Geopolitical shifts in the pandemic world order

Winston Dookeran

The following was an address by Winston Dookeran,Under Secretary General, EUCLID University,Professor of Practice,at a virtual symposium  of  the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies, in St. Augustine, Trinidad last Sunday:

“The pandemic has been a global political stress test,” according to the forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs. Capable states with good leadership who embrace reforms become stronger and more resilient, while those with weak state capacity – political and economic – will be in trouble and set for stagnation.

Accordingly, a shifting order of things is taking place.  The World Economic Forum’s January 2021 summit has set the theme as The Great Reset – ‘the Coved 19 crisis could reverse global human development – measured in terms of education, health and living standards.  Small island developing states are particularly vulnerable …. and will have an inordinate amount of difficulty of recovering, without sufficient development finance’.

 In reading the ‘political stress test’ and ‘the great reset’, I ask the four questions.

  • What are the global forces that underline the geo political shifts?
  • Another hit on globalization ·The driver of globalization next chapter will be digitalization.·A changing order in the politics of multilateral diplomacy.· A weakening of world hegemons and shifts in the structure of world power. ·A loss of legitimacy in regional and global political alliances

The May 2020 issue of The Economist, specifically on the geo politics of the pandemic suggests three area to watch for change:  the shift in the Balance of Power from West to East, changes in the future of Europe, and China’s relations with the developing world. The Economist ask the questions, without an answer. Would US global leadership diminish?  And how will emerging powers capitalize on these shifts?

  • Is the World Political Order of the Bretton Woods vintage now on its knees?

Academics have argued that the world order has moved from hegemons, to multipolar and even to a multiplex world.  Now, the world’s political order may better be described as ‘flat’ in today’s situation – no hegemons, no multipolar, and no multiplex – a la Amitav Acharya. Global security alliances, out of the ‘cold war’ are now faced with new global challenges in cyber and information technologies and ‘populist politics’ at home.  In this setting of transactional and   real politic, different configurations of power relations are emerging, and we are beginning to see the following trends that may shape the future political order.  

  • The renewed focus on regionalism – resiliency vs efficiency- drives the global economy. ·The growing divide in inequality among and within nations
  • A changing direction in the flow of funds and shifts in the supply chain. · Liberal democracies that are less liberal, with more authoritarian tendencies, but adhering to the fundamental of democratic systems · A global order in which small nations and island nations will not have an automatic place. ·Hedging will lead to ‘floating coalitions’, based on interest and realpolitik, not so much on power and ideology.
  • How will these trends affect global cooperation?

Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore in a June 4, article in Foreign Affairs, The Endangered Asian Century: America, China and the Perils of Confrontation “concluded with a fervent hope:  “The strategic choices that the United States and China make will shape the contours of the emerging global order. It is natural for big powers to compete. But it is their capacity for cooperation that is the true test of statecraft, and it will determine whether humanity makes progress on global problems such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, and the spread of infectious diseases’.

  • Will the Caribbean Region be ready for the geopolitical shifts?

In the quest for a stable and peaceful international order, while preserving our strategic autonomy, small states will be on a constant search for strategic opportunities.  Perhaps, the strategic logic of our times will see the advent of ‘floating coalitions’, in response to countries hedging in this fluid geo political climate.  Countries like ours in the Caribbean, cannot afford to be bystanders, but must engage constructively in the present order of things.  The Caribbean will face strategic choices in the practice of diplomacy, and concrete actions will depend on an assessment on the following.

  • Focus on regional pandemic surveillance and public health coordination.
  • Select bridges for communications with major countries and adopt new protocols for decision making. · Negotiate an economic platform with in international financial institutions in both a short- and long-term perspective. Work out flexible engagements – in health diplomacy and development finance- and be partners in floating coalitions of the present

The pandemic has shaken up the foundations of the world of public policy – in finance, in politics, in health and elsewhere – if it is treated as temporary, we would have lost forever the opportunities for making public policy changes that are critical to our times.  In this sense, notwithstanding its huge ‘life and livelihood’ costs across the globe, the pandemic may well be a ‘catalyst’ for geopolitical shifts in the world order of things.