Vaccine: Geopolitics and Spheres of Influence


Here we are, vaccines have been approved and trials have been promising. Now the stake is at distribution. Most westerners have been hearing of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, the BioNTech-Pfizer’s and the Moderna’s. But that’s not it, two other vaccines are Russian (Sputnik and EpiVacCorona), another one is Chinese (CanSinoBIO from SinoPharm). And right now there are 64 vaccine candidates at the WHO still undergoing clinical trials. 

The interesting fact is who gets what. In our interconnected world, where liberalism is argued to be the end of history, division among states on getting the vaccines is still an important feature. The poorest countries don’t have the priority, and if they do have the chance to get a vaccine, they don’t really have the choice of which one. This, of course, profits to regional powers, seeking influence, still trying to balance the West. The European Union has not only ordered the BioNTech-Pfizer and the Moderna’s vaccine, they have ordered millions of doses from vaccines still on trials, all from American or European firms. It looks a lot like Europe won’t get a non-western vaccine. If we look at other countries, the details of their order become more interesting. Pakistan’s government just approved the Sputnik vaccine, and they were offered a chinese goodwill of 500,000 doses by Chinese government-owned SinoPharm. They also ordered AstraZeneca’s vaccine in case of emergency. Pakistan seems to be in a hurry, with a population of 220 million and a need of 70% vaccinated people for herd immunity. On a map, Pakistan is a buffer state in Asia, bordering the Middle-East. If other Asian countries follow the same path, the Russian and Chinese sphere of influence could be composed of the entire Asian continent. This seems like a good example of the Geographical Pivot of History’s theory, once argued by Mackinder. In this way, if all eurasian countries get one of the two russian vaccines, Russia could reach an equilibrium in the balance of power, where considered as a counter-balance of Western hegemony. China has also its role to play, in South-East Asia, where it could confirm its role of regional hegemon, not only in dominating trade and exchanges, but in dominating health issues, thus political outcomes. The West would be contained, China at their left and Eurasia at their right. 

In the Middle-East, the only country that has exclusively been ordering American vaccines is a non-arab state, Israel, the most efficient country for administering vaccine doses with more than 30% of its population vaccinated. Other countries act differently. The UAE has just accepted the wide distribution of the SinoPharm vaccine; Egypt ordered 25 million doses of the Sputnik vaccine; Iran is working on its own vaccine but still ordered around 20 million doses of the Russian vaccine; Syria announced their will to order the Russian vaccine. The Saudi allies, Bahrein, Jordan, Oman are the only countries that ordered one of the US vaccines. Turkey has ordered both the American and the Chinese vaccine. 

Monroe’s doctrine would suggest that Latin American countries will be constrained or encouraged to order either Pfizer’s or Moderna’s but Argentina’s choice of Sputnik vaccine seems to balance the choice of Mexico, Chile and Costa Rica.

Latin America and Africa’s choices will probably determine the balance of power for the next decade as the race to vaccine distribution will decide the big economic losers and winners of the pandemic. If China and Russia manage to maintain their role in vaccine distribution while expanding their sphere of influence, the pandemic wouldn’t only be a game-changer for the global economy, but for the world’s balance of power.

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