End of International Cooperation? How Coronavirus Has Changed the World Permanently

Reuters
March 31, 2020 Topic: Politics Region: World Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: CoronavirusCOVID-19PandemicInstitutionsCoalition

End of International Cooperation? How Coronavirus Has Changed the World Permanently

No one can say we weren't warned. 

Implications for political stability

At a time when faith in democracy is at its lowest point in decades, deteriorating economic conditions will have far-reaching implications for political and social stability. There is already a tremendous trust gap between leaders and citizens. Some political leaders are sending mixed signals and citizens are receiving conflicting messages. This reinforces their lack of trust in public authorities and “the experts”.

This lack of trust can make responding to the crisis much more difficult at the national level, and also has undermined the global response to the pandemic.

While making urgent calls for multilateral cooperation, the United Nations is still missing in action, having been sidelined by the major powers in recent years. Promising to inject billions – even trillions – into the response, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund will need to ramp up their activities to have a meaningful impact.

Owing to a shortage of international leadership from the US, cities, businesses and philanthropies are stepping up. China has gone from villain to hero in responding to the pandemic, partly by extending its soft power – in the form of doctors and equipment – to affected countries. Singaporean, South Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Italian, French and Spanish researchers are actively publishing and sharing their experience, including by fast-tracking research on what works.

So far, some of the most inspiring action is nongovernmental. For example, city networks such as the US Conference of Mayors and National League of Cities are rapidly sharing good practice on how to keep infectious diseases from spreading, which should improve local responses. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed $100 million to expanding local health capacities in Africa and South Asia. Groups like Wellcome Trust, Skoll, the Open Society Foundations, the UN Foundation, and Google.org are also scaling up assistance.

Needless to say, the complexities of globalisation will not be resolved by appeals to nationalism and closed borders. The spread of COVID-19 must be met with a similarly coordinated international effort to find vaccines, mobilise medical supplies and, when the volcanic dust settles, to ensure that we never again face what could be an even deadlier disease.

Now is not the time for recriminations: it is the time for action. National and city governments, businesses, and ordinary citizens around the world must do everything they can to flatten the epidemic curve immediately, following the examples set by Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Hangzhou and Taiwan.

Coalition of the willing must lead global response

Now more than ever, we need a comprehensive global response. The Group of Seven and G20 leading economies appear rudderless under their current leadership. While promising to ensure attention to the poorest countries and to refugees, their recent virtual meeting offered too little too late. But this cannot be allowed to stop others acting to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. In partnership with G20 nations, a creative coalition of willing countries should take urgent steps to restore confidence not just in the markets but in global institutions.

The European Union, China and other nations will have to step up and lead a global effort, dragging the US into a global response which includes accelerating vaccine trials and ensuring free distribution once a vaccine and antivirals are found. Governments around the world will also need to take dramatic action toward massive investments in health, sanitation and basic income.

Eventually, we will get over this crisis. But too many people will have died, the economy will be severely scarred, and the threat of pandemics will remain. The priority then must be not only recovery, but also establishing a robust multilateral mechanism for ensuring that a similar or even worse pandemic never again arises.

There is no wall high enough that will keep out the next pandemic, or indeed any of the other great threats to our future. But what these high walls will keep out is the technologies, people, finance and most of all the collective ideas and will to cooperate that we need to address pandemics, climate change, antibiotic resistance, terror and other global threats.

The world Before Coronavirus and After Coronavirus cannot be the same. We must avoid the mistakes made throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries by undertaking fundamental reforms to ensure that we never again face the threat of pandemics.

If we can work together within our countries to prioritise the needs of all our citizens, and internationally to overcome the divides that have allowed the threats of pandemics to fester, out of the terrible fire of this pandemic a new world order could be forged. By learning to cooperate we would not only have learnt to stop the next pandemic, but also to address climate change and other critical threats.

Now is the time to start building the necessary bridges at home and abroad.

The Conversation

Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalisation and Development; Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Technological and Economic Change, University of Oxford and Robert Muggah, Associate Lecturer, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters