Leaders are aptly occupied today with the critical questions, when and how to lift which restrictions to reopen the economy? And how should they strike the balance between two equally important priorities: ensuring health and safety and restoring the economy?
Beyond considering these essential concerns, futurists, thinkers, and some politicians are losing sleep over the long-term ripple effects of this deadly pandemic. “What will the clichéd ‘new normal’ look like within nations and globally?” they ask. Focusing on the global scenario, will the US-led global order that we have known since post-World War II – based on democracy, free markets, human rights, and the rule of law – survive?
How will the currently interconnected and interdependent world fare? Pointing to globalization’s fueling of financial crises, spurring deregulation, deemphasizing national sovereignty, and furthering the divide between the rich and the poor, critics ask, “Is this the end of globalization?”
One commentator has explained the options: Will the results follow the outcome of World War I or of World War II? Weak institutions were formed after 1918, leading to protectionism, nationalism, and economic depression. But after 1945, cooperation and internationalism gave birth to the Marshall Plan, Bretton Woods, the United Nations, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the IMF, and the World Bank. Optimists will argue that globalization, multilateralism, and international cooperation will certainly prevail to address global challenges: witness the current collective medical and scientific efforts to combat COVID-19.
And countries will still be involved in international trade – goods, services, and capital will cross borders and people will travel abroad. Pessimists contend that nationalism certainly has been on the rise. All BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) are fiercely nationalistic.Current trends show that feeling the sting of unreliable and vulnerable supply chains and driven by the need for self-reliance and self-sufficiency to effectively combat a future pandemic, the outcome could be reinforced nationalism, isolationism, and authoritarianism.
International institutions have played little role in meeting the current crisis. The World Health Organization, underfunded for decades, is being criticized for its allegedly inadequate response to the coronavirus (WHO’s director was hesitant to declare an international emergency).
The International Monetary Fund is also seen as ineffective. The only United Nations body that under its charter can take action in response to global dangers is the Security Council, which has been eerily silent. Regional institutions in Asia and Africa are now filling the needs of those areas. Obviously, the future is uncertain, and both positive and negative scenarios are getting lots of airtime. What’s most likely to happen on the economic front is that this pandemic could push half a billion people into poverty. Coronavirus will be used as an excuse by rich countries to further decrease their development aid to poor countries most urgently in need.
The major deficiencies in our current system of overreliance on markets and profits is leading the states to expand their authorities and become stronger, taking control over healthcare and labor issues. For example, the Spanish government has nationalized hospitals, France is even considering nationalizing large businesses, Denmark is providing income to people for not going to work, and several states are making housing freely available.
Most observers have lamented the lack of American leadership in these difficult times. Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt is not alone in noting that “the White House has trumpeted ‘America First’ and ‘Everyone Alone’ for years,” and the U.S. has walked away from its globalleadership. In fact, it has revoked international treaties, rejected international obligations and cooperation, built walls, and imposed anti-immigration policies. China is filling the vacuum, but also acted irresponsibly.
In the end, the need is to create a more inclusive and just society and a system based on international cooperation to solve global problems. The U.S. leadership, now absent, is key to making it happen.
Ved Nanda is Distinguished University Professor and director of the Ved Nanda Center for International Law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. His column appears the last Sunday of each month and he welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.