“Nero fiddled while Rome was burning.” – The old expression with respect to the utter indifference of decadent Roman emperor Nero (37-68 AD) to the engulfing Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD seems to have resurfaced in the wake of the recently unfolded geopolitical event in the Indo-Pacific region, with repercussions across the world.
The insight of this old articulation – doing something irresponsible or indulging in one’s own obsession to “habitual tendency” in the face of something more pressing – appears to have echoed with the emergence of an irrational defence pact, Aukus as it is nicknamed, among the United States, the UK and Australia.
The tripartite deal with the explicit aim to provide Australia with nuclear-propelled submarines and implicit aim to contain China’s ascendance looks as though the “Nero(s)” of the 21st century, overwhelmingly obsessed with an exaggerated “threat of China”, are beating the war drum while the world is reeling from pernicious fallouts induced by climate change and the pandemic which are something more urgent to deal with.
A striking resemblance to the fateful legacy of Roman emperor Nero, it seems the so-called powerful preachers of global peace and stability are indulging more in their pre-occupied impulses than stepping up coordinated efforts to address the imminent global “common threats” – climate change and the pandemic.
Climate, calamities and callousness
Fast-forward to today, climate change caused by global warming has become a monstrous menace. It has continuously been taking a toll through cataclysmic forms of flood, drought, hurricane, heatwave, deteriorating public health, human displacement, and so on.
With no furtherance in the near future, we are constantly being convulsed by frightening future forecasts. In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body with a number of climate experts and scientists, warned of imminent catastrophes induced by human-driven climate crisis. Owing to the transnational nature of the threat, climate crisis mostly accelerated by industrial giants has been taking a heavy toll on island and underdeveloped states like Bangladesh, Maldives, Pacific islands, etc.
But to address this transnational threat, a collective endeavour from the global community continuously falters on its way to the end. Except for diplomatic showmanship, anything substantive to this end is yet to take shape.
The Paris Climate Accord adopted in 2015 was only a glimmer of hope in such a gloomy state. It had unleashed a potent prospect until it was stumbled by narrow geopolitical and isolationist actions.
Immediately after the 76th UN General Assembly summit, the forthcoming COP26 (Conference of Parties under UNFCCC) scheduled to be held in the Scottish city of Glasgow in November carries huge significance to lead the Paris Climate Pact further to its key aspiration – limiting global heating to 1.5°C. Then again geopolitics has come into play to jeopardise the hope. Climate experts fear that the emergence of the Aukus agreement could have a negative impact on the outcome of COP26. This clear callousness to the climate cause on the part of powerful stakeholders demonstrates their over-emphasis on distant delusion rather than on an impending cataclysm.
Pandemic and power-mongering
As one of the greatest disrupting events in human history, the Covid-19 crisis, yet to cease to an exit, has already convulsed every strain of human life- politics, economy, culture and so forth. With regard to the economy, the coronavirus pandemic has already triggered the most widespread global economic meltdown since at least 1870.
According to World Bank, the Covid-19 pandemic is estimated to push an additional 150 million people into extreme poverty, compounding the forces related to climate change and global conflict. The IMF warns of growing unrest, violence and geopolitical tension triggered by widespread income inequality, further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, with no sign of ceasing in the near future. Analysts have forecasted a more dystopian picture to be unveiled in the years to come.
Against this backdrop, Aukus is a clear contrast to what should be done to rid the world of this crisis. Under the circumstances where poorer countries are scrambling to get vaccines and struggling to recover their already dilapidated economy, such an insensible enterprise is not only a propelling push to an arms race and nuclear proliferation, but also a dent to the concept of Global Good.
When unity among the world powers is more urgent than ever before in such a crucial time, intense power-mongering driven by a “preconceived notion” and paranoid “threat perception” will only widen the gulf among them – and much of the brunt out of this insensibility will be borne by the poorer ones.
Surprisingly, much of the apprehension following the Aukus pact is condensed into French clamour over Australia’s cancellation of a US$90bil diesel-powered submarine deal struck with France in 2016. But the precedents set by this pact to provide nuclear technologies and know-how to Australia exploiting loopholes of Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) have got scant space on global debate. An apparent slam to the global disarmament and denuclearisation efforts, Aukus is going to be a boost to the likely-belligerent actors. Besides, it is an apparent demonstration of double standard on the part of parties to the pact – on one hand, they are bullying so-called “rogue states” to prevent them from having nuclear arms and, on the other hand, bolstering their allies with similar ones.
But beyond these apprehensions over potential arms race and instability, the pact is an eccentric divergence from core responsibilities to prevailing global urgencies. Having been launched in the name of protecting peace and stability, as it is preached by parties to the deal, the pact will certainly destabilise the Pacific rim, and may even lead to the cataclysmic calamity.
Desperate to deal with the condemnation following the “Great Fire of Rome”, Emperor Nero blamed the devastation on the hapless Christian community. Whom will the Nero(s) of the 21st century blame if any conflagration breaks out of their utter callousness and insensibility?
ABU NASER AL FARABI
The writer is an independent journalist and researcher on Asian affairs.