Covid-19 and the future of global political order

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By now, all of us know that Covid-19 is bent to wreck havoc around the world in a scale and magnitude never experienced in the modern history of humanity. In a time like this, too many thoughts come to our minds. For this issue of “In 1000 Words,” nothing comes more eloquent than the following remark by an Italian writer: “when all of this is over, the world won’t be the same.”

Two weeks go, in the form of a passing remark, in another posting of this blog, I quipped as follows. In spite of the enormous amount of wisdom humanity has acquired in all fields of knowledge, it is perplexing to see such a tiny organism bringing the whole world to its knees. Is this an instance of nature striking back against humanity, as some would say in the context of climate change? I have seen some people discussing Covid-19, in a rather polemical sense, as a classic example of Mother Nature’s “payback time” (on account of humanity’s irresponsible exploitation of the planet Earth).

Polemics aside, there is a sobering reality Covid-19 reminds us: that the world we now know will not be the same again. The crisis is opening up a very new chapter in the modern history of humanity, marred by high levels of uncertainty, partly owed to an already existing problem of decay in the prevailing global political order. In the months and years to come, when the world starts to reel from the debilitating effects of Covid-19, researchers and policy makers will wake-up to a new global reality, one that requires a novel approach not just to global pandemic responses but also to the prevailing realities of the decaying global political order.

Some observers have already started talking about a predicted post-Covid-19 global political order (and here) in which China is expected to assume an ever-dominant role. What would a world dominated by China look like? We wait and see. There are, however, tentative observations we can make about certain features of the forthcoming, or rather the predicted new global political order. For now, in relation to this matter, I want to comment briefly about Switzerland, my country of residence. If we all survive this (I am sure at least many in the developed world will do), I see a peculiar role Switzerland can assume in the forthcoming new global political order. To understand this, we need to briefly revisit the current state of affairs in the global fight against Covid-19.

On-going efforts aimed at stemming the rapid spread of Covid-19 are taking place in the context of a global political order that suffers from crippling deficits of democratic accountability and legitimacy, making it difficult to effectively deal with the debilitating consequences of Covid-19. Indeed, the world is struggling to defeat Covid-19 under the leadership of a resource-stricken WHO, as we all know, which is part and parcel of the decaying global political order. This is nothing more than a stark reminder about the changing nature of modern global threats (a pandemic being one of them) and the inadequacy of existing norms and institutions of global governance.

Whatever institutions of global governance we have at our disposal (in particular the UN and its Security Council) are institutional set-ups that were meant for another age and global reality. That is why coordinated international response to the present pandemic is proving extremely difficult in the context of such institutions, struggling to overcome (rather ineptly) the consequences of a long overdue reform agenda. Of late, this problem has been partly exacerbated by continued (intensified) rivalry between China and the United States, a competition for global dominance, including Twitter altercations about the source of Covid-19: whether it is Wuhan (Wuhan meat market or Wuhan Institute of Virology) or US soldiers.

Over the past few years, Switzerland has shown a great deal of interest in trying to play a proactive role in the reform agenda of global governance institutions. This has been taking place (since 2013) in the form of Switzerland’s newly defined role as the Coordinator of the so-called ACT Group of Countries. The group represents a cross-regional bonding of twenty-three small and mid-sized countries, actively working to improve the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) of global governance institutions, most notably the UN Security Council. In this context, the realities of the predicted post-Covid-19 era may serve as additional impetus to the re-galvanisation of the objectives of the so-called ACT Group of Countries, led by Switzerland, a country with a well-known history of humanitarianism, an internationally recognised stature of neutrality and a stellar contribution in the advancement and development of international law.

In the course of composing this opinion piece, and in a rather astounding revelation, I realised that at the global level there does not seem to be a single centre of excellence/research dedicated specifically to the study of pandemics from a purely social science perspective. Apart from purely epidemiological/medical centres in different places, preliminary Google-search shows no single initiative interested in the interdisciplinary study of pandemics (for example, from a sociological point of view).

There are also other societal concerns many should expect in the forthcoming post-Covid-19 era. With the objective of containing the spread of the fatal disease, some European countries have already introduced exceptional measures, such as monitoring the movement of individuals based on massive amount of data collected from mobile phones. This is giving rise to serious concerns about privacy violations, including the risk of far-fetching tendencies towards intrusive and large scale state surveillance practices in the name of public health risks. All of these issues are going to be the hot potatoes of the much-anticipated post-Covid-19 global political odder. May we live long to experience that era!

By now, we also know that at least as early 2007, there were stern warnings by scientists about the potential emergence of a global outbreak caused by a coronavirus; not to mention Bill Gates’ widely circulated prediction of 2015 and another major report of September 2019 by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board.

Photo Credit: UNAIDS

29.03.2020