Multilateralism and the Global Co-Responsibility of Care in Times of a Pandemic: The Legal Duty to Cooperate

This article challenges the orthodox view of international law, according to which states have no legal duty to cooperate. It argues for this legal duty in the context of COVID-19, based on the ethical principles of solidarity, stewardship, and subsidiarity. More specifically, the article argues that states have a legal duty to cooperate during a pandemic (as solidarity requires); and while this duty entails an extraterritorial responsibility to care for and assist other nations (as stewardship requires), the legal duty to cooperate still allows states to attend first to the basic needs of those under their own jurisdiction—namely, fellow nationals and residents (as subsidiarity requires). The article provides a definition and philosophical justifications for this legal duty that are lacking in the literature by examining its application to a current COVID-19 controversy: namely, states’ responsibility to assist other countries in greater need by, inter alia, exporting at a discount or donating scarce COVID-19 treatments (including vaccines). In providing a principled tripartite account of pandemic governance, this conceptual and normative article offers a new lens for debating the potential international treaty for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response that has now been drafted and is under negotiation at the World Health Assembly, by responding to the recent backlash against multilateralism by substantiating global co-responsibilities in times of pandemics and beyond.
International cooperation, Solidarity, Subsidiarity, Stewardship, COVID-19 vaccines