Covid mismanagement – Who is responsible and can they be held accountable?

Infection and mortality rates have varied widely across the globe during the covid pandemic and fluctuated considerably over the past year within individual countries and continents.
It is clear that in most countries social and health inequalities have contributed very significantly to this variation, with covid disproportionately affecting the poor and underprivileged. There have also been other factors in play, with gross mismanagement and multiple policy failures in some countries leading to thousands of excess deaths. This has been particularly evident in certain countries, such as the US under Trump, Brazil, India and arguably the UK, where misplaced economic considerations or the hubris of their political leaders has been associated with the wilful neglect of scientific advice, delayed and mistimed lockdowns and thousands of premature deaths, both due to covid and also delays in treatment of non-covid disorders. This raises the question of political leaders’ accountability for their citizens avoidable deaths.

Kamran Abbasi MB ChB, FRCP is a doctor, journalist, broadcaster and executive editor of the British Medical Journal, and is also a visiting professor at the Department of Primary Care and Public Health, Imperial College. He has recently written about Covid mismanagement in the UK  as well as the wider international perspective and argues
that such public health malpractice could be classified as at the least criminal negligence, or at worst a crime against humanity. He will discuss this in his talk, as well as the possible avenues for redress; ranging from a public inquiry (already much delayed by the UK government), political solutions such as a change of leader (as in the US) or the possibility of a global system of governance such as the International Criminal Court including mismanagement of pandemics in its jurisdiction, given the consequences in individual countries have such a significant deadly impact on the whole world.

Following five years in hospital medicine, working in various medical specialties such as psychiatry and cardiology, Dr Abbasi moved into senior editorial roles at the British Medical Journal from 1997 to 2005. He is now back at The BMJ in a new role as executive editor for content, leading the journal’s strategic growth internationally, digitally, and in print. He has contributed to the expansion of international editions of the BMJ and argued that medicine cannot exist in a political void.

21st June 2021



The geopolitical & historical implications of the TPNW

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, (TPNW), entered into force on 22 January 2021. As at 1st February 2021, there were 86 signatories and 52 states-parties, and these numbers continue to grow. It is the first comprehensive global nuclear weapons ban, initially supported in 2017 by 122 countries, that is 2/3 of the membership of the UN. The treaty prohibits signatories from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, or allowing nuclear weapons to be stationed on their territory. It also prohibits them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in any of these activities.

The battle over the introduction of the TPNW raged in the UN for over three years. Accident, miscalculation or design faults were seen as the main threats to be addressed. All 9 nuclear powers boycotted the process and the US led the effort to block TPNW by sending out letters to all signatories to withdraw. Five of those countries, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Holland and Turkey host nuclear weapons.  Japan and South Korea also boycotted the Treaty as naive and dangerous, asserting that it could increase the risk of nuclear use. Russia, US, UK and France remained united against it.  In contrast China tweeted, “we have always been advocating complete prohibition and we make a continuous efforts towards a nuclear weapon free world”. Details of UK opposition to TPNW.   False claims that TPNW is a threat to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) abound, whereas actually they are completely compatible.

TPNW challenges the entire logic of deterrence. At the present time we are in a state of extreme peril with the 1947 Doomsday Clock set at 100 seconds to midnight. This is the most dangerous period since the Cuban crisis of 1962 and tensions between the US and China and US and Russia are the worst in decades.

The talk explores the geopolitical and historical implications of the TPNW and also touches on the background to the nuclear strikes on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.   The fact that the overwhelming majority of states and popular opinion support the success of the Treaty  may persuade Global financial institutions, bound by international law, to establish themselves as responsible investors, and therefore increasingly hesitant of investing in these ‘controversial’ weapons now they have been delegitimised by the majority of nations.  Perhaps the TPNW marks the beginning of the end of the military hegemony of the nuclear-armed powers as nation after nation asserts its right to live in a world free of the threat of nuclear annihilation by deliberate act or, far more likely, a miscalculation. 

Speaker Biography

Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University, is author of ‘Beyond the Laboratory: Scientists As Political Activists in 1930s’ America (University of Chicago Press), co-author with Akira Kimura of Rethinking the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Japanese and American Perspectives (Horitsu Bunkasha, 2010), co-author with Yuki Tanaka of Genpatsu to hiroshima – genshiryoku heiwa riyo no shinso (Nuclear Power and Hiroshima: The Truth Behind the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Power (Iwanami, 2011), and co-editor with James Gilbert of Rethinking Cold War Culture (Smithsonian Institution Press).  Full listing of books and articles.

He was active in the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements and remains active in anti-war and nuclear abolition efforts.    In 1995, he founded American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute. Every summer, since 1995, he has taken Institute students on a study-abroad class in Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. 

In 2003, Kuznick organized a group of scholars, writers, artists, clergy, and activists to protest the Smithsonian’s celebratory display of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum annex. As part of this effort, he cofounded the Committee for a National Discussion of Nuclear History and Current Policy and the Nuclear Education Project with Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba and professors Mark Selden and John Dower.

His current projects include a book on scientists and the Vietnam War and another that looks at how the evolving understanding that nuclear war could lead to annihilation of all life on the planet has shaped the behaviour and views of military strategists, policymakers, and the public. He and Oliver Stone co-authored the 10 part Showtime documentary film series and book, both titled The Untold History of the United States. He regularly provides commentary for all the major U.S. and international media and has begun his fourth three-year term as Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer.

29th April 2021


Myanmar: Why peace remains elusive

After decades of military rule, Myanmar’s 2010 General Election appeared to be a watershed moment and inspired hopes that Myanmar was embarking upon what the World Bank dubbed as a ‘triple transition’: from authoritarian military rule to democratic governance, from a centrally directed economy to a market-oriented economy, and from 60 years of conflict to peace in the country’s border areas. The election of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015, following a landslide victory for her National League for Democracy (NLD) Party, led to renewed hopes that a peaceful resolution could be found to the country’s longstanding armed conflict. Yet, alongside Myanmar’s formal peace process, the country’s ethnically-diverse border areas have experienced some of the worst violence for more than twenty-five years, notably the devastating army-led attacks against the country’s Rohingya population and renewed fighting in the northeast of the country in Kachin State and northern Shan State. This talk explores why peacebuilding efforts continue to face huge challenges despite the country’s democratic transition and formal peace process. Focusing predominantly on northern Myanmar’s borderlands with China, this talk emphasises the need to situate the current peace process within a deeper understanding of the contested and unresolved processes of state-building and to understand how the current peace process is founded upon the troubled legacy of decades of military rule, exclusionary nationalism and highly unequal power structures.

Author biography:

Dr Patrick Meehan is a post-doctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Development Studies at SOAS, and a Co-Investigator on a four research project entitled ‘Drugs and (dis)order: Building sustainable peacetime economies in the aftermath of war’. Funded by the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), this project explores the political economy of drugs and war to peace transitions in borderland regions of Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar. His research explores the dynamics of violence, conflict and development, and engages specifically with the relationship between drugs and processes of statebuilding and peacebuilding, with a primary focus on Myanmar’s borderlands with China and Thailand. He has also conducted research for The UK Government (Stabilisation Unit), the World Bank, Conciliation Resources and Christian Aid. 

8th March 2021