Peace By Poison: How the Coronavirus Could Fix Globalization Problems

March 16, 2020

Health checkpoints at an airport in Milan, Italy on February 7, 2020. CREDIT: Protezione Civile (CC).

This article was first published on March 14, 2020 and this excerpt is reprinted with the kind permission of The National Interest.To read this article in full, please click here.

The coronavirus pandemic is stress-testing a global system that was already beginning to crack. In what my students at the Naval War College have termed the condition of "fractured globalization," the virus, Covid-19, is accelerating a series of disintegrative processes, which could end up ushering in the long-awaited post—Cold War world.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the gamble that guided U.S. foreign policy was that setting up a series of global supply chains with easy access to the American market would create communities of interest that would decrease conflicts and increase the attractiveness of adhering to the rules of the U.S.-led international order while the lowering of barriers would increase prosperity for all. The political bargain to both domestic populations and to countries around the world was that the "winners" of globalization would find ways to compensate the "losers" and the end result would be a peaceful, integrated world comprised of an international community.

This paradigm guided its most well-known application, which was a strategic approach to China designed to channel its rise in the direction of becoming a responsible stakeholder. It was also reflected in a variety of initiatives designed to enmesh and interconnect peoples around the world. To buttress the Egyptian and Jordanian peace deals with Israel, for instance, special zones were created where raw materials and components could be produced or amplified then sent to Israel for value-added upgrades. Afterwards, they would be imported to the United States as if they were domestically-produced goods. For two decades, the United States has hoped that an energy corridor from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India could generate support for peace. The culmination was supposed to have been the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which would have created two broad free trade zones with the United States as the central keystone.

But this future has been interrupted by a series of trends. The first has been the growing political clout of the self-described "losers" of globalization, as manifested in both right- and left-wing populist movements in all the industrial democracies of the West. Borders and protectionism have staged comebacks in a supposedly borderless world of the twenty-first century as citizens of sovereign states seek barriers against the arrival of outsiders and of outside goods and services. The second is China's ability to rework the rules of the post—Cold War world to its advantage rather than taking up the role of America's understudy. In embracing the benefits of the U.S.-led international system, Beijing has not correspondingly evolved its domestic forms of governance or its foreign policy along lines preferred by Washington. Americans today feel less secure and more vulnerable, in part because they have lost faith in globalization. Some of that is due to the narrative collapse on the part of U.S. political leaders, to be sure, but some of it also comes from the vulnerabilities of globalization itself.

To read the rest of this article on The National Interest, please click here.

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