World War II is raging in the Pacific. The United States prepares to carry out a “strategic bombing” of Japan, its main enemy in the region. Secretary of War Henry S. Stimson implores President Harry Truman not to bomb Kyoto, initially one of the main military targets. Stimson, who particularly admired Japanese culture, knew that the city of Kyoto, where he had spent his honeymoon, was a true center of culture and tradition. Eventually, Kyoto did not meet the same fate as Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Perhaps this passage reflects in its most tragic and extreme dimension the importance of soft power in international relations: how the ability to shape the preferences of people in another country through culture, art or values can make the difference in whether a city is bombed or not. In a more peaceful context such as the current one, but with no fewer geopolitical tensions or health risks, international cooperation is also an unbeatable source of soft power; that is, a source of admiration, gratitude and empathy from the recipient, and of genuine global responsibility, prestige, leadership and certainly political influence from the one who projects it. In this time of the pandemic, vaccines against COVID-19 evidently fulfill this role.
Recently, the Mexican government announced an agreement with the Joe Biden administration for the U.S. to lend 2.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico. The same event has been variously interpreted at several points along the political spectrum. Not surprisingly, the bilateral Mexico-U.S. relationship is and will continue to be fundamental for our country, as well as for the projection of the North American region as a whole. Some readings have suggested that it is a “rescue operation” from President Biden to the administration of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, particularly in its vaccination plan. Other interpretations suggest that this cooperation agreement was part of a broader negotiation in which immigration, security and even electricity industry issues were present.
In this regard, we sometimes tend to isolate the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship from the global geopolitical context, overlooking the way in which our ally and partner operates in the international arena, which is characterized by its growing multipolarity. Therefore, we should add that collaboration on vaccines between the U.S. and Mexico is part of a larger geopolitical game, in light of the “vaccine diplomacy” that its main rivals have implemented in various regions of the world, including the Western Hemisphere.
In particular, China and Russia have made a virtue of global responsibility with undeniable political-diplomatic ramifications; wherever Chinese or Russian vaccines go, so will greater strategic influence. Just yesterday it was reported that Mexico received an additional batch of 1 million doses of Sinovac vaccine as a result of deepening bilateral Mexico-China cooperation during the pandemic. On the other hand, in some national media reports, we read that older adults are saying Vladimir Putin delivered.
Regardless of whether a think tank such as COMEXI can conduct an opinion poll that goes beyond the testimonial and anecdotal, any shift in the preference of Mexican society will inevitably have implications for Mexico’s foreign policy. Given such a scenario, it would be difficult for the Mexican government not to be more empathetic to Russian or Chinese causes in the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Human Rights Council or any other multilateral forum of which Mexico is currently a member.
So it stands to reason that the North American region would be one of the first to receive vaccines from the U.S. as part of its first hemispheric security belt. However, this commitment is likely to be replicated in the rest of the Western Hemisphere, as well as in Asia and the Middle East. The U.S. media has already mentioned, for example, that the U.S. would activate its alliance system in the Asia-Pacific, particularly with India, Australia and Japan, in order to reverse the effectiveness of Chinese diplomacy in that region.
In conclusion, the U.S. vaccine loan to Mexico must be a move on the global geopolitical chessboard. However, this sets an important precedent for consolidating the bilateral relationship based on closeness, dialogue and regional cooperation for development. Ultimately, this is also a function of soft power: to unite.
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