The Coronavirus Pandemic and the New Global World
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We still do not know the future trajectory of Coronavirus or its mid or long-term impact. Nevertheless, governments have been under pressure to reopen their economies, albeit in a calibrated manner. This is in contrast to WHO warning of a second wave. Since a vaccine may not be available in the forthcoming future, we may witness a spectrum of hit-and-trial economic initiatives, for which essential healthcare and societal discipline would be fundamental.

Introduction – We are in Difficult Times

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting our lives in unforeseen ways – four months into the crisis, we are still trying to comprehend what is happening and struggling to adapt. The world has witnessed widespread death, economic losses and misery, not seen since World War-II. No one has been spared; in fact, the richer and developed countries have suffered more. The Coronavirus outbreak has reinforced, that in the interconnected globe we live, disasters will cut across geography and demography.

UN Secretary General Antanio Guetress has summed up the situation aptly – “The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated our global fragility. Despite enormous scientific and technological advances, a microscopic virus has proved our inability to fight ‘The Common Enemy’ and brought us to our knees”.

What should have primarily been a public health matter, has highlighted serious concerns on political leadership, human security, global economy and governance, which cumulatively could impact unprecedented threats to international peace and security. The big issues at stake are:–

  • Has the virus exposed structural vulnerability of multiple national and international systems?
  • Extending from denial to non-sharing of data and best practices, has our collective effort on the ‘Coronavirus Pandemic War’ proved to be a failure?
  • Have the constant warnings of climate change, food insecurity, cyber manipulation and recurring viruses (SARS, Avian Flu, Zika and Ebola) been consistently disregarded to bring the global population to this state?
  • How long will the Pandemic last and how will we learn to ‘live’ with it?
  • Is Coronavirus a game changer or just a pause-button phase?

Geo-Strategic Implications

Sadly, the “Pandemic Geo-political Battle” has superseded the health narrative. With the origin, spread and handling of virus under a political lens, the world stands further polarized. This political spectacle has distracted the focus from the global health crisis, where hundreds of thousands are dying. At the heart of the debate today is the effectiveness of globalization – and whether we will witness a shift in the prevailing concept of multilateralism. What are then the emerging trends and new power centres? No fixed answers,however,an attempt can be made to define the contours.

US-China Rivalry

The gloves are off in what is being defined as the ‘New Cold War’, with an open US-China blame-and-denial game not witnessed since decades. The Americans are aiming to hit the Chinese politically and economically – by diplomatic attacks, short-term trade modifications and shifting out of supply chains from Mainland China. To add to the acerbity and ramping up pressure in China, US lawmaker Scott Perry recently introduced a bill in the US Congress to authorise the US President to recognise Tibet as a separate independent country. The Chinese on the other hand are mocking the Americans at their mishandling of the virus, while offering medical skills and financial aid to distressed countries.

Russia, the erstwhile Cold War player, appears to be deceptively quiet. The Russians must be feeling relieved at the Americans shifting their primary target to China; it provides them breathing space. That does not, however, indicate any dilution of their strategic interests in Eastern Europe, Middle East or Africa.

The Americans under Trump have been shying away from playing a dominant global role in the last few years, instead focusing on an ‘America-first’ policy. Challenging established global structures and attempting to dismantle international agreements on Iran, arms-control and climate devoid of viable back-up plans, has weaned away many of their friends, including from the western world. The American mishandling of the pandemic has raised serious concerns regarding their intrinsic resilience as well as lack of responsible hands on leadership. However, the US industrial base, influence at vital international forums and economic base stays strong.

Concurrently, China’s international status has also suffered. The Chinese lack of transparency and suppression of free communication on the virus has raised intention issue, as complete mankind perceives victimized through their perceived negligence. The Chinese, however, are strident in their defence, as viruses in the past have never been designated country-specific. What is notable diplomatically, though, is the Chinese aggressive messaging, both in forums and on ground (South China Sea, Hong Kong and India Border) looking for quick gains. This is unlike the ancient Chinese culture of silent diplomacy aimed at long-term objectives. Has Xi overplayed his card, only time will tell?

While the WHO investigations may take time to clear the air, Coronavirus confusion has negatively impacted China’s ‘grand strategic vision’. It may also impede their economic investments in Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa, specifically ongoing Belt and Road Initiative and Huawei 5G expansions. The Chinese being aware of the unpredictable situation are not making any GDP forecasts.

Europe (The Third Pillar of Power Triangle)

Europe has been the biggest victim of the pandemic. The European nations (particularly Italy, Spain and France) have suffered huge fatalities. The crisis has exposed their vulnerability to critical decision-making, border controls and responsive health systems. Notwithstanding, the European Union appears to have got its act together by timely release of financial aid package and is showing continental unity to recover – by balancing the ‘environment restrictions’ with ‘back to business’ (French) reopening.

Given the competing national priorities, European Union may remain in a state of flux, but appears united as of now. They have a history of survival instincts in the past – most notably migration and Euro crisis.

UK has left Europe – but without a deal. UK’s pandemic handling has exposed multiple weaknesses, namely their weak NHS, negligence of the elderly, vulnerability in care-homes and proportionately large immigrant deaths. Meanwhile, Brexit talks are proving tough as the EU hasdug in. With UK out, two strong players now dominate Europe – France and Germany. Macron and Merkel are making efforts to generate European solidarity,emphasizing that Europe’s combined political and economic strength could project it as the ‘third super power,competing with USA and China.

To fulfill that vision, EU needs to relook at its strategic role, while appropriately coupling with NATO. The latter has been losing its relevance and would need to restructure itself to fight the future hybrid cyber-climate-biological wars, while continuing to retain deterrence on its eastern flank. It will also need to build strategic mobility to partner the UN for de-confliction initiatives in Africa and Middle East.


The Asia-Pacific Region has exhibited professional approach in handling of the pandemic. Japan, with its disaster management experience and rehearsed procedures well in place, has endured. South Korea and Taiwan are two countries likely to come out stronger from the pandemic. Taiwan may increasingly gain strategic space as a counter-balance against China, as it has well-established technological base. Australia, New Zealand and ASEAN too have appeared to have to control the virus.

South Asia has had a mixed bag. Though timely measures to control the spread, good recovery rate and reduced death rate have been the positives, there is uncharted territory due to large populations living and moving in compacted space. Meanwhile, SAARC countries continue to be mired in political, security and social disputes, limiting their resources to alleviate poverty and maximize their growth potential.

South America

South America is becoming the latest pandemic epic entre, with Brazil recording second largest cases in the world. Intriguingly, President Bolsonaro has been advising youth to return to the streets by adopting ‘Vertical Isolation’ (meaning elderly), making young die. Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Columbia and Argentina too are now reporting infections in worrying numbers.


The virus could not have come at a worse time for Africa, when the continent has been struggling to get out of its conflict and poverty culture. The virus damage appears less as of now, which is being attributed to multiple reasons like being behind-the-curve, younger population, hot climate and local disease-fighting experience. However, it’s early days as the continent continues to report expansion.

Many African states were among the earliest to implement lockdowns, close borders, screen passengers and upgrade social hygiene. The continent faces two challenges in its pandemic battle – firstly, to harmonise its strategic triangle comprising AU, regional organizations and the national governments for coordinating vigilance and preparedness. More importantly, Africa needs financial stimulus; else the pandemic will not only devastate African lives, economies and societies, but also remain a perennial source of violence and generate refugees. Many African leaders,however, question their financial dependency, which they feel is inhibiting domestic self-reliance.

The continent concurrently continues to be embroiled in multiple hybrid conflicts, with terrorist groups like Boko Haram and Al Shabab taking advantage of the environmental vulnerabilities. UN Peacekeeping missions continue to persevere in Mali, Libya, CAR, South Sudan, Darfur, DRC, Somalia and Yemen. This in itself is a telling testimony of the violent instability in these regions.


Coronavirus has inflicted huge damage to the global economy, not seen since World War II. The world is in the danger of falling into a great depression, with millions losing their jobs. The crisis may exacerbate food and nutrition insecurity. Already 821 million people suffer from chronic hunger globally, while another 2 billion suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. It is estimated that 130 million additional people may face hunger by the Covid-19 crisis.

The IMF has forecast that the global economy would shrink by up to 3 percent, with majority of nations facing recession. As per the UN World Economic Situation and Prospects mid-2020 Report, the pandemic will likely cause an estimated that 34.3 million people to fall below extreme poverty line in 2020, with 56 percent of this occurring in African countries. Globally, an additional 130 million people may be living in extreme poverty by 2030.

The UN has set out a US $ 6.7 billion Humanitarian Response Plan for the most vulnerable displaced persons. The IMF has already approved US $12.3 billion in emergency financing to a first group of 36 developing countries, out of 100 that requested it. The World Bank has indicated that with the new and existing resources, it can provide US $160 billion of financing over next 15 months. G-20 has meanwhile suspended debt service payments for the poorest countries.

The disruption of global supply chain has spared no one. With movement restricted, the airlines and hospitality sectors have accrued huge losses. If the virus driven restrictions get extended, it may make many economies collapse. Most countries have released Coronavirus aid packages, which would need to be utilized appropriately so that money reaches the deprived, else there is a danger of business houses benefiting – further aggravating the inequality gap.

Will the US-China trade deal get decoupled; will other countries repatriate Chinese investments like UK and will the Chinese ‘Made in China 2025’ dream collapse? These are difficult dilemmas to predict. Admittedly, China has entrenched itself well in cost effective supply chain, but lacks experience in market-driven economy and corporate governance. The dollar may therefore continue to dominate the global currency.

Governance – The New Normal

The past few months have been influenced by ‘The Virtual World’. Strategic communications have played a key role, with digital space dominating the fields of politics, security and governance. While technology has helped governments to manage the crisis, regulation of speech, manipulation of fake news through social media platforms and contact-tracing measures are emerging as matters of concern.

The success of governments to contain the pandemic has been driven by efforts to win public trust by interactive use of media. On the other hand, many governments have used this opportunity to curtail civil liberties through strict policing. The relationship between federal and state has come under stress across the globe. These factors may reshape governance patterns and policy formulation in times to come.

The lockdown work-from-home facility may have lasting impact on individuals, ‑organizations and nations. While it would have introduced tension-free working environment and saved running costs, the extension of digital-dependent culture may throw up chair-bound theorists. Leaders need to be on the ground, to role-model the virtues they profess.

The Post-lockdown period may witness undefined changes in civil society and human behaviour. While on the positive side, consolidation of family values and human bonding is likely, corona stigmatization (immunity passports), socio-economic distress, isolation and uncertainty driven fear would be a study for psychologists and anthropologists alike.

The Role and Relevance of Global and Regional Organizations

With confrontational multi-polarity, a feeling had been created that many international organizations, notably the UN are becoming redundant. On the contrary,the recent crisis has reinforced the need for legitimized and credible centrality of international bodies, like the WHO, which in spite of various issues has managed to coordinate crosscutting knowledge and advice.

Similarly, the UNSG’s call for ceasefires and strengthening humanity has found global resonance. The UN Peacekeepers have continued to persevere in conflict prone zones – and while taking due self-protective precautions are helping to control violence, promote political engagement and support national authorities in fighting the pandemic.

Climate instability and virus management are the new issues that Peacekeepers will have to confront. Funding issues will remain, for which UN Peace Operations are readjusting. Cost-effective modernization, by rightsizing, use of technology and performance accountability is the answer.

The Day After

We still do not know the future trajectory of Coronavirus or its mid or long-term impact. Nevertheless, governments have been under pressure to reopen their economies, albeit in a calibrated manner. This is in contrast to WHO warning of a second wave. Since a vaccine may not be available in the forthcoming future, we may witness a spectrum of hit-and-trial economic initiatives, for which essential healthcare and societal discipline would be fundamental.

As the virus recedes, nations will need to pull up their reserves to reinvigorate their national power and re-establish their global standings. Credible economic recovery will be the key in shaping future geopolitical contenders and power centres. Amongst multiple factors that may help navigate recovery, competent leadership will play a decisive role. It looks like globalized economies are here to stay, though with reshaped frameworks, changing partnerships and reoriented supply chains.

On the geo-political side, the crisis has thrown up two competing narratives–first, the go-alone nationalist self-reliant approach and the second, a modified globalized path. With common set-of-challenges that nations will face, a globalized approach is perhaps inescapable. As multiple crises unfold, nations would need multilateral structures and support, including finances to safeguard peace, security development and environment.

The role of global financial institutions like IMF and World Bank may decidedly increase. Similarly, UN agencies like UNHCR, UNICEF, FAO, WFP, OCHA, UNEP and UNDP will be expected to play a much larger role for humanitarian delivery. There is thus a need to invest in our international and regional systems, global agreements and working frameworks.

Debt-ridden economies can only recover if nations introduce much-needed structural reforms and reprioritize their fiscal outlays. With shrunk resources, there is a requirement for all nations to tighten their belts – to release resources for poverty alleviation. There is also a necessity to relook at our conflict spots and evolve comprehensive de-confliction philosophies, by leveraging diplomatic and economic tools and fostering confidence building measures.

Finally, a word on humanity. Though the virus has struck the rich and poor alike, it is leaving deep scars on the socially vulnerable and marginalized poor. The crass display of an indulgent luxurious life of the haves and the extreme privations of the have-nots is a blot on humankind. This is a God given opportunity to ensure we as humans ensure that all habitants of this Earth are provided with basic essential services and dignified livelihoods.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Jasbir Lidder

Lt Gen Jasbir Lidder, former Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in Sudan, has extensive experience in conflict management and conflict resolution.

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One thought on “The Coronavirus Pandemic and the New Global World

  1. ‘Debt-ridden economies can only recover if nations introduce much-needed structural reforms and reprioritize their fiscal outlays.’

    At best, such measures can only lead to trade surpluses that shift the debt problem to other countries. The solution to debt is the creation and distribution of debt free money. For a simple introduction to this subject, I recommend:

    Why is there so much Debt?

    For a more comprehensive analysis that puts debt in the wider perspective, see:

    Douglas Social Credit

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