A year after the relentless spread of COVID-19 around the world began, the contours of a global order reshaped by the pandemic are emerging. Just as the virus has destroyed lives, disrupted the economy and changed election results, it will lead to permanent political and economic power shifts within and between countries. To help us understand these changes as the 2021 crisis enters a new phase, foreign policy asked 12 leading thinkers from around the world to weigh their predictions for the post-pandemic global order.
A time for leadership
by John Allen, President of the Brookings Institution
Few, if any, real winners will emerge from this global health crisis – not because the disease was out of our control, but because most countries did not exercise the leadership and societal self-discipline necessary to bring it under control until vaccines were available were.
COVID-19 has quickly become one of the ultimate stressors in our already fragile international system, exposing vulnerabilities, magnifying weaknesses and exacerbating long-standing problems. At its simplest, this troubled moment has shown how ill-equipped our global health systems are, forcing many countries to make devastating ethical choices to determine who among their citizens deserves medical care most. Instead of rebuilding a global coalition to fight this terrible disease, many countries have instead relied on a policy of isolation. This has resulted in piecemeal, ineffective responses as cases continue to surge across the world, with the United States being one of the worst examples.
In truth, COVID-19 represents a complex set of interconnected transnational problems that require leader-oriented, multilateral solutions. In order to address issues such as systemic racism, climate change and the need for global economic recovery, it is truly imperative that we try to strengthen, not weaken, our common international order. While science will ultimately save us, there is no hope of a coordinated response to the disease – and our ultimate recovery – without guidance.
The seeds of the revolution
by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the CEO of New America
The pandemic has conclusively demonstrated that the U.S. government is not an indispensable actor in global affairs. The outgoing Trump administration pulled the United States out of the World Health Organization (WHO), refused to join the COVAX partnership with 172 nations to ensure equitable global access to a vaccine, and foregone fighting the pandemic in the US – States and cities. Americans are paying the price – but the rest of the world has moved on.
It is US philanthropic and civic organizations, corporations, and universities that are essential. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helped organize Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, both of which are key partners of the European Union and WHO in fighting pandemics like COVAX. US pharmaceutical companies are vital to the development, manufacture and distribution of a vaccine, with or without the help of the US government, even if European companies are making rapid strides. American scientists, doctors and epidemiologists play an important role in global networks by exchanging information about the virus and successful strategies for prevention and treatment.
The pandemic's biggest surprise is the dramatic national and global decoupling of the economies of the rich from the economies of everyone else. COVID-19 has caused more than a million deaths worldwide and caused economic disaster for wage earners and small businesses. The financial markets, however, show only minor damage – on the contrary, assets are reaching ever higher levels. Such gaps sow the seeds of revolution.
Globalization is shifting rapidly
by Laurie Garrett, science writer and columnist for Foreign Policy
Given the inevitable delays in introducing vaccines, the coronavirus is not going to go away anytime soon. Because of this, the pandemic will continue to rapidly transform the landscapes of globalization and manufacturing.
Half of Fortune 500 CEOs have no plans to roll back business travel to 2019 levels. More than a quarter predict their workforce will not regain their pre-pandemic size. Eight out of ten respondents say nationalism will become a dominant force in the countries where they operate, affecting supply chains, location choices and the regulatory climate. And most believe that moving faster to robots and artificial intelligence will help protect them against future accidents at work and epidemic shocks. Even though revenues have recovered for many companies, the mood in the boardrooms remains dark.
Most companies and government buyers have still not resolved production and delivery issues in our pandemic era. You will diversify suppliers to be less dependent on a country like China and build inventory against future disruptions. Businesses and governments will move away from the long-term relationships and trade deals that have sustained globalization to less stable commitments that can be made and broken in a quick response to future black swan outbreaks and events.
There will be losers. The dire economic consequences of the pandemic have bitter, angry, and likely blamed foreign competitors for their plight on millions of people. Global health and humanitarian institutions are being seriously challenged by growing nationalism and difficulties in obtaining financial assistance. As a result, a long-term impact of this pandemic may be that it has made the world less resilient for the next.
The competent Asian century
by Kishore Mahbubani, a distinguished fellow at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore
Numbers don't lie. The death rate from COVID-19 is lower in East and Southeast Asia. Just compare Vietnam (0.4 deaths per million people), China (3), Singapore (5), South Korea (10) and Japan (17) with Belgium (1,446), Spain (979), Great Britain (877) and the United Kingdom United States (840) and Italy (944).
The numbers are the tip of the iceberg. Behind this is the much larger story of the shift in competencies from West to East. Western societies were once known for their respect for science and rationality. Donald Trump literally pulled the mask off this illusion. Asians stare at his maskless followers.
The West was also known for good governance, particularly the European Union. The powerful second wave of the pandemic confirms that something went wrong. But what went wrong? A simple answer is complacency. The West simply assumed that this battle would succeed. Because of their previous experience with virus epidemics like SARS, East and Southeast Asian societies knew they needed to be tough, vigilant, and disciplined. A critical variable is respect for the government. Fortunately, these societies never fell for the Reagan delusion that "the government is the problem". Instead, they see the government as the solution. Hence, both the strictly disciplined society of Vietnam and the politically difficult society of Thailand have brought COVID-19 under control. Strong government institutions, especially in the health and medical sectors, have responded with competence. The East Asian economies are also likely to recover more quickly due to their economic management expertise.
When future historians look to the beginning of the Asian century, they can identify COVID-19 as the moment when Asian literacy has regained strength.
A new era of state activism
by Shannon K. O'Neil, Vice President, Assistant Study Director, and Senior Fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations
The next phase of globalization will not be shaped by trade, investment or the spread of viruses, but by geopolitics and state activism. Global supply chains have largely recovered from the severe economic shocks that curbed both supply and demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown last spring. But they are now facing a more sustainable challenge from government action. The intensification of political tensions between the US and China and the decoupling of the industrial sectors of both countries will continue. The weapon of economic and financial power for geopolitical gains through boycotts, sanctions and other restrictions is gaining ground. As the global economy struggles to recover from the pandemic, governments around the world are jumping into the economic battle with their efforts to influence and direct investment, fuel industrial innovation, manage and defend national security in a digital world and to shape the economies with all kind of policy instruments.
Smart industrial policy is needed to address problems that markets will not solve by themselves, such as: Climate change, and to improve the playing field between countries by removing regulatory and other obstacles through comprehensive trade and other multilateral agreements. But all of this state activism threatens to exacerbate the kind of stubborn protectionism that deepens divisions between countries, fragments supply chains, and stifles global innovation and growth. The challenge for world leaders is to intervene intelligently to maintain and promote competition and openness.
Authoritarians look worse now
by Stephen M. Walt, Professor of International Relations at Harvard Kennedy School
As expected, COVID-19 has accelerated the shift in power from west to east and placed further limits on globalization, resulting in a less open and prosperous world. But the pandemic has not ended traditional geopolitics or national rivalries, nor has it ushered in a new era of global cooperation.
As China recovers, the United States and much of Europe face further waves of infections, largely because leaders have not responded quickly and effectively. This pattern does not warrant authoritarian rule, as Beijing and its admirers would have us believe. Democratic Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan all did well, while Russia, Iran, and many other dictatorships stalled.
Globalization is reversed, and international cooperation to fight the pandemic has been half-hearted at best. The pandemic did not prevent new clashes between India and China and did not bring the bloodshed in Syria or Yemen to an end. The rivalry between the US and China continues to intensify.
The good news? The widespread concern – including mine – that authoritarian, populist and potential autocrats would use the emergency to consolidate power has not been confirmed. Populists have lost ground in Austria, the UK and Germany; The Polish Law and Justice Party is facing a new opposition. Autocrats such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban are under greater pressure after an abuse of the pandemic. Most important of all, over-populist Donald Trump is now a president for a term.
That is also a reason for hope. With dissolution, face masks and the introduction of vaccines, we will get through this.
No, that wasn't a turning point
by Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations
Surprisingly, there was no link between a country's political system and its performance in dealing with the pandemic. Some democracies and authoritarian systems have done well, others miserably. Most important is leadership and execution. Here the terrible record of the United States is shaken. So much loss was avoidable.
The pandemic has widened the gap between the US and China and stimulated rethinking in supply chains. Europe now looks stronger as Germany and France are working together and both the European Central Bank and the European Commission have drafted a larger letter. By undermining economic growth and committing countries to unprecedented levels of fiscal stimulus, the pandemic has resulted in a staggering surge in debt across the world.
The greatest political impact could be in the United States, where an inappropriate federal response to the pandemic and its economic impact contributed significantly to President Donald Trump's electoral defeat. Had there not been a pandemic or had it been hit with the least amount of skill, Trump might have won – and put the country on a completely different course, domestically and abroad.
In a broader sense, and despite all of the enormous costs and consequences of the pandemic, little has happened that cannot be largely reversed if responsible behavior is followed and extensive testing, better therapeutics and effective vaccines are put in place. Other challenges – from climate change to the proliferation of nuclear weapons to the rivalry between great powers – are more likely to determine this era. The pandemic, for its part, will not fundamentally change international relations and, in retrospect, is seen as a unique event rather than a turning point.
Free economies will recover
by Kori Schake, the director of foreign and defense studies at the American Enterprise Institute
The main changes will be economical. Inequality will increase as those with access to health care, capital reserves, and jobs that can be done remotely will continue to benefit. The supply chains are being renationalised – or at least the experience of severe interruptions will lead companies to create backup capacities and rethink their location decisions. The demand for commodities will fall when economies stall. As globalization slows, the profitability of the Chinese Belt and Road project will collapse. Rapidly innovating economies that can seize opportunity and relocate labor will receive oversized rewards.
These changes have significant ramifications for international security. The cost of the pandemic is so enormous that it creates a huge incentive for international cooperation to identify and manage future pandemics. State budgets will shift spending from defense to public health as the latter becomes an integral part of national security. Tensions within states due to greater income inequalities will draw attention inward. States that manage to eradicate inequality will expand social cohesion and their economic base. Security alliances like NATO are likely to adopt economic goals like reliability of supply, but efforts to improve burden sharing will also intensify.
The emerging powers are likely to stall while the free world economies are able to recover and dominate new fields. China is already the world's largest creditor and is aggressively seeking preferential repayment by debtor governments, which could lead many of them to seek protection. This could give the United States a great opportunity to contain China and organize allies within the existing Western system of multilateral institutions.
A world that divides into bubbles
by Shivshankar Menon, a distinguished colleague at Brookings India and former National Security Advisor to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
In 2020, the world took its chance to take advantage of the crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. They failed to act together and revive multilateralism. Most governments have failed to build relationships of trust between citizens and their state and have instead relied on tighter controls, surveillance and authoritarianism. And some of the most democratic and progressive countries have spectacularly failed to protect the health and lives of their citizens.
Instead, the pandemic accelerated the attempt to fragment the global economy into separate "bubbles". This attempt is unlikely to be successful, but it will likely impoverish us all by limiting growth. Relations between the great powers are stronger than ever, including between China and the United States and between China and India.
Judging by the poor performance of world leaders and international organizations, the pandemic has also left the world less able to face the future and solve transnational problems that affect us all – such as climate change, future pandemics, cybersecurity, maritime safety, and international terrorism.
China appears with a turbocharger
by Robin Niblett, the director and executive director of Chatham House
The Chinese Communist Party's disciplined suppression of the coronavirus has allowed China to regain its former pace of economic growth and accelerated its transition to the world's largest economy. With China's neighbors also emerging quickly from the pandemic, East Asia has become the epicenter of global economic growth.
US President Donald Trump's undisciplined efforts to undermine China's rise to become a technological superpower have only accelerated his pursuit of technological self-sufficiency. In contrast to Trump's failed solo effort, President-elect Joe Biden could allow the United States to rebuild its bilateral ties and alliances to face China's rise. However, it is now too late for liberal democracies to lay down the conditions for the development of China's economic power.
Japan, South Korea, the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and even Australia may continue to turn to the United States for their security. But they cannot afford to collectively undermine the Chinese economy, which they rely on for their own economic future. The United States and Europe will focus for the next five years on managing the impact of the pandemic on their economies and societies.
Until the Chinese leadership experiences the disadvantages of their statistical and authoritarian model and takes China on a new path, the North Atlantic and Asia.
The Pacific worlds will continue to diverge.
No government can handle it alone
by Joseph S. Nye Jr., Professor Emeritus at Harvard Kennedy School.
Globalization or interdependence between continents reacts to changes in transportation and communication technology. COVID-19 has only changed the shape – less travel, more virtual meetings – and not the extent of globalization. Some aspects of economic globalization, such as trade, have been restricted, but others less, such as finance. Some industrial supply chains are becoming increasingly regional and security concerns are causing companies and governments to prioritize “just in time” rather than “just in time”. However, unlike real disruptions like war, these adjustments are unlikely to fundamentally change global supply chains or international trade. Even if they did, they would not be able to expose the world's increasing ecological interdependence.
While economic globalization is influenced by governments, ecological aspects of globalization such as climate change and the spread of pandemics are determined by the laws of physics and biology. Walls and tariffs do not stop transnational global ecological threats, although travel barriers and persistent economic stagnation can slow them down somewhat. No government can cope on its own, but has to think both in power with others and in power over others. I didn't expect so many countries to react so incompetently – and learn so slowly.
A Jekyll-Hyde world
by G. John Ikenberry, Professor at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs
The COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting impact on our global ideas – our visions of the world of the 21st century. The pandemic has made us more clearly see our common existence, the lurking dangers of interdependence, the cost of failed international cooperation, the virtues of competent government, the fragility of democratic institutions, the precariousness of Enlightenment civilization, and the inevitable fact of the common fate of humanity.
A year into the pandemic, the issues of the world's underlying anarchy – nationalism, security competition, war – don't seem to be most pressing. Rather, the world seems more overwhelmed by the problems of modernity – our stumbling inability to cope with the deep, global changes in our societies that are being triggered by the forces of science, technology, and industrialism. The pandemic is a dramatic reminder that humans do not fully control nature and that we cannot escape the growing interconnectedness of our modern existence.
The pandemic is a reminder that the modern age is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is: The modern world continuously creates capacities for great advances in the area of human well-being, but also for monumental catastrophes and civilizational catastrophes. The pandemic – along with the growing existential threats from climate change and the proliferation of nuclear weapons – will lead us into a new era of struggle for global order in which countries around the world are looking for ways to achieve the achievements of modernity and at the same time to protect against their dangers.
This article is part of the on-going series of Foreign Policy on the Post-COVID-19 Pandemic World. Other rates include:
What the economy will look like after the pandemic by Joseph E. Stiglitz, Robert J. Shiller, Gita Gopinath, Carmen M. Reinhart, Adam Posen, Eswar Prasad, Adam Tooze, Laura D & # 39; Andrea Tyson and Kishore Mahbubani
How urban life is being changed by Richard Florida, Edward Glaeser, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Kiran Bedi, Thomas J. Campanella, Chan Heng Chee, Dan Doctoroff, Bruce Katz, Rebecca Katz, Joel Kotkin, Robert Muggah and Janette Sadik-Khan
The Future of the Government of James Crabtree, Robert D. Kaplan, Robert Muggah, Kumi Naidoo, Shannon K. O & # 39; Neil, Adam Posen, Kenneth Roth, Bruce Schneier, Stephen M. Walt, and Alexandra Wrage
The Future of Travel by James Fallows, Vivek Wadhwa, Pico Iyer, Rolf Potts, Elizabeth Becker, James Crabtree, and Alexandre de Juniac
The Future of Entertainment, Culture and Sports by Audrey Azoulay, Rahul Bhatia, Rick Cordella, Mark C. Hanson, Baltasar Kormakur, Jonathan Kuntz, David Clay Large and James S. Snyder
The Future of Schools and Universities by Arne Duncan, Andreas Schleicher, Mona Mourshed, Jennifer Nuzzo, Ludger Woessmann, Salvatore Babones, Davesh Kapur, Michael D. Smith and Dick Startz
How the Global Order Will Be Changed Forever by John Allen, Nicholas Burns, Laurie Garrett, Richard N. Haass, G. John Ikenberry, Kishore Mahbubani, Shivshankar Menon, Robin Niblett, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Shannon K. O & # 39; Neil, Kori Schake, Stephen M. Walt