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The Pandemic Will Accelerate History Rather Than Reshape It: Not Every Crisis Is a Turning Point

Author: Richard Haass

Affiliation: President of the Council on Foreign Relations

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place: April 7, 2020/ USA

Type of Literature: Journal Article

Word count: 2312


 Keywords: Coronavirus Crisis, International Liberal Order, Disarray, and Accelerate History


Despite the differences among analysts regarding the nature of the world that will be left behind by the Coronavirus pandemic, there is general agreement among them that the world will be fundamentally different from what existed before. However, Richard Haass argues here that the world that follows is not likely to be much different from its predecessor, as COVID-19 will not change the main path that the world is heading as much as it will accelerate its pace. Haass details how the pandemic and responses to it reveal the basic characteristics of contemporary geopolitics, and even reinforces its trend. Therefore, this crisis does not represent a turning point as much as it is just “a way station along the road that the world has been traveling for the past few decades.” Its most prominent features were the decline of the US global leadership, the stumbling of global cooperation, and the struggle among the major powers, as this pandemic has made these features more visible. A decade ago, at least, it became clear that the world we are heading in will not be a unipolar world in which the US dominates, but a world marked by the rise of new powers (such as China) as a result of stumbles by the US; rather, the absence of  US capacity which especially since Trump’s arrival in the White House his policy has not shown much interest in alliances or preserving the US’ traditional role in handling global issues. Furthermore, Haass expects the pandemic to reinforce the public opinion backing Trump which is summed up by his slogan “America First,” as it will appear that Washington needs to focus on reforming itself and devoting more resources to its internal needs “to increase butter instead of guns.” The US’ poor response to the Coronavirus crisis will further undermine its external appeal and the strength of its world example, which was already retreating before this crisis. Moreover, the pandemic confirms the weak state of global governance, as countries with their global organizations have not shown any meaningful global response, as well as the failure of these organizations to keep pace with new challenges. The author is pessimistic about the nature of US-China relations after the pandemic, which in his view are heading to more friction as China attempts to present itself as a successful model for dealing with this pandemic and is using this moment as an opportunity to expand its influence around the world. This will only contribute to increasing the US hostility. On the other hand, the developed world has known for nearly a decade a nationalist resistance to accepting large numbers of refugees and migrants; but today, Coronavirus is accelerating this trend and many countries will justify nationalist policies against migrants and refugees with the argument of protecting their peoples from the risk of importing infectious diseases coming with migrants. The economic losses due to this pandemic will create a more vulnerable and failed state, as the debt crisis will be exacerbated due to government spending in order to cover health care costs and support the unemployed during this crisis. COVID-19 has shed more light on the future of European integration, especially after Brexit. Moreover, the pandemic is likely to foster a democratic recession across the world that was already evident during the last 15 years, as there will be calls for a greater government role in society such as the state provision of economic assistance. Also, individual liberties will not be a priority in times of crisis. Finally, Haass believes that the US is not currently prepared to assume a leading international role as a result of the fatigue brought on by two long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and rising needs at home. Even if Biden wins the upcoming elections and wants to restore the “traditional liberal policy,” he will be faced by the resistance of Congress and the American public, which will prevent a massive return to an expanded US role around the world; no other country, including China, meets the desire and ability to fill the vacuum left by the US across the world. Haass referred to all these geopolitical features of the upcoming world three years ago in his book “A World in Disarray,” when he compared the world’s present situation to the state it was after World War I—that is, the era that knew a decline in US engagement and an escalation in international disarray. Therefore, this pandemic will not much change anything, except that it will reinforce the reality of this disarray, speeding up its pace and scope as well.


By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA Senior Research Associate




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