The ongoing corona virus outbreak has taught a lot of lessons to the world within a short period. The virus has penetrated almost every part of the world, spanning across the six continents, making its presence felt in nearly 203 countries. As the world grapples with fighting and containing this outbreak, it has affected the dynamics of world politics to the extent that it might affect the future alignments in the system of international relations.
The COVID-19 outbreak is an acknowledgment of the extent to which the world was hitherto globalized and connected. An outbreak that had its origins in the Hubei province of China has made its presence felt on the other side of the globe and has not even spared distant island nations like Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, etc. Hubei, which was not so popular outside China, is now in every news story concerning the pandemic. Even as the world is combating the pandemic, there are certain questions which the pandemic has raised, probing answers to which are essential.
The Nature of Globalization
The first and foremost question is regarding the nature of globalization, which has taken place around the globe. While the optimists argued that the overall movement of goods, services, people, and money would benefit all the countries of the world, the recent COVID-19 outbreak has reinforced the skeptical view regarding the benefits of globalization. The COVID -19 has spread at a phenomenal rate throughout the world, with the epicenter now shifting towards Europe and the US. One of the main reasons for the spread of this outbreak in lands so distant is China’s connectivity with these countries through trade and people-to-people movement. China is the manufacturing hub of the world, and there is a huge amount of flow of goods, services, and people to and from China. China, in the last two decades, has become an economic giant, with its trade tentacles extended into almost every continent and arena of the world. Chinese influence can be felt in every corner of the world. The worst-hit countries today, the US, UK, Italy, Germany, Spain, show how the much-acclaimed interconnectedness between the world became a bane for these countries. The profiles of the countries worst hit by the pandemic reveal a lot about the uneven nature of globalization. The current outbreak of COVID-19 could be compared with the Ebola outbreak, albeit not in its enormity. Ebola originated in Africa and was considered more dangerous as its mortality rate was 50%, which is higher than COVID-19. However, Ebola did not spread as much. This could be attributed to the fact that Africa does not have supply chains and export orientation that China has.
Fixing of Responsibility
The second question pertains to the responsibility for the pandemic that has occurred. It is unlikely that anyone country will step forward and take the blame, yet all the fingers are pointing towards China. China is facing criticisms for its wet markets, non-transparent administrative apparatus, and the delay in responding to the emergency. It is being believed that Chinese authorities and the government did not give early information about the pandemic outbreak to the outside world.
According to the World Bank and IMF, the world economy is set to lose nearly USD 1.3 trillion due to COVID-19. According to the Asian Development Bank, in the worst-case scenario, India is set to lose USD 29 Billion. There are voices, led by the President of the US, which have demanded an inquiry into the outbreak. Perhaps, there will be calls for reparation for the collateral damages by this pandemic if the outbreak is found to be deliberate. But that is unlikely, especially because unlike the Treaty of Versailles where the accountability was placed upon Germany, there is no such provision that holds a party responsible for the damages caused by epidemics and pandemics. The COVID-19 outbreak points towards the need for stronger and specific provisions in international charters, laws, or conventions where responsibility for such incidents, if deliberate, can be fixed. International agreements on Chemical and Biological weapons also need to be strengthened. Meanwhile, China and the US seem to be on a collision course amidst the blame game apropos the pandemic’s origin.
Open Border Policy in Europe
The third question is about the open border policy in Europe. While open borders facilitate smooth movement through the Schengen visa, the current pandemic situation has highlighted the risk associated with this policy of openness. With Italy becoming one of the most affected hotspots of COVID-19 in Europe, it is clear as to how the virus has gripped all of Europe. Many countries in Europe never imagined being affected by the epidemic in this manner. Even after their excellent HDI records, state-of-the-art health systems, and infrastructure, these countries are also among the worst hit due to COVID-19. There has been a rise of conservative thinking in many European countries, demanding the closure of borders as a necessary step. These demands are likely to flare up in the post-pandemic era. Originally, these restrictions in Europe were demanded to control the influx of migrants into Europe, will be further legitimized amidst COVID-19, and may fuel demand for border closure in the ‘best interests of Europe.’ The governments of the respective countries are working individually, rather than relying on the supra-national EU. The failure to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe could be considered as a failure of the EU as an organization that would prove the Euro-sceptics right. With the EU already weak after the Brexit, it is important to see how it redeems itself after this pandemic.
New Arena of Competition
The fourth question is whether the COVID-19 has opened up a new arena of competition between the countries for one-upmanship. The post-COVID-19 world order could see an addition to the list of competitions between nations, apart from the arms race, the space race, and the technology race. Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the US and China were involved in competition over 5G technology. Now the competition has shifted to the health sector. There is already competition among countries over the development of a vaccine for COVID-19. The most recent example being between the US and Germany, where the latter blamed the former for stealing their findings. All the major powers are in the race for finding a cure for COVID-19, for they know that the one who finds the cure will have leverage in conducting world affairs. The US is going ahead at a fast pace in order to make use of this opportunity to regain the relatively waning power status and to counter the Chinese dominance and rise, which resonates with Trump’s policy to make America great again.
It would be interesting to see how the world responds to the above mentioned four questions and how the international order re-aligns itself once this pandemic is contained. Already academicians, diplomats, policymakers are seeing changes in the current world order. Europe feels America’s domestic priority palpably, as it is focusing itself internally. This had made Europe more frustrated and made it to look to other non-traditional partners. There is also a sense that America may be going back to its earlier policy of isolationism. This potential power vacuum could be taken up by counties like India at the regional level. Regional leadership could provide new directions for future global leadership for India.
*** The author is an undergraduate student pursuing graduation in the field of Political Science and Economics from St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi. He is interested in the field of International relations and wishes to pursue a career in the same ***