COVID-19 has brought life, health systems and economies of the world to their knees, putting entire countries on a halt, albeit a majority of the affected are highly developed. The spectrum of the problem is huge; around 199 countries and territories have already been hit by the pandemic with the number of affected cases and deaths rising by the day. Fear has grappled everyone and there is a widespread panic. Entire communities are isolated, and life is brought to a standstill that many are witnessing for the first time.
Coronavirus’-coup-on-the-current-world-order12-1The global shutdown brought about by the pandemic has sent the world’s economy into a tailspin. Stock exchanges across the world are on the course of a fall. Global markets have already seen their largest single-day drop since 1987. Supply chains have been disrupted and will be difficult to restart. Impacts of the pandemic can be felt in all sectors and are only getting worse as it spreads further into countries with fragile governance and economies.
National economies and wellbeing of common citizens are major losers in this crisis. There is a surge in individualism on the international stage. The crisis seems certain to reinforce and deepen trends toward de-coupling and de-globalisation.
Anticipating the future, countries have started to devise tools to combat the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Emergency budget allocations have risen manifolds during the last few weeks. Multilateral institutions are also announcing packages and relaxing payment schedule to buy the poor and developing economies more time, though not with the zeal that is a requirement of the times.
The impact will be far ranging on multiple sectors, other than health and economy, both though forming a basis for all the other changes. As of now, the geopolitical front is not lagging behind in acting to the whims of the virus as it transcends man-made borders and natural boundaries.
The fallout from the global pandemic threatens the US-China relations, and given the importance of both the countries, undermining global stability. A prime victim of the strife would be the international trade, but even beyond trade, the virus’s spread could lead to more long-term shifts in how the US and China are perceived. China has now begun offering aid to other countries crippled by the virus as a way to showcase its global leadership amid a slow, limited US reaction. It’s clear that Beijing sees itself filling a global leadership role that would traditionally be held by the United States, but which under Trump’s “America First” policy appears vacant.
As the spread of virus continues the Washington-Beijing clash is going well beyond just rhetoric. The consequences of this blame game are wide range in which China holds many of the cards. This depicts the future course of business between not just the USA and China but many other countries as well.
The USA’s refusal to lift economic sanctions on Iran that has been hit harder than any other Middle Eastern country with the number of cases elevating by the minute and signalling towards more sanctions rather than some relief for the country reflects the apathy that exists in the system. The pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities of the current political order across the world while many a developed country struggle with controlling the spread, health systems falling apart, governments struggling to facilitate the social needs of the populations amid massive lockdowns, curbing civilian liberties and dwindling livelihoods.
The global healthcare crisis is providing a perfect pretext for centralising powers. Public life is pushed back all around the world to slow down the spread of the virus. Measures taken for the purpose range from postponement of elections to journalists forced to work remotely, right of assembly being suspended to governments using geo-tracking to identify possible cases. The unlimited authority necessitated by the pandemic may or may not be rolled back if the threat lasts as long as is expected: a year. Extraordinary measures are taken in even the model democracies of the European Union; many have imposed emergencies; others have taken equivalent measures.
A number of these measures are feared to be dismantling checks and balances vital to the continuity of democratic practices. As has been history, pandemics have provided states the excuse to expand their powers, as fear made people comply to stricter orders. Italy, Spain, Poland and France are heavily fining people who are out without a reason. Countries have closed their borders to any and all activity, some even leaving their own citizens stranded offshore. Governments are getting massive civilian support for these measures, even in a country like Italy where politicians are generally not trusted. The Hungarian parliament is presented with a bill giving dictatorial powers to the president for an indefinite period.
With new health and economic crises, Covid-19 has dealt a huge blow to the idea of international cooperation
Countries are working on using telecom data for tracing those possibly affected by the virus and for ensuring isolation of people during quarantine. The government of Slovakia plans to pass a law allowing state institutions to access data from telecommunications operators. Four of the Council of Europe’s 47-member state -Armenia, Latvia, Moldova and Romania-have announced a derogation from the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. The move allows these countries to suspend certain civil rights during the coronavirus state of emergency.
The Serbian opposition claims that the country’s president has brought Serbia “one step away from dictatorship” by imposing an emergency. In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has imposed an emergency; despite losing elections recently the situation has not just allowed him to continue as prime minister but to postpone the proceedings of a criminal trial against himself. The emergency has also allowed him to introduce new surveillance measures and assigned him unabated powers all beyond constitution.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity was dwindling amid growing economic inequality in the country. Russia is scheduled to take a nationwide vote on amending the constitution to allow for Putin to remain president until 2036. Though Putin is adamant on carrying the voting as per schedule on April 22nd, restrictions on the size of public gatherings in view of the outbreak have limited the opposition’s options for protest making Putin’s future at the top of Russian power a certainty.
In India, the largest democracy in the world, the public was, for months, protesting the newly introduced controversial citizenship law. Government’s harsh reaction against protesters further complicated the situation in February. Using the lockdown to control the spread of the pandemic as an excuse, the capital police removed the protestors from the site of the longest-running sit-in at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh without much hassle and media frenzy.
With new health and economic crises, Covid-19 has dealt a huge blow to the idea of international cooperation. Italy is fast surpassing China in the number of casualties. Italy is a member of the European Union that is considered more than just a coalition for tedious financial transactions; it also helps fellow European countries in need. Not one EU state has responded to Italy’s appeal for help via the Emergency Response Coordination Centre of the EU. The unlikely messiah for Italy came in the form of China, Cuba, Turkey and Russia. furthering the disappointment in the current system for not just Italy but the Baltic states who feel abandoned by their closest neighbours. The European Union has placed export restrictions on healthcare supplies.
It is fair to say that to many in the union the borders are becoming a more profound reality than the unity they would look for in times of a crisis. Many in the west are already fearing a rise in the Chinese influence in the region as it extends a helping hand to the struggling nations in their time of need, furthering the impression that democracies are incapable of handling crises and authoritarianism is what has proved effective.
(To be concluded)
The writer is Research Associate at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad. Views are essentially the author’s own and does not reflect the institute’s policy
This article was originally published at: https://dailytimes.com.pk/588281/coronavirus-coup-on-the-current-world-order-i/
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.