The Corona pandemic caught the world off-guard but there is another crisis looming on all of humanity that the world’s leaders will have no excuse for ignoring.
The pandemic has single-handedly exposed several failures in the liberal international order and laid the final grave for many socio-economic aspects of it that the world had turned a blind eye to. Before the pandemic, the world was experiencing an unprecedented rise in the number of populist and authoritarian governments
Economically, globalization has undeniably fallen short of its promises of ‘trickle-down theories’ and holistic growth and development. While neo-liberals fooled themselves and the world by counting on the decreasing economic inequalities between the states, they certainly ignored the fact that it was a result of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, it came at the cost of heightened economic disparities between various social stratus.
The economic recession, job crisis and exasperating rates of global poverty are not entirely COVID-induced as many have argued. These are pre-existing failures of globalization and governance, the pandemic simply acted as a catalyst magnifier so that the world no longer had an excuse to stay blindfolded.
Yet it seems like populist governments, instead of being forced to implement structural economic changes and accountability clauses, have found a way to reverse the COVID exposé and increase support for their regimes through an ultra-nationalist blame-game specifying the economic burden of immigrants and their role in exasperating the health situation. The pandemic has served as a perfect excuse for despots across the world to strengthen their grip on power, cut civil liberties and enhance surveillance.
The world is at an integral juncture of transformation wherein trends put in place today by power-hungry autocrats will set the foundation for the post-COVID world order and it will be the opposite of every liberal tradition that guided policies of human rights, freedoms, economic internationalism and collective security.
Scholars like Barry Posen have argued that the pandemic, by increasing internal pessimism in states, is delaying aggressive warlike tendencies in them and thereby promoting a more peaceful world. He argued that with receding global supply chains, a decrease in international trade will reduce inter-state friction and domestic autocratic and even populist governments will be looking at ways to revive their economies and domestic support and military adventurism will not be a part of that plan. Furthermore, he also argued that with reduced incomes, states will not have the militaristic optimism required to wage wars and will likely prefer a peaceful environment to recuperate.
While Barry Posen is probably right about the reduced economic and military might of countries due to the pandemic, he is certainly mistaken about the inevitable direct proportionality between the pandemic and peace. The pandemic has accelerated certain pre-existing dangers that were staring the global community in the face for a long time but were ignored due to the popularity and apotheosis of liberal trade. I am talking about increasing wealth disparities between economic classes and increasing cultural, caste-based and racial violence.
Peace and development have grown out of the conventional boots and have been re-defined as more multi-dimensional. Security and peace, after the Great Depression, adopted the Rooseveltian notion of Social Security and after the Cold War developed and developing states alike consensually adopted the notion of human security as an indispensable aspect of peace and security studies.
Therefore, while conventional peace also defined as negative peace or simply put the absence of conventional militaristic violence seems to be at its minimal, the human security aspect of international peace is facing a grave crisis. The viewpoint of Barry Posen operates from a point of misguided optimism in the negative peace department. It inexorably links the absence of militaristic threats to global peace. Moreover, the prominence of negative peace is also less likely to be a stable phenomenon as the US increases its antagonism of Iran and China insists on flexing its militaristic muscles against India and in the Indo-Pacific as well as the innumerable and protracted militaristic wars in Yemen, Syria and the rest of Middle East.
The economic stress and recession are setting into motion an inevitable political blame game of targeting minorities and immigrants. Democratic backsliding and increase in authoritarian governments have delivered the last blow to the liberal international order.
Liberal Internationalism, Multiculturalism and Cosmopolitanism are now Ideals of the Past
This pandemic is threatening every aspect of multiculturalism and tolerance that the liberal order fought for, it is reversing progress in human rights and this time states are not just silent spectators, worse so they are perpetrators.
The pandemic has set into motion a trend of systemic and state-sponsored minority out-grouping and excessive discrimination. The world is witnessing an unprecedented increase in cultural and racial intolerance, increase in Islamophobia, racism against the black community in America as well the increasing racial profiling and discrimination of Asians blaming them for perpetrating a‘Coronavirus Conspiracy.’
In Australia comments such as “Go Back to China” and “Get the f*** out of our country you immigrants” have polarised he questions of racial discrimination and intolerance towards immigrants. A database survey in Queensland revealed 178 responses of racist assaults on Asians in just two weeks. A Singaporean student was brutally attacked in the UK and has very aptly released a statement on Facebook, about the way the coronavirus has served as an outlet and excuse for ever-existing racism against the Asians. In the US, STOP AAPI HATE received almost 1500 reports of racial assaults in the first four weeks, and as this is reported the FBI and the US government remains complacent about the issue, almost condoning racial hatred. Not to mention the derogatory and racially insulting remarks released by President Donald Trump against the Asian-American community. Many such cases have been reported across the globe; from the US, France, Russia, Brazil, Spain to South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, India, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia.
Authority figures are dispensing the same anti-immigrant, racist and blame-game propaganda to divert criticism off their mismanagement of the dire healthcare situation in their countries. Donald Trump’s persistent terming of the Coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” and “Wuhan virus” are signs that even the Western hegemon, regarded as the unipolar power centre and leader of the ‘New World Order’, is no longer interested in the internationalism of its own making.
At the same time, it is important to note that the west is not solely responsible for the increase in hate crimes. The rest of the world has a fair share to own up to. Countries like India have used the pandemic and selective, biased media reportage as effective excuses to impose a discriminatory crackdown on the Muslim community. The Islamophobia and attacks on Islamic universities like Jamia Millia Islamia had paralysed the Indian democracy much before the pandemic came into the picture, but the fear of the disease has unleashed an anti-Muslim sentiment after the Tabhlighi Jamat incident, with Islamophobic hashtags like #CoronaTerrorism and #CoronaJihand having been retweeted 300,000 times since March. Sri Lankan government has issued guidelines for compulsory cremation of corona-infected death bodies which is a clear violation of the Muslim religious beliefs and practices.
Crackdown on the opposition in Cambodia, the threat to free speech and civil liberties in the Maldives, the emergency powers and absolutism awarded to governments in Hungary, Turkey Philippines, Serbia and demonstrate how the pandemic is eroding Kantian values of peace and democracy and transcending into a world of authoritarian and despotic rulers.
Another dangerous part of the ‘blank cheque’ awarded to these despotic rulers is that of surveillance and unprecedented Orwellian measures as an excuse to track the infections. The Chinese model of surveillance and security tracking of every individual is becoming popular and once the pandemic has receded this Orwellian trend might translate into everyday politics as a new normal along with every other dangerous move with respect to power centralization.
Israel, Russia and China have intensified digital surveillance of their populations and this could be used selectively to eliminate and track dissenters in regimes already considered to be falling in the freedom and democratic indices. While the urgency of such measures can be argued for during the pandemic, these institutions will be difficult to discard as power-obsessed leaders adopt them as primary means to tighten their grip on power.
The world order is on the fringe of a gigantic change and populist, authoritarian, ultra-nationalistic and inward-looking anti-democracies are going to be the next power centres of this world order.
Undoubtedly, the world is adapting to a ‘New Normal’ but without realising this process is drifting far apart from the world of equality, globalization, tolerance and peace that was promulgated as an ideal after the Second World War. The definition of war has undergone a drastic transformation from conventional weaponised fighting to an even more dangerous method of unconventional warfare. I say even more dangerous because this war goes on in our minds, in our attitudes, seeps into our lifestyles through our consumption patterns on social media, television and propaganda. We unknowingly become invisible perpetrators of violence in a systemic form of oppression. The pandemic instead of bringing the world together under imperative forms of multilateral co-operation has instead aggravated cultural, social and economic fractures between and within nations that will be beyond repair once this pandemic is over.
Tamanna Dahiya is a third-year student at O.P. Jindal Global University pursuing B.A. (Hons.) in Global Affairs and a member of CNES.