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Post-pandemic geopolitics

Summary

The global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet quantifiable; however, the main variables that currently define the evolution of the strategic environment are easily identifiable. From these, you can establish global forward-looking scenarios and analyze their specific impact in Latin America.

Keywords

Pandemic, quarantine, viruses, vaccine, scenarios, multilateralism, globalization, regionalism, geopolitics, protectionism, xenophobia, cooperation, solidarity.

Introduction

To date (April 19th, 2021), the COVID-19 pandemic has caused not only regrettable figures (141 million cases detected and 3 million deaths), but also the application of quarantines that have led to social reclusion and economic paralysis globally. Similarly, during this period, cyberspace has been presented as an unrestricted virtual area, gaining relevance for both leisure and work, while also seeing an increase in cybercrime. On the other hand, a dispute over responsibility for the origin and spread of the virus began with various propaganda and misinformation strategies emerging, and various laboratories began an unbridled race to develop a vaccine.

In this context, the tension between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the United States (USA) over global leadership has become more evident. On the one hand, the White House has accused Beijing of a lack of transparency in coronavirus-related data and for breaches of the trade agreement signed in early 2020. On the other hand, the PRC, from March to May 2020 and at the peak of the global spread of the virus, sent medical supplies – as an aid – to countries most affected by the pandemic, which presented questions such as: Was this a selfless attitude, an extension of its influence area, or a simple response to U.S. accusations?

For its part, the European Union has been unable to generate a unified response to the pandemic. The impossibility of jointly addressing this challenge has led to the generation of an internal crisis in the face of the lack of solidarity shown by several of its Member States. Similarly, the U.S.’s dissent with its NATO allies to deal with this crisis in coordination has been notorious, showing s protectionist and indolent image in the face of the hardships of its allies, prompting the wear and tear of its image of redeeming hegemonic power. Similarly, former President Donald Trump’s speech, pointing out as the sole responsible of the pandemic to China, did not serve the former representative to retain his credibility, both internally and externally. By contrast, Chinese support for countries such as Italy and Spain, among others, was remarkable.

Considering the situation described, and although variables are still in full evolution, this article identifies and analyzes a wide range of likely post-pandemic scenarios. To this end, the scenarios formulated by Joseph S. Nye1 have been based in his article entitled: “The Geopolitics of the Post-Pandemic”2, dated October 6th, 2020, which have been critically reformulated. Factors have also been considered that could alter these scenarios and even unify them, such as the emergence of an effective vaccine produced on a large scale and rapidly distributed. Therefore, taking into account the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the current geopolitical situation, the following scenarios can be inferred:

First: Status quo

By 2030, the geopolitical effects of COVID-19 tend to be mitigated, eliminating social confinement measures, and maintaining certain individual security measures (social distancing, masks, alcohol gel, and telework, among others). In addition, previous economic conditions are achieved; however, there can be a slight rise in Chinese power favored by the growing social fragmentation and political polarization of the West. On the other hand, the idea of globalization of the environmental cause coexists with the reevaluation of the world economy, where the U.S. and the PRC cooperate without setting aside their interests and competing for them. 3 In addition, some international organizations weaken and lose their validity while others are transformed and gain positions, and other organizations may even be created in order to reinvent multilateralism. Despite all this, the U.S. remains the world’s first power, but without the degree of influence it had in the past.

Second: Globalized environmental awareness

While it was possible to foresee the rooting of a green international agenda by 2030, the pandemic reinforced this global trend. As evidence, speeches by the representatives of much of the UN Member States on their 75th anniversary, as well as the increasing adoption of policies on climate change and environmental conservation by some governments and businesses can be named. With regard to the U.S., a different political-domestic context can be glimpsed, and vaccine access and health strengthening programs could even be generated for developing countries and regional partners as part of their fight for global influence. These efforts, coupled with support for the UN Sustainable Development Goals 4 and President Joe Biden’s Green New Deal 5, would give the U.S. back some of the lost leadership. In this way, the green agenda becomes a bastion of domestic politics with an analogous geopolitical effect.

Third: Crisis of globalization, regionalism, and the liberal order

At the end of World War II, the U.S. and its allies created a structured, complex, and expansive international order. This new order was built around economic openness, multilateral institutions, security cooperation and democratic solidarity, generating liberalization of international trade and finance. However, long before COVID-19, this world order – particularly multilateralism – faced the progressive rise of the PRC, the growth of populism and nationalism, as well as the alliance – for convenience – between Beijing and Moscow. As China grows as a strategic player, it increases its appetite to set its own rules and regulations. Meanwhile, the U.S. struggles to maintain its supremacy, surrounded by barren and decadent institutions, where the pandemic functioned as a catalyst for the weakening of its structures.

Fourth: China rises

In this scenario, the PRC defeats the pandemic and generates empathy with other powers of global relevance. Pre-existing international relations change strongly, making it easier for Beijing’s economy to grow compared to Washington’s, as the latter is in decline by mid-2025. With regard to its relationship with Russia, while shown as partners, China leaves no doubt as to who has the majority percentage in this society. In addition, it moves away from other so-called emerging countries. 6 China also manages to expand into distant areas, such as Europe and Latin America, through initiatives such as the pearl necklace, Silk Road and bioceanic train. Similarly, as a result of the weakening of the U.S. economy, Chinese companies acquire rights to set standards and regulations through vertically institutionalized instruments, which are beneficial to them when implementing agreements.

Fifth: Authoritarianism as a guarantee of neoliberalism

In this scenario, many governments have taken advantage of the crisis, extending the reach of the state to levels that rub against individual freedom and surpass civil rights. Unemployment, inequality, and various manifestations of social demands also create favorable conditions for democratic governments to move towards authoritarian policies. In this context, protectionism, isolation, and nativism increase, as do taxes, xenophobia, and violence. On the other hand, state violence – in response to social disorder – intensifies, seeing as how the peace of mind on the streets during the pandemic was only a temporary and illusory phenomenon. Relations between governments and citizens become strained as people’s misinformation and frustration with political management become more apparent. This is an open scenario of deep crisis where the political class loses the sympathy and confidence of society.

Sixth: Latin America

When analyzing the situation in Latin America, it becomes apparent that it remains a region with high levels of inequality and social exclusion. Citizens are also close to dissociating themselves from the political class because they understand that political power is incapable of responding to social demands.7 There is an increase in corruption, drug trafficking and organized crime. On the other hand, fear of the use of the Armed Forces for political purposes – as means of coercion available to the state to deal with internal problems – has spread, creating political instability.8  Added to this is the geopolitical conflict between the U.S. and China, the standstill of international agencies against COVID-19, alarming economic figures, the impact on education, and border tensions, among other aspects. From the above, it can be inferred that, at the same time as a particular global scenario, there are problems in Latin America that will continue to be aggravated by the pandemic, such as social inequality, access to health, educational gaps, the informal economy, and poverty levels.

Conclusions

Nye makes a prospective analysis of how the pandemic could affect the established order, delimiting variables that dismiss central aspects of peripheral countries such as the health and economic crisis. In this sense, it shows that areas such as poverty, malnutrition and insecurity are not relevant to its analysis, but power and influence are.

When reformulating the scenarios, there is a slight tendency for a combination mostly favorable to the status quo to develop with the influence of the green agenda. With regard to Latin America, Joe Biden’s foreign policy shift is already visible, mainly aimed at countering China’s and Russia’s growing influence in the region.

The particular situation in Latin America puts the region’s representatives in the spotlight as they will have to implement inclusive plans and transitional policies in agreement with citizens. They must also, if they wish to succeed, build partnerships for comprehensive regional reconfiguration with a view to cooperation and solidarity. On the other hand, they should not ignore the social justice and sustainability of the people, as well as access to education and the health of those most in need, creating policies of social cohesion where every citizen feels part of society.

Final Notes:

  1. Joseph Samuel Nye, Jr. is an American geopolitologist and professor, co-founder, along with Robert Keohane, of the theory of neoliberalism of international relations, developed in the book entitled “Power and Interdependence” in 1977.
  2. In his article, Joseph S. Nye raised the following scenarios: the end of the globalized liberal order, an authoritarian challenge in the style of the 1930s, a World Order dominated by China, a green internal organizational agenda and more of the same, see Joseph Samuel Nye ,Jr, “The Geopolitics of the Post-Pandemic,” Project Syndicate (October 06, 2020),  https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/five-scenarios-for-international-order-in-2030-by-joseph-s-nye-2020-10/spanish?barrier=accesspaylog.
  3. The United  Nations  Environment  Programme, “What is an ‘inclusive green economy’?,”  UN  Environment  Programme  (2020),  https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/green-economy/about-green-economy.
  4. On 25 September 2015, world leaders adopted a set of global goals to eradicate poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific objectives that should be met over the next 15 years, see The United  Nations, “Sustainable Development Goals,” The United Nations  (September 25, 2015), https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/es/objetivos-de-desarrollo-sostenible/.
  5. This proposal, led by Democrat Joe Biden, links Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (New Deal) vision to contemporary concepts of sustainability and energy efficiency in order to urgently address Climate Change and also, solve the problems of social and financial inequality afflicting millions of people. Green New Deal’s proposal is to ensure a 100% carbon-free, clean-energy, zero-emissions U.S. economy by 2050. This, by adapting industries and economic sectors to new consumption models, in order to avoid the possible loss of a large number of sources of work that could arise by betting everything on renewable energy, see Juan Carlos Chavez, “Green New Deal, Joe Biden’s Green New Deal,”    Energy Today (Mexico: November 18, 2020),   https://energiahoy.com/2020/11/18/green-new-deal-la-reestructuracion-verde-de-joe-biden/.
  6. According to the World Bank, an emerging country is a nation whose economic growth is faster than that of the average. To do this, comparison tables are used for developed economies where countries whose per capita income is below average do not enter. According to the World Bank, those who lead development in 2020 are: Yemen, Libya, Dominica, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, India, Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Laos, Panama, Myanmar, Cambodia, Senegal, Djibouti, Philippines, Tanzania, Iraq, Vietnam, Benin, Mongolia, China, Kenya, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Turkmenistan, Sierra Leone, Tonga and Egypt, see World Bank Group,  Global Economic Prospects  (Washington:  World  Bank  Group,   June 2020),  https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/33748  .
  7. On October 25, 2020, thousands of Chileans went out to celebrate the triumph that will allow the long process to begin to eliminate the political legacy of Augusto Pinochet and which was at the center of the claims of the social outburst that began in October 2019. The plebiscite involved the largest number of voters in Chile’s history (7.56 million) and resulted in the largest voter turnout (50.9%) from the institution of the voluntary vote. In contrast, on November 29th, 2020, the primary elections for governor and mayor were held with less than 5% participation, see Electoral Service of Chile ,(December 21, 2020), electoral information, obtained from the National Plebiscite 2020, https://www.servel.cl/.
  8. In November 2019, during the coup against Evo Morales, police and military repressed the population demonstrating against it, causing at least 26 people to die, according to an IACHR report. Since returning to democracy, action has been taken against those responsible for these events and the Judiciary has initiated investigations against former de facto government      officials, see Denisse Godoy, News of Latin America and the Caribbean (Nodal) (November 25, 2020), Interview with Ivan Lima, Bolivian Justice Minister, https://www.nodal.am/2020/11/bolivia-ivan-lima-ministro-de-justicia-se-van-a-juzgar-todas-las-violaciones-a-los-ddhh-que-se-han-dado-en-el-periodo-de-anez/.

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The ideas contained in this analysis are the sole responsibility of the author, without necessarily reflecting the thoughts of the CEEEP or the Peruvian Army.