NEW DELHI: As part of our ‘Chinese Virus, Global Reset’ series, StratNews Global reached out to former diplomats and strategic analysts with questions on what the world order will look like post Covid-19. Former Indian foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai tells Opinion Editor Ashwin Ahmad that post the pandemic, the integrated world order will be threatened and anti-globalisation forces are more likely to be on the rise.
Q: What do you think the global order will be like after the coronavirus pandemic?
A: This pandemic is a critical and possibly cataclysmic event and it will have world order consequences. Its short-term impact will be economic disruption but in the medium to long term it will affect the world order. How the global order will look will depend on two key trends that seem to be emerging. The first trend is likely to be the rejection of globalisation. So far, everyone, everywhere, is blaming the failure of globalisation for the spread of the pandemic. But increasingly however there will be voices emerging stating that there must be a multinational global order. If there is no multinational global level cooperation, future crises cannot be ruled out and even getting through this crisis will not be easy. Depending on which trend takes the upper hand over the next year or so will determine the new global order. As of now, it does look like the integrated world which we were heading towards, has taken a very serious knock and anti-globalisation forces will be more marked in the world order that is emerging.
Q: Will the US’s supremacy be threatened?
A: US supremacy, as it is seen through the current world order, does seem to be on the decline. There is in fact a debate within the US itself as to whether it should continue to play the role that it has. If there is a complete failure at home (due to the pandemic) there will be more demand within the American system for the US to pull back further from overseas commitments and concentrate on affairs at home. Having said this, I don’t think there will be an immediate challenge to US supremacy. It seems unlikely.
Q: Do you believe that we will see the beginning of a China-led world order?
A: I don’t think we will see the beginning of a Chinese-led world order. There are worries about the huge dependence on China and its influence on the global supply system – whether it is pharmaceuticals, manufacturing etc. But economic trends do not manifest themselves immediately, it takes a long time to challenge established economic patterns of production and distribution. Also, there are strong suspicions among other countries about China’s capacities and its intentions to be able to run and dominate a world order. There is still a degree of scepticism about this so I don’t see the emergence of a Chinese-led world order happening.
Q: How do you see the EU’s standing on the world stage post the coronavirus?
A: The EU will need to take a long and hard look at itself during and post this pandemic. It has taken a long time to react as an institution and primarily the response to the crisis has been national, whether it has been in Italy, Spain and France. I think the EU has not played the role it would have been expected to play in this crisis and I do think that it will emerge from the crisis as a weaker institution.
Q: What about the UK since it is technically out of Europe? Do you think the crisis may be a chance for Boris Johnson to pull a very divided UK together post Brexit?
A: Britain’s test is yet to come. It has been relatively lucky so far as the virus has not hit them as hard as what their own doctors had predicted. Having said this, the government can create a sense of national solidarity in the wake of this crisis. But it remains to be seen how they do so.
Q: What is India’s role likely to be in this new global order? Do you see it having a more prominent and assertive role on the world stage?
A: I think there is a very good possibility of that. We have already taken some very good initiatives at the Saarc and G-20 and we have been reasonably pro-active in trying to tackle the crisis ourselves. Though as with the UK, the real stern test for India is yet to come. Coming to the world order, we stand in between the two trends that I referred to earlier. We have been cognisant of and supporters of international co-operation in a very practical manner. So, I do think there will be an opportunity for India to manage these two contradictory world trends successfully. It will take time but India potentially does have a bigger role to play.
Q: We have enjoyed the great benefits that globalisation brings. Can we really go back to full protectionism again?
A: Throughout world history, economic movements have never been permanent. However, it is inevitable that at a time of crisis a citizen would look towards his own government and I do believe that some kind of controls would be exercised to ensure that manufacturing systems would not slip out of the border. These trends will be very high on the list of priorities for many countries that will be inevitable. But we cannot turn our back on globalisation because physically that’s simply not possible. Globalisation began because there was an economic rationale to it. So, there will be a phase where the world will shift towards national controls and less towards globalising trends, but that is likely to change in the mid to long term.