International Policy Digest

World News /29 May 2020
05.29.20

COVID-19 and Re-Globalization: What Can We Foresee?

The coronavirus outbreak has shown how interdependent and interconnected the world is. A virus that originated in Wuhan, China continues to spread to nearly every country. Two weeks after the detection of the first coronavirus case in Wuhan, coronavirus cases appeared across multiple continents, depicting the rapid spread of the virus due to the rise of globalization. In less than three weeks, the virus spread across multiple continents, traveling to Europe, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and Canada. G20 leaders, in a virtual meeting, noted in their statement, “The virus respects no borders. Combatting this pandemic calls for a transparent, robust, coordinated, large-scale, and science-based global response in the spirit of solidarity.” Which is right. Addressing and mitigating the outbreak requires a comprehensive international response.

In addition to the global health crisis, many governments are grappling with the economic impacts of the virus as many are facing the likelihood of a recession. It is certainly true that such a strong “interdependence of the world’s economies, cultures, and populations” contributed to the transmission of the coronavirus. Which all the more underscores the importance of an international approach to address the pandemic. Interconnected trade through trade agreements has been an essential feature of world economies. No country can solely mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic. An international approach based on international trade laws is required.

Along with these effects, the coronavirus pandemic has triggered new conversations on globalization. Manfred B. Steger notes in his book, Globalization: A Very Short Introduction, that globalization is “a social condition characterized by tight global economic, political, cultural, and environmental interconnections and flows that make most of the currently existing borders and boundaries irrelevant.” Roland Beneditker and Ingrid Kofler note in the global-e series’ lead essay that “Globalization, as we have known it for the past nearly three decades, seems to be stagnating—or at least it is changing its face.” The current global health crisis provides an opportunity to reevaluate the idea of globalization.

Measures adopted by many countries to contain virus spread will lead to a call for even closer cooperation between political, monetary, and fiscal institutions. The strong economic and cultural interdependence (“a ‘borderless’ reality”), which has emerged in recent decades, makes it feasible to address these challenges collectively rather than by individual governments.

Therefore, at a time when globalization is being reevaluated, it needs to be even more strengthened. This requires reforming and enhancing the decision-making power and processes of international institutions like the UN, WHO, WTO, EU, etc. These institutions are vital to addressing the coronavirus pandemic as they are well equipped to take an international approach to mitigate the crisis. This would be the first step in strengthening globalization.

However, despite the urgency of taking an international approach to mitigate the outbreak, populist politicians, including Donald Trump, have seized this opportunity to rally against globalization. The idea of globalization isn’t attractive to populist politicians. Recently, European Union political forums noted that the direct involvement of member states’ political authorities is trudging, dominated by their short term interests. Further, Donald Trump denounced WHO’s approach in addressing the pandemic, emphasizing China’s influence over the organization. Powerful actors like Trump exploit the pandemic to rally against globalization—a campaign promise— to strengthen his political base.

National populist firebrands like Trump or Marine Le Pen deride ‘globalism’ as an elite-engineered project that undermines the sovereignty and integrity of a nation. The core message of their new ‘antiglobalist’ populism emerged as the central slogan of Trump’s 2016 campaign speeches: Americanism—not globalism—will be the credo. People like Trump and Le Pen are antiglobalist populists that are experts in utilizing nativism to undermine globalism.

In response to the pandemic, many countries are taking action at the national level. This seems to supersede any international effort. However, the challenges of the present and the immediate future will require an alternative solution based on stronger collaboration and cooperation among countries to address regional and global issues. Such issues cannot be tackled effectively by individual nations given their dimensions and impact. Eric Hobsbawm notes in his book, The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848, about “the incapacity of governments to hold up the course of history.” As history has shown, government incompetence has negatively altered the course of historical events, but this should not happen again in the age of a global public health crisis.

As shown by the coronavirus outbreak, reforming and revisioning globalization is necessary to adequately address global issues. The global health crisis has been a catalyst in evaluating the re-globalization process. Necessary reforms are required to mitigate the crisis by strengthening the global sphere and favoring supranational institutions. Given the current global climate and the retreat of globalization, there will likely be a continued prevalence of nativism and national approaches to solving the crisis. However, such national approaches will not provide a long-term and long-lasting approach to resolve this crisis. This is so because global problems require global solutions.