Updated: Apr 28
In a previous era, when US and Soviet nuclear arsenals posed the most imminent threat to humanity, the doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD) wrought by nuclear war was seen as the only thing preventing it. Covid-19 is teaching us the value of a new twist on that doctrine: “mutually assured epidemic destruction” (MAED).
Whereas MAD restrained two military superpowers, MAED encourages two fractious economic superpowers, the US and China, to come together. Same for any concerned members of the world community. According to MAED, states do not ally against common political or military threats, but against naturally occurring viral diseases.
MAED's goals might seem noble, perhaps idealistic. But this is not a "kumbaya" moment. The reasoning is entirely rational.
The logic of the doctrine offers one of the bigger potential geopolitical dividends to the current health crisis. It also better prepares the world for inevitable future epidemiological outbreaks. But it only works if governments stop hurling accusations and focus on dealing with the borderless nature of infectious disease.
In this regard, it's heartening that fortunately the concept does not in fact require cooperation between (or needs to include) any of the giants of the global order. It is not dependent on endorsement from the US nor China nor the blessing of supranational organizations like the WHO. Such powers abiding by the principles of MAED obviously would reinforce its benefits. But they aren't required. The logic is compelling enough on its own.
East Asia provides inspiration. The successful Covid-suppressing economies of Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan have long shared geographic and commercial ties. Their well prepared and pragmatic responses to the pandemic show they share similar approaches to infectious diseases too. Such economies could build further upon these commonalities using MAED principles to strengthen existing relations and even create farther-reaching bridges beyond the region.
Regardless of how far differing political systems decide to coordinate around epidemiological crisis response, Covid-19 has made basic recognition of the borderless transmissibility of infectious diseases unavoidable. The bottom-line value of MAED-based coalitions is simple self-preservation. Political systems that grasp this will better ensure their economic wellness and power-projection capabilities. Those that don't will suffer as a result. It's a new kind of economic Darwinism.
Until bigger powers and multinational bodies that should have handled their pandemic responses better (China, the US, the WHO--take your pick) are able to demonstrate more genuine leadership, smaller, more pragmatically functioning economies will be leading the way with policies that sync with MAED.
The new realities brought by Covid and whatever infectious disease epidemics await mean that now it's time to "get" MAED.