Reagan: ‘Our differences worldwide would vanish’ if all faced an alien threat

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By John J. Metzler

What would happen if an alien force invaded the world?

This was the hypothesis of many sci-fi films over the years in which warring countries and governments would somehow, suddenly, and urgently join together to fight the greater threat.  War of the Worlds, (1953) based on the H.G. Wells epic comes to mind, and now there’s time to rewatch the movie.

The point is we are globally challenged by a deadly force, in this case the “invisible enemy” as President Donald Trump calls it, and somehow we seem to be joining together to fight the threat.

President Ronald Reagan at the UN in 1987: ‘I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside of this world.’

This past week, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres made a stirring online appeal for a global truce in the conflicts which bleed and destroy their respective regions.  This goes well beyond Syria and Yemen and tragically includes the myriad of conflicts most of which we rarely hear of.

The Secretary General stated passionately, “Our world faces a common enemy: COVID-19.  The virus does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith. It attacks all, relentlessly.”

He added, “Meanwhile armed conflict rages around the world.  I’m calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world.  It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and  focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

Fighting stopped in a few places such as in the Philippines, but for the most part the appeal seemed to be drowned out by the deadly staccato of AK-47’s which provide morbid background music for many forgotten parts of the world.

Secondly, the United Nations has tasked a major relief effort for developing countries which are already straining under the weight of poverty in addition to this “invisible enemy.”

Antonio Guterres warned of “a global recession, perhaps of record dimensions, is a near  certainty.”  The UN’s Secretary General stated bluntly, “COVID-19 is killing people, as well as attacking the real economy at its core; trade, supply chains, business, jobs.”  He outlined a three phase plan which would directly tackle the widening health crisis, focus on economic response and recovery, and lastly “recover better” to take the lessons learned from the  pandemic to plan to avert future health crises.

The UN has launched a $2 billion global humanitarian response to fund the fight against Coronavirus in the world’s poorest countries.

President Ronald Reagan addressing the UN General Assembly in1987 hypothesized, “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside of this world.”

Well this is now precisely our challenge today.

Happily, the United States is part of the solution; The State Department has published an eight-page list of countries and international organizations which will receive $274 million aid assistance in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.  May I say the list provides a proud litany of global aid to scores of countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Here are some examples.  Among fifteen African states we see Ethiopia receiving $1.85 million to counter COVID-19 going toward risk communication, water, building on $4 billion in health aid over past 20 years;  Zambia: $1.87 million in health assistance will go toward risk communication, water and sanitation, infection prevention which already builds on  $3.9 billion in U.S. health assistance over the last twenty years.

Among a dozen European and Eurasian countries there’s Ukraine: More than $1.2 million in health and humanitarian assistance will help prepare laboratory systems.

Of twenty countries in Asia, take Indonesia for example, receiving $2.3 million in health aid to help the government prepare laboratory systems, activate case-finding and event-based surveillance.

In the Caribbean, Haiti will receive $2.2 million in health assistance which will help the government scale up its risk communication efforts, water and sanitation.  The U.S. has invested $1.8 billion in health in Haiti over the past 20 years.

Significantly, there’s $64 million for UNHCR’s portion of the UN’s COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan to aid those people exposed in refugee camps.  Much support comes through the heralded U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Equally the Trump Administration coordinates a widening health emergency response across America.  U.S. Navy hospital ships are now in New York and Los Angeles assisting an already overburdened health care system.

This is a small sketch of an impressive array of humanitarian aid for which Americans can be proud. Equally the enormous strides by the private and public health sectors are impressive. But the bigger battle looms both in the USA and abroad.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]