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Analyzing The Role of 'States' In The Face Of A Global Pandemic

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

Author : Rashi Malik

Realism has, to date enjoyed major popularity amongst political science theorists for the simple and unique emphasis it lays down on the role and existence of states as major players in the international system. While the realists have been critiqued for ignoring the fact that the international system is composed of other international organizations, non-state actors, non-governmental organizations, and other key players, the role played by a nation-state is quite imperative.

States, as we already know, are important as they carry out various basic roles like protecting their citizens, providing them with basic welfare facilities, and above all maintaining law and order in their sovereign territory.

Our contemporary understanding of a State is dictated by the process of globalization. Not only has there been a decline in the state sovereignty system, the borders separating states have been rendered virtual and something you get to exponentially see and read about only in textbooks these days. The world as they call it, is a global village and the survival of one state has become increasingly dependent on the others. The world order sustains on the action of each State and one wrong decision can strike war in a few days’ time whereas one helpful action can pave the way for cooperation and friendship for years.

As we have seen since the beginning of time, the states will often help each other by cooperating through trade, sharing valuable resources, agreeing to an international agreement for mutual benefits, or provide aid during a crisis all with a vision for ensuring support in the future. However, this study becomes even more crucial when the international world system gets caught up in a global pandemic and one nation the state suffers exponentially more than the others. It is then that these roles get revised and tested.

This article focuses on analysing the role played by States in the face of COVID-19 pandemic. It has brought back the heroic struggle of states for national survival. To begin with, this pandemic has shown the world population that everyone, rich or poor requires the help of the State equally at all times. This brings us to the point where one can observe a more national state of mind prevalent amongst all Nation-States currently. Even though the pandemic is a global phenomenon, it reinforces the notion of national sovereignty. While the virus fails to recognize global boundaries, all States are putting their citizens first. The States that are extending help across boundaries have mainly catered to their domestic needs prior to extending such aid. The severity of this pandemic has even forced the state governments to make necessary changes in their allocation of funds and open their wallets even more.

In India for instance the expenditure on the healthcare sector in 2020 is only about 1.29% of its total GDP and has only seen a modest increase of 5.7% to Rs.67, 484 crores from the previous year. If the healthcare sector grows at the current rate then India will significantly fall short of the central government’s target of 2.5% of the GDP by 2025. It will have to make arrangements in order to keep up with the fast damaging nature of the coronavirus and to make up for the lack of infrastructure and necessary resources.


In the years to come a State’s economic strength will be measure by its ability to kick start the economy, generate jobs for people, and increase people’s buying power. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” has become invisible in our capitalistic societies and it seems like the state will pay a greater role in setting the dictates of its people’s lives. Surprisingly enough, the role of the state has matured and its facilities have improved in the face of this pandemic. The pandemic has sharpened the importance of nationwide services that are capable of coping with emergencies such as the Airlines, healthcare sector, emergency response forces, education sector and public transportation. The healthcare sector is in a crisis currently but the economic crisis that will follow is sure to leave a lot of countries hanging by a thin thread.

This economic crisis evoked under the global pandemic will require the states to become active players in the employment sector by improving labour relations and providing employment to those who have been rendered jobless due to the pandemic. This could be catered through increased public funding and extending state institutions. The states need to look upon this pandemic as a window for betterment in their healthcare sector and overcoming its loopholes which were earlier being ignored because in these times even the Prince of Wales or our Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi will need to rely upon the state for help. Another implication of this phenomenon is the fact that states will have to shift their focus and give up on their obsession with strengthening the military as the primary form of defence. The ongoing global pandemic’s deadly impact proves that military means don’t stand a chance against an invisible threat and also portray how the greatest intelligence services around the world fail to see such non-traditional threats such as pandemics, cyber-attacks, or a financial crisis. The state will thus have to play an informed role post-COVID-19 and even in the current scenario where primary importance is attached to public policy reforms, especially in health, education, labour/skills, and scientific research.

Thanks to the pandemic, there is a rebirth of the public sector. Not only is the public sector being called to arms it is going to stay active for a long time now. In this sense, the role of the state will have to undergo major changes as it will have to survive through a complex network to remain useful and legitimate. Some nation-states have also expressed a desire to liberate their states from imports such as imports of some health-related products like sanitary gloves or masks which is better than begging for Chinese ones during a crisis. However, a responsible state should realize that the invention and production of up-to-date anti-bacterial or anti-viral equipment and medicines require global and regional engagement. Economic autarky is not conducive to innovation and crisis prevention. Keeping that aspect aside, one can easily say that every state has expressed the desire to become more self-reliant in the face of this global pandemic.

For instance, India’s Prime Minister has expressed his concern over “Sanghamoolam Mahabalam” or united efforts as the strength behind making the nation self-reliant. They have created various Indian mobile applications to replace foreign applications, masks are being produced on a mass scale amongst many other initiatives.

After taking into consideration all these pointers, one will actually start to imagine a State in the face of a global pandemic as being more responsive and accountable to its citizens. But is this actually the case? It is a thought-provoking statement as the relationship between the government (Political Elites) and the society (Citizens and civil society) has indeed come to a standstill wherein people are finding it increasingly hard to trust and hold the government accountable at the same time. During such times, the State has to shoulder the responsibility of educating and spreading awareness amongst its citizens more than ever and work to strengthen the communal glue. It has to make sure it is issuing the proper and urgent guidelines to be undertaken at the right time. The representatives should address the nation regarding the ongoing scenario along with an appreciation for all key players. Error-free and timely collection of data must be done in order to be made available to all the citizens with regular access and across all regions of a nation-state. This way people have something to hold onto, they are interested in following the societal norms and guidelines, and ultimately they don’t feel despise towards the government because the gap in crisis management has been overcome through trust and following the government’s instructions will pull them out of the pandemic with minimal losses in the long run. This close relationship which the states shall aim at establishing also comes in handy while getting them testes. The people will trust the public healthcare systems in terms of privacy maintenance and will share all kinds of information and cooperate with the medical staff because they now trust the government. The state must also make sure that it addresses the concerns of all the sections of the society equally. We have seen how migrant labourers have been crushed under the pandemic and the failure of the government to act rapidly on their behalf. Therefore, developing an umbrella of opportunities reflective for all the sections of the society is another requirement on the part of the state.

States globally have opted for a more effective strategy of engaging in social and economic interactions instead because of the complete closedown of international borders. The citizens have been physically separated from each other and they feel closer to each other. These are contrary times as one has to be physically distanced and separated in order to stand together against this virus. However, this responsibility did not strike all States at the same time. Emmanuel Macron came around after initially declaring that the virus “has no passport” and is devoid of national characteristics. Angela Markel also succumbed to the virus after advocating for open borders initially. Japan, for instance, has helped many Asian and non-Asian countries by sharing their telemedicine insights and application with them. In the face of this pandemic, people all over the world will be able to receive consultation from Japanese doctors and benefit without having to physically cross borders.

Some states in the global world order are also finding it difficult to mediate between the decisions to be taken by their governments or decisions in accordance with a Convention/treaty they’re a part of. For instance, Article 15 of The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) allows countries to declare a state of emergency “in times of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation”. So far, six ECHR nations including Armenia, Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, Moldova, and Romania have declared a state of emergency under Article 15. However, States like Italy and Spain have not used the ECHR mechanism but instead declared an emergency in accordance with their constitutional provisions where the emergency is subject to review by the legislature as in Italy’s case.

Despite these regional variations in the treatment of COVID-19 Pandemic, there is one global responsibility which is binding upon all the states. It is to act responsibly and implement the guidelines laid down by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the face of this global pandemic. As per the recommendations of the WHO, countries should identify essential services that will be prioritized in their efforts to maintain continuity of service delivery and make strategic shifts to ensure that increasingly limited resources provide maximum benefit for the population. They also need to comply with the highest standard in precautions, especially in hygiene practices, and the provision of adequate supplies including personal protective equipment This requires robust planning and coordinated actions between governments and health facilities and their managers. Some examples of essential services include: routine vaccination; reproductive health services including care during pregnancy and childbirth; care of young infants and older adults; management of mental health conditions as well as non-communicable diseases and infectious diseases like HIV, malaria, and TB; critical inpatient therapies; management of emergency health conditions; auxiliary services like basic diagnostic imaging, laboratory services, and blood bank services, among others. Well-organized and prepared health systems can continue to provide equitable access to essential service delivery throughout an emergency, limiting direct mortality and avoiding increased indirect mortality. These guidelines stress the importance of keeping up-to-date information as already highlighted in this paper.


It is important to understand that in contemporary times the behaviour of one state affects that of all others and their roles are being rendered increasingly complex. In the face of the global pandemic, they take on an increased role as a welfare state as people are highly dependent on them. It is a continuous battle for the states to not only increase their national sovereignty but also cooperate and extend help to the other states that are in need of aid. These are testing times for a country like ours, especially wherein a massive population means we need to be more than ready to effectively face coronavirus. It is going to be a long flight, but with the state coming to play a major role extensively it will be interesting to see what the future holds for all of us.

References : [1] Elston, J. W. T., Cartwright, C., Ndumbi, P., & Wright, J. (2017). The health impact of the 2014–15 Ebola outbreak. Public Health, 143, 60-70.

[2] Parpia, A. S., Ndeffo-Mbah, M. L., Wenzel, N. S., & Galvani, A. P. (2016). Effects of response to 2014–2015 Ebola outbreak on deaths from malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis, West Africa. Emerging infectious diseases, 22(3), 433.

Analyzing The Role of 'States' In The Fa
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