Mikta who? Covid-19 injects five ‘middle power’ countries with new sense of purpose
- A group representing Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia may have finally found its true purpose: leading the global coronavirus battle
- With countries like the US, China and Russia not signing the WHO initiative to provide equitable access to vaccines, Mikta is expected to fill the breach
In an alphabet soup of informal multilateral groupings that have sprung up since the Soviet Union and the US ended their Cold War, Mikta hardly rings a bell for most people.
Agreeing that Mikta has fallen short on fulfilling its vision partly due to a lack of strategic intent, Caitlin Byrne, the director of the Griffith Asia Institute, said the group’s global impact is “just not clear”, given the questions surrounding what its very different member nations have in common.
Evi Fitriani, an associate professor of international relations at the University of Indonesia, said that competing regional groupings such as Asean also pose a challenge to the continued relevance of Mikta.
During a video conference at the United Nations last month, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the international community should work together to ensure that developing countries have equal access to Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutic drugs. At another event organised by South Korea’s foreign affairs ministry, analysts said Mikta would be the perfect body to lead the charge.
Analysts at the event said that given the growing strategic rivalry between the United States and China, Mikta can play a bigger role in promoting multilateral cooperation in global health governance as well as ensuring the fair and inclusive distribution of a Covid vaccine. The dialogue followed an online meeting in July of Mikta foreign ministers, who discussed ways to combat the novel coronavirus.
Byrne, the Griffith University professor, said that in view of weaknesses in global health governance, the Covid pandemic has given Mikta a strategic opportunity “to prioritise global health governance as its primary focus”.
In recent months, many in the international community have agreed that Covid-19 has exposed a global failure in public health partly due to underinvestment, poor infrastructure and weak capabilities, but also because of geopolitics.
Choi Hyunjin, an associate professor of political science at South Korea’s Kyung Hee University, said that in view of what is generally perceived as “vaccine hoarding and diplomacy” around the world, it appears unlikely that major countries will ensure a fair allocation of vaccines given their nature as private, not public, goods.
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Fitriani said this can be done through greater research and collaboration among the signatory countries, with the middle powers such as those represented in Mikta stepping in to lead the way when the superpowers bow out.
Byrne said that given the diverse experience and different responses of Mikta countries in tackling the pandemic, these experiences on testing and tracing can be shared among themselves and elsewhere.
Mikta’s burgeoning role in the area of global health governance and vaccine diplomacy means additional funding will be needed. Robert J. Fouser, a columnist for the South Korean English-language daily Korea Herald, said Mikta countries do not have enough financial power to support an expanded role.
“They can, however, work with more influential countries or organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,” Fouser suggested, adding that substantial progress on health governance will depend on cooperation among major powers such as the US, China, and the EU. “These countries form the core of the global economy and dominant medical and pharmaceutical research.”
There is also the question of Mikta’s longer-term relevance.
Robertson, the Yonsei University professor, said the pandemic has increased the executive role in foreign policy while reducing support for medium-term relationship-building platforms such as Mikta. He compared Covid-19 to the immediate crisis decision-making responses following the September 11 attacks, which necessitated greater executive control over foreign policy.
He added that, as with terrorism, the threat from pandemic disease may never fully disappear, meaning decision-making practices passed over to the executive are likely to remain there.
The pandemic “has brought out dissatisfaction with global governance, which means less support for less effective platforms, such as Mikta”, he said.
Byrne said that even though Mikta has often been criticised for lacking in focus, it still serves as a useful cross-regional consultative and dialogue platform among foreign ministers, senior officials and academics.
As for middle powers such as Australia, Byrne added that the capacity to work through multiple diplomatic networks like Mikta is increasingly important. She added that the grouping should not be seen as replacing or duplicating other platforms, but rather as a complementary channel in building cooperation, and leveraging influence on shared interests.