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OP-ED: The politicization of the pandemic

  • Published at 02:29 pm July 25th, 2020
Democracy
Photo: BIGSTOCK

Covid-19 has revealed the vulnerabilities of global powers

The clock strikes 12:01, the first of January, and the year 2020 begins. The sunrise of the new year brings us new dreams, hopes, and aspirations. But had we ever dreamed that the world will see the terrible grip of a virus named Covid-19 in 2020? Did we think of the beginning of a new era? 

It is a matter of great regret that in this age of globalization, coronavirus has become globalized. 

The impact of this virus is not only confined to the healthcare sector or the economy but also the global political landscape is changing now and then. The global coronavirus pandemic has sparked an economic as well as a political crisis like no other. 

Global politics revolves around issues such as non-traditional security risks, globalization, Sino-US relations, the fourth industrial revolution, political and social instability, human rights, and the failure of global leadership to address the pandemic. 

The global response to the pandemic, in reality, is now quite obfuscating and is also dangerously politicized. 

What has Covid-19 brought out?

Covid-19 has revealed many aspects of the current world system. Firstly, the traditional concept of security in international relations, which aims at basically the military aspects of security, is proved to be exiguous as a result of this current outbreak. 

The world will see a paradigm shift in security preferences, from traditional to non-traditional paradigms. States will focus more on “human security” which not only includes military aspects but also includes health, education, economics, community, and political, personal, and environmental aspects. 

Covid-19, a lesson for the world’s defense experts that nuclear war was the great fear of the 20th century but the 21st Century’s biggest threats are multidimensional.

Secondly, the globalization of the economy has been called into question and the world needs to think anew about globalization. Exponents of globalization believe Covid-19 alone will not call off the ongoing wave of globalization. 

Robert Armstrong puts up a compelling argument in the Financial Times saying, “Coronavirus is a global crisis, not a crisis of globalization. Even in the current crisis, globalization can make the world safer.” 

In contrast, some scholars are arguing that it would instead initiate a “rethinking of how the world works together.” 

For Richard Portes, professor of economics at London Business School, it seems obvious that things will have to change because firms and people have now realized what risks they had been taking.

Thirdly, the lack of leadership and unity in the world to deal with the pandemic is so evident that it has become a bigger threat than the pandemic. The politicization of this pandemic has exacerbated the crisis.  

For instance, as US-China relations break down and the WHO turns into a football for the two nations’ contention, the potential for global coordination on Covid-19 is subverted. This rivalry prevented the UN Security Council (UNSC) from formulating a response. 

International relations analysts argue that the world will face a terrible lack of trust from all levels, ranging from between peoples, between the governments to the international institutions, widening the gap between the world’s most influential nations. 

The degree of universal collaboration among nations in fighting Covid-19 has stayed powerless, as most nations opt for unilateral actions.

Fourthly, neither the US nor Europe has been able to use “soft power” as successfully as China has done during the corona period. As explained by the experts, there is a significant shift in the approaches of Beijing and Washington to the pandemic on the international level as well. 

China is sending emergency medical equipment to countries affected by the Corona pandemic in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, including Italy and Iran, amid global shortages. Beijing’s move is being hailed by the Chinese state media as “China’s fight against the epidemic.” 

Western analysts have described China’s move as “mask diplomacy.” The US, on the other hand, issued a formal notice to the UN secretary-general to leave the WHO amid the pandemic, to halt funding to the WHO; the country’s historic failure to control the virus has exposed a crisis. Surely, China’s response to the pandemic has improved Beijing’s standing in the global arena.  

Fifthly, the pandemic has been an acid test in the global political arena. It has revealed the ability of three important components of state apparatus such as state capacity, social trust, and leadership. 

Unfortunately, countries with weak state capacity, illegitimate government, and poor leadership will be in deep trouble, leaving their citizens and economies exposed and vulnerable. For instance, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has described the virus as a “fantasy.” 

The same is true for poor countries with weak public health systems. In contrast, countries with governments that citizens trust, listen to, and have effective leaders have performed impressively, constraining the harm they have endured. 

Compared to many other countries, South Korea or Angela Merkel’s Germany have managed the Covid-19 crisis well, owing to their delegated management health system, technological edge, and decisive leadership.

A threat to liberal democracy?

At present, the impact and implications of Covid-19 on liberal democracy have become a burning question worldwide, especially in the West. Analysts of international relations have already stated that the coronavirus outbreak may reflect a shift in the international political order. 

Francis Fukuyama, an American political scientist, mentioned, regarding liberal democratic order, in his very recent article in Foreign Affairs: “Over the years to come, the pandemic could lead to the United States’ relative decline, the continued erosion of the liberal international order, and a resurgence of fascism around the globe. It could also lead to a rebirth of liberal democracy.” 

For instance, governments in Hungary and the Philippines have utilized the pandemic as one intends to give themselves emergency powers. Others like China, El Salvador, and Uganda have taken similar steps.

Any positive outcomes?

Initially, the digital sort of working during this pandemic may be considered as a forced entry into the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). It offers efficient and effective ways to deal with the problems and impact of the pandemic, characterized by a variety of technologies that amalgamate the physical, digital and biological worlds.  

Besides, due to the breakout of pandemic, demagoguery, corrupt politicians, and incompetence are readily exposed.

 It is high time to think of the narrow definition of development where the global powers are competing with each other to increase GDP, revealing the inadequacies and weaknesses of existing institutions everywhere.

To sum up, the catastrophe that coronavirus has wreaked on the economy and social life of the whole world must be borne by the government and the people also. It has revealed the fragility of big global powers and America’s failure to provide the leadership for an “all-hands-on-deck” fight against Covid-19. 

The US, the UK, and EU member states will face various social and political challenges. To fill this vacuum, China is now going out of its way and supplying masks, gloves, ventilators to the world. 

At managing state capacity, social trust, and leadership against coronavirus East Asia has done better than Europe or the US. 

It is beyond a shadow of a doubt that at times of global crisis, there needs a response from leadership at the global level. However, what will be the new global power structure is still obscure. 

Md Jahid Hashan, is a student, Department of Political Science, the University of Dhaka.

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