Saturday, August 28, 2021

The tragedy of Afghanistan, vaccines and global passports

 The CNN correspondent in Kabul during the recent Taliban entry into the city, Clarissa Ward, explained in an interview that she found difficult to justify why she could leave the country based on her US passport (that “little blue thing”), but others would be left there because they are non-eligible to take a rescue flight.

The BBC Newsnight program also reported about the arbitrariness of the selection of people who could board a plane in the Kabul airport. The British government’s position (similar to other Western governments) is that they prioritize British nationals and “eligible Afghans.”

The allocation of basic human rights thus depends on which national passport you have. As a criterion to allocate such a precious good, it could not be less fair. The same happens with Covid vaccines. For developed countries, all their nationals have access to a free vaccine (now even a third dose is discussed). The allocation of some goods is decided by markets; the allocation of other goods is decided by governments, or by lotteries. But whether you have a free life or a free vaccine is decided by your passport. This would not be a problem if all passports gave access to the same basic rights. But reality could not be farther away from this.

The fall of Kabul and other Afghan cities also illustrates what happens when the state disappears, at least for a while: scarcity of food and money and abundance of crime, terror and arbitrariness. We need more state, that is, more and better government, but less nation-state. There are alternatives to this obsolete institution, as explained by political scientist Hendrik Spruyt in a book. The European Union is one of them, but the Afghan crisis shows that for global problems, it is not enough. At least for some life or death problems, we need global public goods such as a global Passport that gives everybody access to basic human rights and basic health services.

Philippe Sands explained it in an article in The Guardian some time ago: “Bedazzled by the power of statehood – that most artificial and fake of constructs – are we not also citizens of our home, our street, our borough, our city, our Europe and our world? The reform is clear: to recognise that our essential rights flow not from the happenstance of nationality – and certainly not just from our national passport – but from our essence as individual human beings. That’s what the 1945 moment said, that we are citizens of the world.

We should have, beyond our national passports, a global passport. Over time, the withering of the monopoly power of the nation state, and the oppressive, absurd, monopoly power of the national passport – that would be my reformation.”

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