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Have the world's leaders fallen short in their pandemic response? Expert Comment

Speaking at a press briefing today, UN Secretary General António Guterres has expressed disappointment at the lack of leadership by world powers in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and raised concern about inadequate support for poorer countries.

Shirin Rai, Professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies (PAIS) and the Director of Warwick Interdisciplinary Research Centre for International Development (WICID), and Dr Briony Jones, Associate Professor in PAIS and Deputy Director of WICID, comment:

"While Secretary General Guterres is correct in bemoaning the lack of leadership in tackling Covid-19, not all leadership in doing so has come from sources disassociated from power. Indeed, as has been widely noted, female leaders in many countries have led with empathy and foresight, minimizing the effect of the virus in their countries.

"What Secretary General Guterres is focusing on is of course the powerful countries of the world - US and China - not showing the leadership needed at this time and raising the stakes in a war of words that can only harm global efforts to tackle the virus.

"The fact that the Security Council has been unable to come up with a global strategy for addressing the pandemic and its inevitable effects because of an impasse as a result of this war of words is worrying. It brings into question the decision-making structures of the UN that have been in the hock to world powers since its inception. It also raises questions over distribution of power between states and leaders rather than a lack of it.

"Nationalism and short-termism will not help at this time of crisis; what we need is to shine a spotlight on leaders who have successfully shown how empathy, clarity and a focus on prevention and containment can help at this time. This would also help global conversations about the post-pandemic needs of not only the powerful but also the poor countries of the world."

1 May 2020

  • WICID was established in 2019 to address urgent problems of inequality and social, political and economic change on a global level. Interdisciplinary, critical and robust analyses through collaborative knowledge building and exchange characterize WICID’s approach and ensure impact in the fields its members work in.


Sheila Kiggins

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