandemic which will, without doubt, attack humanity. This should begin with obligatory rules on mutual inspections and raising safety standards in times of normalcy, and other essential preventative and precautionary steps.
It should then cover all of the necessary choreographed steps for the international community, from the declaration of global emergency in the beginning; through to the recovery process, at the end. This all needs to be layered with what restrictions countries can impose, what assistance they should give, and what cooperation for the common global good looks like.
• Alexander Gillespie is a professor of law at Waikato University.