According to William J Long, global economic and political stability could fall victim to a pandemic.

Pandemics and Peace at a Glance

Pandemics and Peace: Public Health Cooperation in Zones of Conflict written by William J Long draws on international relations theory.

He presents an integrated explanation that demonstrates the processes by which interests, institutions, and ideas can align to allow for interstate cooperation even in unfavourable environments, rather than advocating a theory of international cooperation alone.

The following is a glimpse into his 2011 book, which is now more relevant than ever.

The correlation between pandemics and peace

Long notes that the spread of naturally occurring or man-made biological threats—such as Avian flu, Swine flu, Severe Accute Respitory Syndrome (SARs)—present a grave security and humanitarian threat regionally and globally.

Global economic and political stability could fall victim to a pandemic.

As health provision has become a primary public good and part of the social contract between a people and its government, accelerating transnational flows, particularly of pathogens, can stress and could overwhelm a government’s capacity to meet this essential function.

Weak states could fail economically or politically, thereby creating regional instability and a breeding ground for terrorism or human rights violations.

Although the peril is great, so too is the promise of building cooperation through regional disease surveillance, detection, and response. Long emphasizes that this is the positive potential of globalisation:

it can facilitate the rapid responses to health challenges by quickly mobilizing health professionals, medicines, and supplies, and by deploying information technology for disease surveillance and sharing best health practices across nations.


While largely unnoticed, countries with a history of conflict are cooperating across borders in the Middle East, the Mekong Delta, and parts of Africa in infectious disease detection, control, and response.

Long asked if these instances of health cooperation can be the leading edge of peace among traditional enemies.

Before being able to answer that question in a meaningful way, it has to be understood why and how this form of cooperation is possible. These are the questions that animate Long’s book.

Armed with a better understanding of interstate cooperation and transnational governance in health, practitioners and policymakers can better promote positive and peaceful relations, even among adversaries, in health and other areas of shared concern.

The three I’s of cooperation

William J Long outlines that the explanation for cooperation lies in three, interrelated processes involving interests, institutions and identity:

1.1 securing shared interests in an important transnational public good (in this case health);

1.2 creating and maintaining institutional arrangements that are appropriately inclusive, practical, equitable, and efficacious, and;

1.3 redefining identities so as to include formerly excluded actors in one’s salient in-group affiliation and developing trust among members of the new inclusive group.

States participate in transnational initiatives to obtain interests they could not otherwise secure, and it is the overlapping of interests among states and non-state actors that can be seen as the central or necessary condition for transnational cooperative efforts.

William J Long explains that the pursuit or interests serves cooperation in these cases for three reasons.

  • First, it is in the clear self-interest of each member to control trans-boundary communicable diseases.
  • Second, infectious disease control is a common good that creates a consumption externality, that is, preventing or treating an infectious disease not only benefits oneself, but also benefits others by reducing their risk of infection, and vice-versa.
  • Finally, because the consequences of failing to cooperate are apparent and dire, shared vulnerability helps compel cooperation to meet a problem that requires joint action.

Furthermore, Long summaries that there is more to cooperation than a confluence of interest among relevant actors: there is also the steady construction by political elites and professionals of a transnational political community, a group that shares a common identity across political boundaries.

Transnational governance and what role does it play in international health cooperation

Transnational governance refers to those institutional arrangements beyond the nation-state in which private actors, usually as international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) and transnational corporations (TNCs), participate in mixed public-private policy networks.

The purpose of these hybrid entities is to directly provide common goods and collectively solve problems by setting and implementing rules, and providing services.

Long points out that such partnerships in health have expanded rapidly in the past two decades in various states, including infectious disease control.

Improvements to countries global health policies

Long provides U.S. referenced recommendations, however many are relevant to all nations, especially those ranking top ten by GDP worldwide.

Longs study recommends to significantly increase programs devoted to infectious disease control.

The study also recommends greater inter-agency coordination. Many nations face issues with little or no overarching coordinating mechanism across the major agencies; no plan for creating an integrated, inter-agency structure.

Further, each of the major agencies involved in shaping global health policy has its own mechanism for coordination. Lastly, Long explains that harmonization in this area should not mean that a nation’s health policy has a single voice, only that it works in concert.

The first 40 pages of Longs 2011 Pandemics and Peace can be read here.


William J Long is professor and chair at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

He is the author of three books and numerous articles on conflict resolution, international cooperation, and trade and technology transfer policy. He was a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace in 2009-10.