Like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the collapse of Lehman Brothers, 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.
To help us make sense of the ground shifting beneath our feet as this crisis unfolds, Foreign Policy asked 12 leading thinkers from around the world to weigh in with their predictions for the global order after the pandemic.
A World Less Open, Prosperous, and Free
By: Stephen M. Walt
The pandemic will strengthen the state and reinforce nationalism. Governments of all types will adopt emergency measures to manage the crisis, and many will be loath to relinquish these new powers when the crisis is over.
COVID-19 will also accelerate the shift in power and influence from West to East. South Korea and Singapore have responded best, and China has reacted well after its early mistakes. The response in Europe and America has been slow and haphazard by comparison, further tarnishing the aura of the Western “brand.”
What won’t change is the fundamentally conflictive nature of world politics. Previous plagues—including the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919—did not end great-power rivalry nor usher in a new era of global cooperation. Neither will COVID-19. We will see a further retreat from hyperglobalization, as citizens look to national governments to protect them and as states and firms seek to reduce future vulnerabilities.
In short, COVID-19 will create a world that is less open, less prosperous, and less free. It did not have to be this way, but the combination of a deadly virus, inadequate planning, and incompetent leadership has placed humanity on a new and worrisome path.
American Power Will Need a New Strategy
By: Joseph S. Nye, Jr.
In 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a new national security strategy that focuses on great-power competition. COVID-19 shows this strategy to be inadequate. Even if the United States prevails as a great power, it cannot protect its security by acting alone. As Richard Danzig summarized the problem in 2018: “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.”
On transnational threats like COVID-19 and climate change, it is not enough to think of American power over other nations. The key to success is also learning the importance of power with others. Every country puts its national interest first; the important question is how broadly or narrowly this interest is defined. COVID-19 shows we are failing to adjust our strategy to this new world.
In Every Country, We See the Power of the Human Spirit
By: Nicholas Burns
The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest global crisis of this century. Its depth and scale are enormous. The public health crisis threatens each of the 7.8 billion people on Earth. The financial and economic crisis could exceed in its impact the Great Recession of 2008-2009. Each crisis alone could provide a seismic shock that permanently changes the international system and balance of power as we know it.
To date, international collaboration has been woefully insufficient. 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. If the European Union cannot provide more targeted assistance to its 500 million citizens, national governments might take back more power from Brussels in the future. In the United States, what is most at stake is the ability of the federal government to provide effective measures to stem the crisis.
In every country, however, there are many examples of the power of the human spirit—of doctors, nurses, political leaders, and ordinary citizens demonstrating resilience, effectiveness, and leadership. That provides hope that men and women around the world can prevail in response to this extraordinary challenge.
Source: Belfer Center