Pandemic reveals dark side of U.S. neoliberalism

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U.S. President Joe Biden. Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

"America is back" was the headline Joe Biden was looking for at his first (virtual) G7 heads of government meeting as U.S. president.

Hosted by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the G7 had COVID-19 at the top of the agenda when it met on February 19, in advance of the planned G7 summit in Cornwall this coming June.

The French president came with a plan to address the dire absence of vaccines in many countries. Emmanuel Macron called for the G7 nations to share five per cent of their vaccine supplies over the coming months with the poorer nations of the world.

Contributing cash to the World Health Organization-sponsored fund known as COVAX so countries could purchase vaccines would not meet pressing needs for emergency aid. Without access to vaccines, cash does not help low-income nations protect front-line health workers.

A pandemic is by definition worldwide: the COVID virus crosses borders. So long as countries and regions remain unprotected, global health is neglected, and the world remains at risk.

Nonetheless, the new American president rejected the plan. The U.S. was not going to share its vaccines until all Americans had been vaccinated. Cash yes, vaccines no.

As a result, the G7 meeting ended with enlarged COVAX contributions from the U.S., the EU, and Canada, but no headlines. It was as if it had never happened.

Real concerted G7 leadership was stymied by Biden. The historical American tendency to isolationist foreign policy was much in evidence. Is that what "America is back" is supposed to mean?

Not according to what Biden outlined in a major foreign policy address by video link to the Munich Security Conference, also on February 19, where Macron and the German chancellor were both in attendance.

In this speech Biden invoked the North Atlantic alliance of the 20th century and called for it to be renewed for the 21st century. Biden wants the U.S. and Europe to work together to meet the competitive challenge of China. Indeed Biden sees the coming years as a test of the strength of democratic government faced with autocratic regimes in China and Russia.

The "Euro-Gaullists" among European leaders prize the independence of Europe and want it to act as a unit in foreign policy. In the wake of the Trump presidency, the eventually of Europeans voting to form their own defence forces is real.

Instead of relying on NATO for defence -- which amounts to relying on a U.S. promise to consider an attack on one NATO nation to be an attack on all nations -- President Macron has been working to convince Germany to join France in building integrated European military capability.

While the Europeans are no doubt pleased to see Biden engage with them to rejoin the Iran nuclear arms control pact and welcome the return of the U.S. government to the Paris climate accord, the Biden bid to renew the transatlantic alliance will face close scrutiny.

At least since the "pivot to China" initiated by the Obama-Biden administration, the U.S. has been bent on building an alliance to block the rise of China. The main U.S. intelligence and security agencies have been pushing out negative reports about China to the world press. A new Cold War mentality has been created.

In a bid to maintain its hegemonic position in the world economy, the U.S. wants to bring leading nations in Europe and Asia together. The intention is to ensure capitalism-friendly rules restricting state economic planning are applied to China, limiting its policy options.

Asking Japan, South Korea, and India to join the American campaign to school China is not likely to be any more successful than getting the leading European nations to follow the U.S. lead.

The pandemic is revealing the dark side of the neoliberal model championed by the U.S. for decades. When India and South Africa proposed that intellectual property rights be waived to facilitate the production of vaccines around the world, the U.S. government and its high-income allies, sadly including Canada, objected.

If Biden wants a headline underlining a new American leadership, he could support waiving intellectual property rules that put profit incentives for corporations ahead of global public health in the middle of a pandemic.    

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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