By Darim al-Basam
Coronavirus hasn’t just overturned daily life the we know it, as I have analysed that in my previous article about the sociology of the pandemic.
It has also upended global geopolitics.
Navigating a troubled era’s uncharted waters, world leaders are grappling with this pandemic that is rippling across the entire planet.
The world indeed is at a critical moment on several fronts, political, social, economical, environmental and, above all, survival.
This pandemic is the greatest global crisis of this century.
Its depth and scale are enormous.
The public health crisis threatens each of the 7.8bn people on Earth.
Like the big bang of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the coronavirus pandemic is a world-shattering event whose far-ranging consequences we can only begin to imagine today.
This much is certain: Just as this disease has shattered lives, disrupted markets and exposed the competence (or lack thereof) of governments, it will lead to permanent shifts in political and economic power in ways that will become apparent only later. (Foreign Policy March 20, 2020)
Each crisis alone could provide a seismic shock that permanently changes the international system and balance of power as we know it.
Only a few weeks ago, when the impact of the coronavirus was still heavily concentrated in China, the dominant narrative was that Beijing was once again the new “sick man of Asia.” Now, the theme seems to be that the coronavirus shows just how badly America’s relative power and prestige have fallen.
Numbers of known cases of coronavirus, has reached now 100,000.
The mark comes shortly after the United States this week moved into first place in the world, passing China and Italy, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.
Economists are discussing whether the market drawdown truly signals a recession, how bad a coronavirus recession would be, what the scenarios are for growth and recovery, and whether there will be any lasting structural impact from the unfolding crisis.
In truth, projections and indices won’t answer these questions.
Hardly reliable in the calmest of times, a GDP forecast is dubious when the virus trajectory is unknowable, as are the effectiveness of containment efforts, and consumers’ and firms’ reactions.
There is no single number that credibly captures or foresees the pandemic’s economic impact.
Whether economies can avoid the recession or not, the path back to growth under this pandemic will depend on a range of drivers, such as the degree to which demand will be delayed or foregone, whether the shock is truly a spike or lasts, or whether there is structural damage, among other factors (Harvard Business Review March 03, 2020 )
To help us make sense of the ground shifting beneath our feet as this crisis unfolds, I will try in this article to figure out what coronavirus means for geopolitics beyond the immediate crisis that we’re in.
Viruses that have grave outcomes in the world have also been the triggers of great transformations in the political, social, and economic order.
While geopolitical implications should be considered secondary to matters of health and safety, those implications may, in the long term, prove just as consequential to major international powers positions. (Foreign Affairs March 18, 2020).
History has taught us that Global Orders have a tendency to change gradually at first and then all at once.
Are we close to this moment? Will the liberal international order be the prey?
As we can see, in the wake of the atrocious spread of the coronavirus pandemic, unilateralism and nationalism have augmented to unprecedented levels with the closure of sovereign borders and capitulation to travel bans which has reversed the process of globalisation.
Put differently, policy responses to this global pandemic is increasingly reflecting the politics of inward security — or, rather, securitisation.
Theoretically, political science literature tell us that the process of securitisation follows a familiar logic: an issue is framed as an existential threat to some referent object, which justifies extraordinary measures for protection.
The pandemic is framed as a threat to “national security”, whereby nation-states seek to protect their citizens and institutions, more than abiding by “collective security” terms manifested in the charters and laws of the international liberal order.
The basic protagonists in this dichotomy reflect a political tension in international politics driven by globalisation.
While the nation-state has proven highly resilient to a variety of challenges — eg, world wars, nuclear weapons, economic interdependence, global recessions, and global communications technologies — the growing scope and speed of material changes in technology and the environment are driving a growing spectrum of global catastrophic risks.
A global pandemic is but one example.
The securitisation of the coronavirus in terms of two distinct “referent objects” reflects the political tension between the nation-state in international politics and the changing material circumstances that affect the security of human beings all around the world.
As Joseph Nay put it in a recent article published in the Foreign Policy journal “Twenty-first century technologies are global not just in their distribution, but also in their consequences.
Pathogens, AI systems, computer viruses, and radiation that others may accidentally release could become as much our problem as theirs.
Agreed reporting systems, shared controls, common contingency plans, norms, and treaties must be pursued as means of moderating our numerous mutual risks.
Every country puts its national interest first;, he admitted, but the important question is how broadly or narrowly this interest is defined.
The coronavirus pandemic shows there is a failure in adjusting national strategies to this new interwoven world.
The current US administration, according to Joseph Nay, has been pursuing a new national security strategy that focuses on great-power competition.
This pandemic shows this strategy to be inadequate.
Even if the United States prevails as a great power it cannot protect its security by acting alone.
Derived from Nay’s articulated thesis, on can conclude that the spread of diseases is a legitimate offspring of globalisation.
Seemingly, pandemics are great equalisers.
Whenever such cross-border crises emerge, they demand a global, co-operative response, as in the case of climate change.
Like viruses, greenhouse-gas emissions are wreaking havoc and imposing massive costs on countries around the world through the damage caused by global warming and the associated extreme weather events.
Many sociologists believe that this pandemic is telling us a number of things loud and clear.
If we are willing to listen, these truths are few and simple.
First, the global community exists.
What happens far away has an impact (even a vital one) here and now.
A sneeze on one continent has direct repercussions on another.
We are connected, we are one.
All attempts to consider borders as dividing lines and to classify people by nationality, ethnicity, gender, or religious belief – all of this loses meaning at once, as our bodies are all equally exposed to the virus, no matter who we are.
To date, international collaboration has been woefully insufficient.
I am not sure if the recent pledges of the G20 videoconference will produce an international collective strategy.
While the group pledged joint action, it’s endorsing what’s already being done in various countries.
The joint statement, as I understood it, isn’t offering a multilateral, global vision.
“In the USA, we’re handling it a (little bit?) in different ways but there is great uniformity,” Trump said at the end of the meeting.
It is good to remind the reader that Trump was labelling the pandemic at the beginning as a hoax.
Moreover, a day before that, the US Secretary of State while attending the Group of Seven meeting took aim at China, saying that his counterparts in the meeting agreed with him that Beijing was waging a “disinformation” campaign about the pandemic.
Washington and Beijing view the outbreak as the next round in their geopolitical rivalry, and that dynamic will continue to shape the global response to the crisis.
It is obvious that if the United States and China, the world’s most powerful countries, cannot put aside their war of words over which of them is responsible for the crisis and lead more effectively, both countries’ credibility may be significantly diminished.
In the same realm, if the European Union cannot provide more targeted assistance to its 500mn citizens, national governments might take back more power from Brussels in the future. (Foreign Policy, March 20, 2020)
Needles to say, among all the global players, the main blow falls on Europe.
It was very powerful in a world where welfare states reached unprecedented heights in terms of development.
As the pandemic takes hold of it, the decades-old union is showing weakness.
It is a new stress test.
And, this time, it is not only the health of its institutions that is at stake but also that of its citizens, its economy, its role in the world and its credibility and usefulness in the eyes of Europeans.
The coronavirus crisis has arrived like a tsunami in a fragile European Union still battered after a long list of crises, which have left noticeable scars (Euro crises, Brexit ). Instead of trying to whether the crises by coming up with joint solutions, the Continent is becoming balkanised and is reverting to national solutions.
The European Central Bank was hesitant at first to take major action.
European leaders hunker down.
They fear contagion from others.
The European Commission’s measures are woefully inadequate.
Lacking co-ordination, national governments are taking action in fragmentary ways.
Europe is nowhere to be seen.
Now we are taken aback as we observe the European countries close their borders even to each other, displaying examples of national egoism on a scale that previously could not be imagined.
The question arises: is the coronavirus pandemic the very “last game” after which a blow will be dealt to European integration that it can no longer withstand? Some experts believe that the European states’ amazingly egoistic behaviour amid conditions where their ability to ensure the security of their citizens is at risk, will not lead to the immediate destruction of the main achievement of integration — the common market.
But history has repeatedly proved to us that in real life, political considerations have always dominated over economic gains.
Integrated formal institutions are essential, but also an integrated political culture and pan-European identity, that glue relations between peoples of the EU.
Now I would like to make a general statement.
Strategic outlooks and foresights that I have reviewed, prior to writing this article, through the research work of International institutes for strategic studies agreed in their future scenarios for the year 2020 that it will be a tipping point, with a historic shift in globalisation, a weakened US leadership, a troubled European Union, the rise of populism within the world’s democracies, a cold war between the United states and China with the rise in the latter of an alternative economic, political and technological model, all of which could push the world into a geopolitical recession.
We now face the first unfolding global crisis of that predicted geopolitical recession … a coronavirus pandemic.
In such scenarios researchers warned that globalisation will be under siege.
They were more right about that than they would like to be.
Massive restrictive measures related to the need to respond properly to the challenge of the pandemic spread of coronavirus infections is quite possibly the factor that was needed to recognise that the “liberal world order” has completely disintegrated.
It will be good if this demise is not accompanied by a world war.
It is unlikely that any new order will turn out to be better or fairer – the strong states, which now include China and Russia, address problems that are so great in scale that their solution does not leave many opportunities for attendance to the rights and feelings of the weak states.
It’s important to recognise the unprecedented nature of this environment in the context of our experience over recent decades.
In the coming weeks the world will get a much better handle on the epidemiology of the coronavirus pandemic, but the politics of the pandemic will aggravate.
Fractiousness and weakness of the geopolitical order — in terms of the legitimacy of domestic politics, the weakness of existing international alliances, and the lack of alignment of institutional frameworks and today’s global balance of power — reflect a radically different backdrop for a global crisis than any we’ve experienced in recent decades.
Looking forward, it also implies a different trajectory for the world order as we know it, when we eventually come out the other side. (Euro Asia Group, Top Risks 2020 )
If the pandemic has any silver lining, in my opinion, it is the surge of a much-needed reset in public sphere dialogue that focuses attention on the most vulnerable in society, on the need for global co-operation, and, most remarkably, on the emerging importance of professional leadership and expertise that might defeat irrational and illiberal discourse of populism.
There are also calls for a level of ambition similar to that of the Marshall plan and a vision akin to that of the New Deal, but now at the global level.
This might lead on the long run to the birth of the inclusive post-liberal order that structurally suits the multi-polar world in the making.
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