Emerging Trends in the Post COVID-19 World Order
By Prajakta Sawant
The novel coronavirus pandemic marks a watershed moment in the history of humankind. The pandemic began as a health crisis but has led to an unprecedented impact on all the aspects of life- economic, political and societal and global. In the face of globalization, there is a large-scale geopolitical and geoeconomic disruption. The rise of China, protectionism of the USA and more inward-looking economies has resulted in a visible disturbance in the global world order. It might be too early to comment on whether there is an emergence of a new world order. However, there certainly are some evident signs which highlight an international flux.
As predicted by Napoleon, China has awoken from a deep slumber and marching towards its rise since the beginning of this century. Although the novel coronavirus emerged in China, it has managed to quickly recover from the impact of the disease and lockdowns. As its exports and imports surge, it has restored its economic position. Moreover, China is engaging in increased assertiveness by threatening India, Bhutan and the South China Sea region. It is waging ‘Salami slice tactics’ in the neighbourhood, claiming and dominating over the territory piece by piece. It has taken advantage of the pandemic to strengthen its position in the region.
Beijing has always challenged the rules-based order and the hegemony of the West. However, it has also displayed internationalism in the fight against the pandemic by supporting the World Health Organisation and several poor countries, when the US chose to be detached. Thus, with economic resilience, military might and political confidence and malleability, China has certainly fortified its position as a world power. This marks an inevitable shift in the balance of power equation of the world.
Amidst the Chinese aggression, others are provided with an opportunity to cooperate. The ascendance of the Quad, a strategic alliance between the USA, India, Japan and Australia, is an example of this increasing cooperation. The Quad engages in diplomatic and military arrangements in the Indo-Pacific region, taking a dig at China's ambitions. There is a growing closeness between India and USA with the signing of BECA, last of the four foundational defence agreements of the USA. This has caused uneasiness in Beijing and could lead to a full-fledged geopolitical rivalry.
The US Presidential elections are expected to have an impact on the global order as well. The outgoing President engaged in an actively confrontational foreign policy. The US-China conflict was getting bitter by the day. The former leader of the US had also created confusion over COVID-19 resorted to blame-games and conspiracy theories. On the other hand, the USA had also displayed increasing isolationist trends. Its withdrawal from the World Health Organisation citing inefficiency did not come as a surprise. Waging 'Trade and Tech Wars' had become a norm during the regime, and its continuation in the face of the pandemic had the potential to derail the already ailing global economy. All these factors have weakened the position of the US.
The new President-elect, Joe Biden, appears to be ideologically flexible. He has signalled to govern from the middle and promised to unite a country which is split in several ways. Biden has served as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the past and thus is favoured by most of America’s friends. He comes across as more accommodating, not only at home but also abroad. Not being Trump itself is an advantage for the new President. Whether he can undo the fading influence of the US and how the new Democratic leadership unfolds for the world remains to be seen.
The European Union is also going through a tumultuous situation internally. There is an increasing disagreement over crucial issues with a financial crisis among Eurozone members and denial of medical and financial help to countries like Italy. The viability of Schengen Visa and free movement is also questioned in the aftermath of the breakout of COVID-19. Thus, the European experiment of 'pooled sovereignty' has taken a hit in pandemic times. All this has a cumulative effect with experts calling it the beginning of the decline of the West.
The slump in oil prices comes as a rude shock to the Gulf countries and even Russia. . The massive contraction in demand and oversupply has forged political instability in the already fragile West Asian region. Russia and Saudi Arabia had locked horns over oil production cuts resulting in a devastating oil price war. TH countries ultimately reached a truce but the long-standing issues in energy security have come to the fore during the pandemic. With the development of green technologies and a looming oil crisis, the economic misfortunes of these countries are here to stay.
The relevance of globalisation is once again questioned by the sceptics. The geoeconomic fault lines induced by the pandemic are far deeper. There is a wide-scale disruption in the global supply chain, loss of jobs and increased inequalities. Many countries are becoming more inward-looking. This wave of nationalism is being exploited by some leaders. The recent factor of 'vaccine nationalism' signifies the epitome of this trend. Although nations must reinvent their economies to be self-reliant, protectionism is not an option in the age of interdependence.
The rise of omnipotent states in the wake of COVID-19 is another challenge. States are using intrusive technology for surveillance of the spread of the disease. This may result in a violation of the privacy of individuals. There is increasing authoritarianism in the name of the pandemic, as seen in countries like Hungary. Extraordinary measures may be called for to battle coronavirus, but the question of their revocation in its aftermath remains unanswered.
In the pandemic situation, the global governance institutions are facing a 'legitimation crisis'. The United Nations has become almost dysfunctional as the P5 member countries refuse to coordinate. The G7 is in a limbo when the world is going through a recession. Virtual summits as the likes of G20 are being held, with a common theme of fighting against the pandemic. However, there is a limited outcome and lack of personal chemistry between the leaders which is seen otherwise.
The state of the social world order during the pandemic appears to be pretty grim as well. Women are the worst sufferers due to increased domestic violence and abuse with what is referred to as 'shadow pandemic'. There are issues like mental health deterioration, anger problems and substance abuse among others. The pandemic has provided more scope for crimes like human and wildlife trafficking. Due to increased unemployment, the radicalization of youth has spiked raising concerns about terrorism.
Apart from this, education is shifting online. This has deepened the already existing learning poverty and the digital divide. All these show the failure of the global governance institutions in curbing the wider impact of the COVID crisis. The role of transnational actors like the MNCs and NGOs has also taken a toll with a halt in the movement of capital and people.
The geopolitical constructs are altering at a fast pace and the global picture appears to be alarming at the moment. The idea of multilateralism is a ray of sunshine in such a situation. There is a need for resource pooling to fight the menace of pandemics, climate change, terrorism and the refugee crisis. No country can escape from the impact of these issues even in isolation. The pandemic calls for resource mobilisation and cooperation at the regional and global level. The SAARC COVID Fund sets a standard for this cooperation. The conferring of Nobel Peace Prize 2020 upon the World Food Programme is an acknowledgment of the multilateral efforts required at the global level in times like these. Radical reforms to make global governance institutions more democratic are imperative.
The health crisis created by the pandemic will be dealt with when a vaccine arrives by mid-2021. Unfortunately, there is little predictability about the virus of turbulence which is breeding a geopolitical crisis. There is no escape from power politics. It cannot be foretold whether the new world order will be that of disputes and disruption or collaboration and partnerships. Nevertheless, meaningful engagement and a long term strategy at the multilateral level must be a pressing priority for all the countries.
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