The Remdesivir Saga | By Ashwin Vardarajan

The Remdesivir Saga 

By Ashwin Vardarajan 

The Trump administration recently secured all of the world’s supply of the drug ‘Remdesivir’– which has been found to be an effective remedy against COVID-19– for the months of July, August and September. Consequently, no other country in the world would have access to this drug for three months – something which raises alarming concerns for many who are fighting the same battle against the virus amid the dreams of a conclusive vaccine being distant. The drug is manufactured by a US-based company known as Gilead Sciences Inc, and was considered a (unsuccessful) cure for the Ebola virus. Quite hubristically, the Trump administration stated that they have “struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for COVID-19.” Although US has been the worst hit country at the time of this article being written, it has shown no dismay to the what this deal would mean to the world at large. At a time when global cooperation is imperative for all to survive and thrive against the virus, the US-Remdesivir saga depicts a classic case of Realism in the sphere of international relations.

Realism as a political theory concerns itself with state behaviour oriented to cater to their own interest without moral considerations for the world at large. In the realm of this theory, states are rational actors who often aim to portray their strength in the broader field of international politics– often to overpower other nations. Classic realists, like Hans Morgenthau, sternly believed that international politics is governed by objective norms stemming from amoral human nature exclusive to the socio-economic setup of each sovereign state – which only make countries only concern themselves with their own interests.

When a certain state overpowers its rivals and asserts itself as the one the world revolves around, sovereigns merge their strengths and attempt to topple the accumulation of authority in the hands of just one state. This is known as the external balance of power, where states form alliances to check the powers of the more powerful sovereign(s). Although Realism is amoral, the requirement of morality in the international order is replaced with a sense of responsibility by the states aligning to oppose a country accumulating power in its hands to restore balance. This often leads to them entering into treaties and conventions to limit each other’s plenary powers internationally and domestically. However, “states can make commitments and treaties, but no sovereign power ensures compliance and punishes deviations[1] from it – thereby forming the environment of a political anarchy. Without a sense of morality, countries within the realm of Realism severely overlooked the aspect of sovereign cooperation – which is (ideally) how the world functions, or endeavours to function, today. Although international politics deviated from this model of sovereign relations by endorsing morality and Liberalism, its modicum overtly remains; more likely to manifest where two sovereigns confront one another during a crisis. Sovereigns constitute and conceive international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), but often do not really conform to what such organisations ask them to do.

In the backdrop of such absence of checks and balance of power, US went ahead and bought the entire world’s stock of Remdesivir for the next three months. The administration most definitely has coercive authority over a corporation based within its borders, but it has cost the world three months of a medicine which could come to the aid of many who continue to suffer outside its dominion. Further, this also comes at a time where a large chunk of the world opposed China for misusing its position as an economically tough kid in a global alley full of economically weakened states – and thereby misusing its position domestically and internationally. Several countries, including US, have condemned China’s conduct. However, there seems to be little discontent so far as US’s actions are concerned. By selectively choosing their battles to balance power, countries seemingly blur the lines of ignorance and tolerance towards US’s conduct, and their side-steps may have repercussions on the world at large – which continuously deals with a pandemic without a vaccine.

This is evidenced by how many countries, including India, have placed their bet on the effectiveness of Remdesivir as a prospect for dealing with the virus. In the aftermath of US buying the stock of Remdesivir, EU began negotiating with Gilead, and not US, “to reserve doses of Remdesivir for EU member states”. Pertinently, the US-Remdesivir saga is not isolate. Germany, Italy, and Netherlands “struck a deal in the past few weeks to secure 400 million doses of AstraZeneca’s potential vaccine, although other countries are also encouraged to join the group on the same terms” – and nobody really raised their voice against this. This amoral demonstration of vaccine nationalism shows how the states have adopted the ‘me first’ model for conserving their own interests by striking deals with corporations to buy essential medicines instrumental for tackling COVID-19. The circumference of sovereigns balancing powers amongst one another shortens when countries merge to topple a powerful state, whilst subsequently not behaving the same way in another sect of international relations. Nobody can, of course, school a country on how it should deal with a pandemic. Yet, these instances are only proof of how the biennale of Realism is just a global crisis away. Moral considerations are still, thus, only a matter of a utopian framework of, perhaps, international law – which currently seems like a whimsical hoax.

Earlier this year, the WHO formulated the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool to compile “health technology related knowledge”, and encourage dissemination of scientific information relevant for countries to counter the pandemic. This initiative emboldens sovereign cooperation and global solidarity under leadership of the WHO. However, if countries continue to portray tendencies of binary absorptions throughout the pandemic, without maintaining balance of powers in international relations, we cannot call our fight a global one.

A male pharmacist is examining a drug from a the pharmacy inventory | Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash


This article has been written by Ashwin Vardarajan. Ashwin is a 2nd-year student of law, pursuing BA LLB (Hons.) from Symbiosis Law School Pune. He has a niche for constitutional law, public policy, and international law.


All views presented in the article belong solely to the writer. The editor does not support or condemn the views, and neither does The Global Telescope. The Global Telescope remains impartial and promotes every individual's right to freedom of speech and expression while not holding any responsibility for the views presented whatsoever.

[1] Robert Art & Robert Jervis, International Politics 1 (1973).


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