Episode 9 : How COVID-19 is reshaping IR across the Globe? with Abubakar Farooqui Rationale-47

Abubakar Farooqui

It was not expected by anyone that a virus outbreak in a Chinese district Wuhan would bring the world to a standstill and will reform the countours of global politics within a year. COVID-19, also known as Novel Coronavirus, was first reported in December 2019 in China and it started shaking the world in January 2020, as countries started taking massive hits in the form of huge death tolls, one after another. The impacts of COVID-19 are widespread from human lifestyle to social interactions which have taken a new course under the mandatory social distancing practices. With societies struggling to battle the virus, it is imperative to analyze how international relations have been impacted across the globe.

International Relations, as a discipline, is dominated by the study of war and peace through various angles, prisms of theoretical framework and dimensions accomodating various discourses and paradigms. COVID-19 managed to become a global pandemic and has done damage to countries in terms of humanitarian and material loss which is much greater than war losses, in comparison. To make an estimate, the US casualties during an eleven year war in Vietnam were approximately 50 thousand, from 1964-1975 but as I write this article, the US death toll due to COVID-19 stands at 290 thousand within a year. This is almost equal to 6 Vietnams for the world’s most powerful state, just in terms of life loss. This gives an idea of why states are being forced to change their perceptions of security, especially human security.

Similarly, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on global economy which is witnessing one of its worst meltdowns. With lives being continuously lost and economies across the globe on the decline, the novel Coronavirus is presenting a challenge to the international community like never before. Its not a war which would end when political objectives are achieved or which could be regulated via diplomacy or ceasefire agreements. It is a different kind of challenge whose solution lies in scientific cooperation and global awareness. The world has become globalised and heavily interdependent and has also exposed how interdependency can lead to conflagration at a brisk pace, not just of a military conflict but a virus otubreak too.

From the purview of International Relations as discipline, the academics across the globe are asking questions as to how the existing theoretical frameworks that explain and predict the trends of international politics and relations would deal with a global pandemic. Last time, the world faced such a pandemic was back in 1918 when the discipline of International Relations wasn’t even born. After more than a hundred years, scholars of International Relations are presented with a challenge for which, like scholars of all other fields, they are little prepared. The existing theoretical frameworks and paradigms do not deal with pandemics and their global effects and therefore scholars will take into account the shifting paradigms within the discipline.

From the standpoint of International politics, it is imperative to ask whether the world order will change or at least transform as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. With economic recession, reshaping of alliances with the introduction of health diplomacy, it is pretty much on the cards. Yes, the world order will not immediately change but the pandemic has catalysed the already undergoing transformation of the world order and a new world order may not be very distanced in the light of contemporary developments.

Global Economic recession, lock downs across various parts of the globe and halt to manufacturing and imports has shrunk the global trade by a massive proportion. World Trade Organiation (WTO) reported the global trade decline to be between 13-32 percent in 2020. The forces of globalisation exist but the states are becoming more and more cautious to them, especially within the realm of economics. COVID-19 has re-emphasised the idea of closed and centralised economy which is least dependent on the outside world. A self sufficient and centralised economy is less prone to damage by pandemics. The pandemic is not over yet and whether it was a naturally born virus outbreak or a meticulously lab-developed virus under a biowar scheme, is unknown. In any case, states will have to accomodate the possibility of global pandemics in the future and will readjust their adherence to globalisation.

Another trend which is resurging in International Relations in the aftermath of COVID-19 is nationalism. While it is well known that viruses do not know borders, it is also known that the virus spread across the globe via immigration. USA has once again set an example under Trump administration by reinforcing its narrative of America First as it halted the supplies of masks to Canada and Latin America. Strong border protection measures have been taken by the states to protect their citizens against the pandemic. Although, no state across the globe managed to completely avoid it, many states managed to get hold of the situation by timely steps. Governments across the globe are prioritising their own citizens as the citizens are evaluating their governments on their performance to deal with the virus.

Scientific Collaboration is an important trend that is the product of Covid-19. Although nationalism is rising as discussed above, scientific barriers on research regarding coronavirus are not only being lifted but are being discouraged. World Health Organisation has been putting up a tremendous effort to formulate a global response to a global pandemic though it has faced a rigours criticisn by many scholars and scientist alike for not delivering. Many scientific firms are collaborating for inventing vaccine and SinoCan, joint venture between China and Canada for vaccine is noteworthy. Nationalism is impacting foreign affairs and policies but scientific collaboration across the globe is surely on the rise which is a good news for scientific community.

The impact of governments dealing with the virus successfully or unsuccessfully is huge. The US presidential election in November this year proved how President Trump’s COVID-19 dealing had a great impact on the election results as the president lost to president-elect Joe Biden. Trump’s COVID-19 measures were severely criticised for not being up to the mark and his attitude to virus handling was termed frivolous by many within the country.

China, the source of the pandemic is trying to give an impression that the country has defeated COVID and is ready to help the world defeat it. For this purpose, China has sent aid to some 82 countries across the globe which is being described by IR scholars as ‘Health Diplomacy’ which falls under the realm of soft power. China’s growing influence in the third world and Europe is an indicator of the transformation of world order. Its assistance to economically poor countries in the hour of need during COIVD-19 will definitely give more space to it, coupled with its economic great game being executed under the banner of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

COVID-19, apart from impacting the relations between states has also changed diplomatic practices. The European Council set a precedent of conducting online meetings which was followed by United Nations Security Council, World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well. The online meetings via Zoom and other apps are being referred to as Virtual Diplomacy and are providing a cost effective and time-effective solution to conducting multi-lateral events. Virtual diplomacy will save a lot of resources which could be diverted on public welfare. However, virtual diplomacy will not entirely replace the real diplomacy which is projected to be the face of diplomacy even in the post-pandemic world.

To sum up, it can be said that COVID-19 is reshaping both the discipline of international relations and the interactions between the states. It is acting as a catalyst for the already shifting world-order and has introduced various trends such as Health diplomacy and Virtual diplomacy. It is helping in the resurgence of closed economy and nationalism and has ceded more space to China which, compared with the US, has shown more resilience and is projected to be in a much better position than USA after the pandemic is over. However, the scholars will need to incorporate the impacts of pandemic in their research in International relations and will readjust their calculations by studying the shifting paradigms in the discipline.

About The Author
Abubakar Farooqui is the brains behind Rationale-47. He Studied International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. His areas of interest include National Security of Pakistan and International Politics, particularly of South Asia and Middle East. He tweets @AbubakarTweets

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Rationale 47

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