In many countries around the world, the WHO is currently setting the agenda for a strategy to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Its campaigns and recommendations on how to deal with Covid-19 are, though not entirely uncontroversial, widely distributed, while reaffirming one of its central roles: that of the epidemiological expert and crisis advisor, especially for poor countries.
As more and more people are voluntarily or forcefully retreating to their homes and isolating themselves from public life and social contact due to the ongoing global health crisis, it might be a good time to reflect on the circumstance that, according to estimates by WHO and UNICEF, in 2018 globally every five seconds a child or young person under 15 died of preventable infectious diseases, such as measles, or of complications in childbirth – many of them a consequence of unsafe births, lacking personnel, equipment, hygiene, infrastructure, and poor maternal health. A few days ago, I met an acquaintance, whose school-aged children have not been vaccinated against measles, carrying a stack of toilet paper packages in preparation for what was bound to come, the German-wide COVID-19 lockdown. The encounter made me aware of the imbalance between our plausible and humane concern for the safety and well-being of ourselves and those close to us on the one hand and a lack of awareness of our own role in preserving public health beyond COVID-19 on the other.
Note: A first version of this article originally appeared in December 2019 on E-IR.
The past three decades have seen a considerable rise of political authority enjoyed by international organizations (IOs). At the same time, however, IO authority practically remains highly constrained. In everyday politics, disagreement among powerful states, legal hurdles, and general sovereignty concerns not only hinder discreet expansions of IO authority, but also impede its effective exercise more generally.
Yet, in times of global or regional crisis, windows of necessity and opportunity sometimes create conditions in which “leaps of authority” occur, as IOs intervene assertively in circumvention of legal or political constraints of normal times. Justified by exceptional circumstances, IOs may do something structurally very similar to what we know of national governments in the state of exception: they adopt emergency powers by expanding their executive discretion and interfering with the rights of their rule-addressees. This, at least, is what I argue in my new book Emergency Powers of International Organizations (EPIO).