COVID-19 in The New Age of Global Integration

Empty plane during pandemic.

While scrolling through Twitter amidst a quarantine-induced boredom spell, I came across a tweet describing someone who had recently returned from a societal sabbatical in which he had left everything behind, including technology, to spend time in nature and recharge. He had left in late January. 

It has only been a little over two months, but the landscape in which he will find himself will be worlds apart from that from which he departed. Coming back into a world under quarantine, he will discover an almost dystopian society in which restaurants, bars, and the vast majority of establishments have their doors locked and their windows shuttered. He will find himself in a world which seems to be holding its breath. Instead of the accelerated, globalized world he expected to return to, he will come back into a world that feels like it’s stopped moving. 

We are living in an unprecedented time that will undoubtedly leave a mark on  history — already our generation  has already been christened as “Generation Corona.” What will this future world look like? Society as we know it around the world will forever be changed in the wake of this global pandemic which has left nobody unaffected.

Globalization and COVID-19

Particularly concerning is the rapid rate at which COVID-19 has spread. The spread from China to at least 183 confirmed countries and territories since its initial alert on December 31 has been unprecedented. In total, there have already been over 1.9 million cases as of April 13, with an expectation that they will continue to increase for the foreseeable future.

In many ways, this spread highlights the levels of global integration which the world has managed to reach. This interconnected nature, largely based on trade and travel, has created prime conditions for the virus to be transmitted both quickly and widely. It has certainly helped fuel arguments for those concerned about the increasing interdependence of global societies and economies through modern globalization.

One particular hotspot that served as a proxy site for ongoing battles over the optimal degree of global economic interdependence and the status of free trade was the trade war between the United States and China. This trade war was featured on the front pages of major media outlets, described in burning headlines for the last two years.  Though economic analysts have interpreted the signing of a Phase One Deal on January 15 earlier this year as indicative of the feud coming to a simmer, the heated debate sparked over the costs and benefits of globalization has been rekindled in the face of the coronavirus. The unprecedented speed and scope of the spread of the pandemic have called into question the safety of the contemporary state of hyper-globalization.

Beyond the China-U.S. faceoff, other countries have become increasingly concerned about the level to which free trade has caused global economic and societal codependencies. For example, the harmony and cooperation that the European Union prides itself on are now also facing stress. The bloc has begun enforcing hard borders to prevent citizens of non-member nations from entering. Within the union, countries such as Germany and France have begun impeding the exportation of medical supplies, such as face masks.

 Future Projections

Trust has broken down across the world, and current conditions have made it clear that trade relations quickly break down when strained by global crises. Many have begun to call for the United States and China to put past differences aside and emerge as allies during this trying time. In fact, there has been movement in this direction as the Trump administration has begun to work with Xi Jinping toward this end. Their goal is to best utilize the innovations of each country to buffer the spread of the virus and expedite the quest for a cure, and if any countries have the technology and funding to achieve these goals, it is these two.

However, opponents raise serious questions about whether the United States should trust China if they are responsible for covering up the threat for as long as they did. Few people now believe the numbers that China is reporting for total cases and deaths. Many are looking at this as an opportunity to excuse the divorce between the United States and China, and they are calling for the United States and the European powers to unite and stand up to their trading partner to the East.

The world is in a state of disarray. Trust has broken down between nations and within borders between people and their governments. Society as we know it has broken down, possibly beyond repair, and while many may theorize about what the future implications of this crisis may look like, nobody truly knows what tomorrow looks like. However, the present chaos has proven one thing: times like these necessitate the world coming together. This situation has created a prime opportunity for this, as we have been awakened to the pettiness of most conflicts.

A Proposal for International Restructuring 

To build on this, there must be an international agreement that brings the world together to mitigate the current pandemic and to prevent one from occurring again. We have now seen first-hand the tendency of mankind to devolve to selfish measures when faced with such an ordeal. This has only made the problem worse as citizens fight to stock up on essential goods and countries cut off aid to the outside world. This sentiment of fear only compounds the problems the virus is causing and makes the collaboration of developments nearly impossible. If anything, it has proven that cooperation is the answer. The world powers need to come together now to reestablish order in a permanently altered world, and, as the world’s superpower, the United States must take the initiative on the issue to emerge as the stabilizing force it is responsible for being.

However, the warnings of those concerned by the increasing economic integration and globalization of the world should not be dismissed.  From the disruptions to the global supply chain that have brought the global economy to the brink of collapse, it is clear that global economic structures must be reexamined. Thus, this new global order should not be one that encourages further global integration than has already taken place. It should encourage member nations to retain their sovereignty but begin to actually enforce global initiatives such as human rights issues and pollution reduction. Countries should be held accountable to provide the resources needed for membership. There should be no more loopholes. No country should receive an exception.

The allure of such an agreement would be a strong, united international alliance. Member nations should be united in their combined pursuit of a shared goal: global stability. The United Nations has proven too often to wield no effective power. It serves no purpose when there is no ability to enforce it. This new organization should combine ideals with action, something the World Health Organization has proven incapable of accomplishing during this pandemic. In short, there must be a global commitment to upholding the standards of stability and cooperation while enforcing these standards and paired with a devotion to action that will ensure them.

Such a unified approach is a necessary reform to current international politics. Whether responding to a human rights crisis or a military faceoff, whether addressing climate regulations or a lethal pandemic, it seems imperative that international cooperation be more cohesive and unified. It may be too late for our current crisis: Responses to the coronavirus pandemic have already proven that the attraction of regressing back to isolationism has overpowered the urgent need for multipolar cooperation. But it is time for a shared commitment to saving the planet that we all inhabit. It is time for agreements with force behind them. It is time for cooperation on a global scale. If the leaders of the United States reflect on the current situation, they will recognize that it is time for them to lead the effort.

 Image credits: flickr / mohamednazmi

 

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