What Will Happen to the Flat World Once the Curve Flattens?

The outbreak of the COVID-19 has spawned an unprecedented global health crisis, lives and economies have been brought to a standstill and the retrospection induced through this has made us scrutinize each and everything. This has initiated deliberations, rightful in every aspect that where are we actually heading? If the ‘status quo’ is not powerful or sufficient enough to mitigate a crisis and save the humanity when called upon, shouldn’t we re-imagine ‘our’ world order? The pertinent question is that should the world stay as it is or shouldn’t it be remoulded? Should it even remain ‘flat’? Thus, it becomes vital for us to examine the status quo, delimitate its lacunae and ideate accordingly about the anatomy of the future arrangements.

Lessons from the Status Quo – Crumbling World order

The pandemic has exposed the inability of the international institutions and the so called world leaders. Notably, the fact that the United Nations Security Council took so long to meet to discuss the pandemic is a ringing testimony to the UN’s insignificance in the present manifestation, ironically in a year which marks the 75th anniversary of the institution.

Contrary to all the merry pre-suppositions about Regional Institutions, the truth is that they haven’t fared any better. Their member states turned inward for survival: self-help, not regional coordination, was their first instinct and now their rallying cry. Unexpectedly South-South cooperation has been more effective than their counterparts.
The neo-liberal orientation of global supply chains and interdependence has been debunked by the unclothing of the underlying ‘hegemonic’ supply chain which has effectively crippled even the mightiest of the mighty. The impatient world is taking note of the fact that global institutional framework is highly unrepresentative, certainly, a pawn in the hands of the great powers, cash-strapped as visible and its agenda is just focused on the ‘hackneyed’ high-table security issues. The future poses a serious question that given there is little vitality in pursuing the present multilateralism-model, what other options do we have?

A Pandemic of 3Ds – Deglobalization, Decentralization and Delinking

Even before the present apocalyptic environment, the trajectory of globalization was at cross-roads. The pandemic has galvanized the backlash as the costs of ‘unjust’ global integration seemingly rise by the day. The myth around supposedly mutually beneficial arrangements of coupling and global division of labour is gradually waning. Unexpectedly, a fresh demand has emerged that asserts the significance of states which till now was losing its influence to the global economic forces and acceding its functions to the international organizations, to return strongly as the last refuge of the disgruntled citizenry.

But the conception of self-sufficiency and prosperity in isolation is simply a casualty of hyper-optimism. As and when the hyper-optimism recedes, the obituaries of globalization will just appear to be a sham. So, why is it that even after the noticeable drawbacks, we still believe in Globalization or Internationalization and expect it to just ebb and flow?

Internationalization of Economics and Localization of Politics

The process of globalization has enabled internationalization of Economics with networks of production and consumption integrating the world whereas localization of Politics has marked retraction of the strong leaders with nationalistic fervours from the centre-stage and increased visibility of caveats along the lines of ethnic, regional, religious and linguistic identities.

The conceptual dilemma about the primacy of Politics or Economics has always been a fundamental component of international relations and interestingly, the inference that requirements of economic rationality determine the political relations enjoys consensus even amongst the differing political thoughts. We can acknowledge the utility of globalization but this isn’t the desired equilibrium.

We need to initiate both vertical and horizontal adjustments to not only strengthen the institutions of governance but also to make them more responsive to the phenomenon of Internationalization and localization materializing simultaneously. There is an immediate need to draft a new ‘social contract’ for the 21st century encompassing all the major stakeholders-individuals, societies, state and international actors. The pandemic has underscored the need for such a substantial adjustment.

Deconstructing the ‘Darwinian’ World Order – A New Political, Social, Economic and Security Architecture

We need to understand that the Darwinian conception of survival of the fittest can only lead to creation of separate islands of progress and prosperity but to link these islands we need to traverse through the oceans of denial and deprivation. The report of the UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change(2004) encapsulated the crisis a decade ago, “Differences of power, wealth and geography do determine what we perceive as the gravest threats to our survival and well-being. What is needed today is a new consensus.”

At the Threshold – Emancipation of the Third World

India, China, Japan, South Korea and East Asian Economies resonate with the characterization of the 21st century as the ‘Asian Century’. Their potential will mark ‘role reversal’ and establish Asia as the epicenter of a more equitable global order. It will mark a watershed moment for the developing world. The present hegemonic order based on distinction between the ‘First’ and the ‘Third’ World will be redundant and the so-called Third world will have the chance to break free from the stereotypical conceptions and acquire a place in the global high-table.

Establishing Principles of the New Order – Nuremberg Trials to Wuhan Trials

The Nuremberg trials were held for the purpose of bringing the Nazi war criminals to justice for their dastardly acts against humanity. These are now regarded as a milestone towards establishment of the principles of international conduct. The reason for drawing a parallel here is to call attention to the receding significance of international authority in establishing justice. The post-Covid world will demand accountability. The rampant spread of the virus has raised questions which have to be answered.

Disease ‘X’ Will Always Be There

We have to acknowledge the fact that we have built a dysfunctional relationship with the nature and the pandemic is a stark reminder to our adventurism. We need to learn from our mistakes and develop global partnerships like Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (launched in 2017). The only way to counter these is by identifying all possible sources collaboratively and dismantling them before the next crisis strikes.

Conclusion – The Post-Covid ‘Flat’ world

The conception of universal security will dominate the nationalistic fervours. The world shall remain a ‘flat’ place but there can be no going back to business-as-usual. It is likely that the states would become more self-seeking and inward-looking, leading to pushbacks against certain liberal policies. But still the quest for the establishment of ‘perpetual peace’ will be the guiding feature. The states would realign their priorities and consequently the international order. One of the biggest positives coming out of this will be that the world will recognize human encroachment into the natural ecosystem and the need to catalyze global integration to mitigate the global challenges, most notably climate change.

The world is at a critical juncture and in planning how to overcome this global health crisis and address the widening economic shocks and its repercussions, it has the unique opportunity to design nature and society positive stimulus architecture that could hold the key to preventing future outbreaks and ensuring sustainability and prosperity in the long-run.

-By Samanvay Pandey (One of the prize winners of Covid-19 Article Writing Competition in the 18-24 years age group)

Picture Credits: Shutterstock

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