The pandemic, which from the outset Washington has “promoted” as a “Chinese scourge,” was designed to isolate China and put a full stop to globalization as we know it now, a phenomenon seriously affecting all major Western countries, including the U.S. We have witnessed a crisis in relations between Western countries – be it the U.S. and Europe or the European Union.
The so-called “Western/European solidarity” disappeared in a blink of an eye. Each government focused on tackling the virus pandemic on its own territory, which is basically right. The nation-state, which they hastened to bury, not only became a respondent of last resort to the national electorate amid a nationwide calamity but also strongly emphasized the importance of the principle of the democratic accountability of government, which goes against not only Brussels bureaucracy but also all kinds of international organizations. The latter are unable to do more than what the collective will of their member states can do.
This is why the Donald Trump administration’s decision to portray the World Health Organization (WHO), whose services in coordinating an international response to the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic are especially in demand now, as a scapegoat to blame for the U.S.’s problems (with its record 17% of GDP in spending on the public health system), comes across as a blow below the belt. The U.S. administration was reminded about the importance of international cooperation by American public figures, medical professionals and charity organizations.
However, despite the imperatives of the moment, practically all Western governments have followed the same old foreign policy patterns, showing their solidarity only in one respect – namely the containment of Russia and China. Western capitals categorically rejected all of Moscow’s initiatives regarding the suspension of anti-Russian sanctions and the creation of green corridors for medical supplies, materials and equipment for countries in need. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said recently in the Bolshaya igra [Big Game] TV show, “senior partners” in the Western alliance are even exerting intense pressure on their allies, warning them against seeking aid from Russia and China. Unlike their citizens, these governments believe that old geopolitics, which is mutating into geoeconomics, is just as relevant as it was 30 years ago, when the Cold War came to an end.
Needless to say, this fatal lack of imagination has tragic consequences for the world as a whole, necessitating replacement of Western elites whose mentality has gotten stuck in the past. The West is doing itself irreparable damage by acting the way it does. The course of events shows that the world is developing nonlinearly. The illusion of a “unipolar world” is falling apart in full view of everyone – what’s more, with active assistance from Trump’s America, which has set out to reconfigure the established postwar world order by using explicitly Darwinian methods. The coronavirus does not change the essence of that political course whereby Washington is literally flooding its economy with money on the assumption that other – let’s put it bluntly – more responsible governments cannot afford to do the same.
For example, unlike the $2 trillion relief package approved by the U.S. Congress to support the national economy (which accounts for 10% of U.S. GDP and half the federal budget), so far, the EU has only provided about 500 billion euros tied (it is not clear yet how) to its seven-year budget. Brussels also hopes to generate investment in all of the EU’s affected economies at a level of 1 trillion euros. It is also not clear yet how that will be done.
The EU is losing the intra-Western race to tackle the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and gain a competitive advantage in the world after the pandemic to the U.S. However, nobody knows for certain what that world will be like exactly. The U.S. is backing itself into geopolitical isolation in the hope that other countries, even its allies, will not be able to do the same and will have to accept Washington’s diktat, abandoning their principles of “liberalism” and multilateral diplomacy.
On the other hand, what is there to abandon regarding the so-called “liberal order” when even former U.S. deputy secretary of state and former ambassador to Moscow William Burns acknowledges that the coronavirus pandemic will weaken the positions of democracy and authoritarian practices will prevail? This refers primarily to China, which is so far showing a high level of mobilization readiness and preparedness for post-coronavirus reconstruction, including the strengthening of its global economic position.
However, what kind of economy is under discussion in the first place? Many experts acknowledge that the pandemic, which has already aggravated the recession, will become a strong catalyst for cardinal economic changes. Among other things, the role of the state and the human dimension in the economy – i.e., the entire complex of sectors related to public health – will grow. Digitization, including electronic government and online commerce, will make a lot of headway. Working from home will call into question the very concept of “office,” with ramifications for the real estate market. The gig economy will get a boost. This does not exhaust the list of potential changes that have been brewing in the economic sector and in society as a whole in recent decades.
William Burns talks about sluggishness and systemic problems in the West, and it is difficult to disagree with that. The main impediment to the realization of current imperatives by Western elites is the inertia of Cold War politics and the inability to think in terms other than ideological confrontation, which has effectively disappeared from Western society per se. Not surprisingly, the West is also falling victim to all sorts of conspiracy theories. But most important, it (primarily Trump’s America) is failing to maintain global stability, acting as its destructor.
The pandemic, among other things, is highlighting the issue related to the future of the Biological Weapons Convention and its inadequacy in the absence of the Compliance Protocol, which is fiercely opposed by the Americans and their NATO allies, as well as their allies in bilateral military-political alliances in Asia and the Pacific. If the coronavirus tragedy can facilitate international cooperation in any way, it is primarily there. That would make the U.S.’s activity in this area more transparent, including the operation of U.S. “bio laboratories” throughout the world, and would help build trust between countries in a situation where experts cannot rule out new pandemics, which are apparently emerging as a challenge to humanity along with climate change.
It is true that the coronavirus will affect relations not only within the EU but also within the West as an ideological-political institution that has outlived its raison d’etre. However, this means that global problems (and almost all current problems are global) have no national or even regional solutions, least of all within a system of ideological coordinates that is in tatters and has outlived its usefulness.
The current pandemic shows that requirements for the effectiveness of government policy have nothing to do with ideology. Factually and psychologically, the West has been hit the hardest, but nobody is rejoicing over that, since failures of some countries are translating into threats to others. This is why all attempts to compensate “allies and friends” for their losses from the pandemic with anti-Russian policy or any other “anti-” policy are deficient and unconvincing. The West’s competitiveness has already been badly affected and cannot be restored by such group policy methods.
What is needed under the current circumstances is not propaganda warfare from the past but genuinely broad international cooperation unencumbered by ideological prejudices. This enhances the value of fundamental norms of international law, international rule of law as such, whose effects were distorted in so many ways during the Cold War era and the recent “unipolar moment.”
Russia and China are objectively (including as targets of the Western disinformation campaign) in a situation where they can lead the core of the global community. This core is committed to the traditional values of international relations and is ready to uphold them across the entire spectrum of international issues. Therein lies a historic opportunity to transform the world in response to the needs of the time, an opportunity that is being provided (at a very high price!) by the coronavirus tragedy. Those who think otherwise must bear a heavy burden of proof regarding the effectiveness of old politics in the rapidly changing world.