As the coronavirus pandemic quickly covers the globe, national healthcare systems are overwhelmed, stock markets are crashing, and most international flights have grounded to a halt. This is not a drill.
Governments worldwide have declared a state of emergency, rolling out mass quarantine measures to “flatten the curve” in hopes of staggering the virus spread. Authorities in Hong Kong have been using wristbands to monitor those potentially infected, while in Israel, security services have been utilizing geolocation to enforce compliance. These are strange and trying times for everyone.
We know that at some point, the coronavirus pandemic will subside. But what will the world look like after COVID-19 leaves its mark?
While it’s too soon to foresee the true impact of the coronavirus on the future of society, many have begun to ponder this important question. Recently, Foreign Policy posed it to “12 leading thinkers from around the world.” Their responses, however, were as diverse as their orientations.
While Professor of international relations theory at Harvard, Steven M. Walt believes we are going to see a world that is “less open, less prosperous, and less free,” his counterpart at Princeton, John Ikenberry, suggests that democracies might “come out of their shells to find a new type of pragmatic and protective internationalism.”
Kishore Mahbubani, a distinguished fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute, predicts the emergence of a “more China-centric globalization.” As the US quarantined itself from the world, a healthy China made efforts to fill the space — by providing aid to fellow countries combating the virus, China is continuing this trend.
Robin Niblet, director and chief executive of Chatham House, envisions “the end of globalization as we know it,” as “governments, companies, and societies strengthen their capacity to cope with extended periods of economic self-isolation.”
The prevailing predictions cover a wide spectrum, from the pragmatic assessment that “American power will need a new strategy” to the gloomy idea that “we are headed for a poorer, meaner, and smaller world,” and the hopeful insight that “this pandemic can serve a useful purpose.”
Whether or not this experience will serve a useful purpose, however, is largely dependent on our reaction and response. Yuval Harari speaks to this point in the Financial Times, raising two particularly important decisions we are currently facing. The first “between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment,” and the second between “nationalist isolation and global solidarity.”
Our success as a species has primarily been the result of our ability to cooperate. We need our citizens to be empowered and for the global community to come together now more than ever.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus does not kill great power competition and the powers that be have taken the opportunity to play the blame game instead of uniting for the betterment of society.
Perhaps in due course, this too will change. After all, past crises such as the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and the global financial crisis of 2008 generated new areas for cooperation. While the geopolitical climate remains tense, there are compelling humanitarian and moral reasons for countries to put these differences aside and work together to combat the coronavirus.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres understands this. He recently appealed to warring parties around the world to “pull back from hostilities. Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes. This is crucial to help create corridors for life-saving aid, open windows for diplomacy & bring hope to places among the most vulnerable.”
That there will be some form of economic slowdown or recession in the wake of the COVD-19 seems obvious. But there may also be many less obvious second and third-order effects. As the pandemic spreads to poorer developing countries, and fragile regions like the Middle East, we may see states collapsing and multilateral organizations unable to support the strain. The fear, isolation, and economic uncertainty will also have a profound impact on the psychological and physical well-being of society at large. How the global community rallies to meet these challenges remains to be seen.
Despite a large degree of ambiguity surrounding COVID-19, we can be certain that the decisions we make and actions we take now will shape the world for years to come. As we spend time in isolation, perhaps we should take the time to reflect and ask ourselves, what kind of world do we want to live in when all this is over?