Fletcher Reads the Newspaper | A Pandemic-Proof World: Multilateralism’s Shining Moment or Mission Impossible?

On Friday, April 3rd, the IBGC hosted the 16th installment of “Fletcher Reads the Newspaper”, a series of events that generates dialogue around a topic “ripped from the headlines.” The topics covered at these events draw upon interdisciplinary insights in a manner that can be described as “only at Fletcher.”

The event focused on the unfortunately all-too-visible topic of global pandemics and their containment. The conversation centered around a top-of-mind question for policymakers around the world: is the COVID-19 pandemic multilateralism’s shining moment or mission impossible? IBGC convened an expert panel to examine this question through a uniquely Fletcher lens, analyzing it not only as a public health issue but also from the perspectives of economic impact, governance, digital misinformatio, and politics.

Co-Hosted by Fletcher Dean Rachel Kyte and Dean of Global Business Bhaskar Chakravorti, the event featured insights from several faculty members across Tufts University. Featured speakers included Daniel Drezner, Professor of International Law; Ian Johnstone, Professor of International Law; Deborah Kochevar, Professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine; Ken Pucker, Advisory Director at Berkshire Partners; Natalie LaHood, Fletcher alumna and Global Health Officer, United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Pandemic and Emerging Threats; Joel Trachtman, Professor of International Law; and Josephine Wolff, Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity Policy.

The central topic of discussion was how the pandemic sparked different responses to major impacts of COVID-19, and moreover, how these responses led to different forms of cooperation between countries across the globe. Joel Trachtman, Professor of International Law at Fletcher, mentioned a widespread fear that has led to stringent export controls on important goods, most of which come from China. He stated that there is a significant alternative to this phenomenon, which is for countries to agree to a set of rules that will allow for greater reliance on supply chains. This can be achieved through stronger restrictions on export controls. According to him, this is where law and diplomacy can play an important role in bolstering solidarity, cooperation, and resource sharing around the world. 

Daniel Drezner, Professor of International Politics at Fletcher, went on to discuss the travel bans, restrictions, and guidelines that have arisen due to the pandemic. Drezner states that even if you want to restrict travel — which is one of the most obvious ways to contain community spreading — some degree of international cooperation is still a requirement to make a significant impact. Unfortunately, many countries have been slow in their willingness to cooperate. This is exemplified by the Trump administration’s unilateral announcement of the travel ban on Europe in mid-March 2020. The plan ultimately backfired, causing massive groups of people across Europe to rush to airports to secure a flight to the US before the ban took effect. With so many people entering relatively small airports, community spread and the rate of infection skyrocketed. 

Another major concern was how well internet infrastructures could keep up with the unparalleled demand that social distancing and remote work carried. Expanding on this topic was Josephine Wolff, Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity Policy at Fletcher, who was pleasantly surprised with how well the internet was handling the increase of data usage during the pandemic, especially in densely populated urban areas. However, she was quick to express some of the looming threats that put data privacy at risk during COVID-19. These risks primarily refer to phishing emails that work off common anxieties of this particular crisis. She advises users be mindful of the messages they receive online and to be especially careful when sharing personal information through email.

In keeping with social distancing protocols, the event was held online via Zoom. Watch highlights from the event’s featured speakers below: