The End of the Corona War

April 8, 2020

This article was written by Dr. Yonatan Freeman, a political science lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Economic, cultural, political and military institutions of countries are being hit or paralyzed by an invisible, biological enemy. The Coronavirus is not only pitting citizens against themselves, but affecting relations between countries as well. Although we don’t know for sure when the current war we are waging will end, it is more and more apparent that the time it takes for us to defeat it, whether via a vaccine, antibody or decision to just live with it, will impact the nature of the post-Coronavirus world.

On July 1, 1944, many months before the end of World War II, over 40 allied nations met in Bretton Woods to discuss the post-war’s economic order. The main idea involved designing a system of open markets as a way of encouraging peace and discouraging economic populism and nationalism which were prone to causing war. Although delegations meeting in that New Hampshire hotel did not know when the war would end, they did know such a day would come, that they would be victorious, and as such it was important to discuss the makeup of the future international system. They made a gigantic leap for peace and at the same time spurred a greatly interconnected post-world order.

Although there has been little serious discussion as to what the world should become at the end of the battle against the Coronavirus, there is potential for major transformations. When the Cold War ended with the Soviet Union’s demise two systems dissolved with it as well.  The first transformation was internal – a united communist system broke up into numerous, new countries. The second transformation, occurring concurrently, was a systemic change on a global level. There was no longer a bipolar world order dominated by Washington and Moscow. The United States now remained the globe’s sole superpower.

The first potential transformation that may occur in a post-Coronavirus world lies domestically. States have a potential of becoming more unitary. Indeed, even though much has been written about how this pandemic may change how we work, the crisis has an equal potential to change how the country works for its citizens. The prevalent system in the United States, for instance, could witness both an expansion of federal power, as well as a strengthening of state governments themselves.

As occurring following the September 11, 2001 attacks, an increase in responsibilities may bring the federal and state governments to further trump local authorities when it comes to fighting pandemics. New federal directives mandating when and how testing in such an emergency could be enacted. In addition, there may be an increase in the number of military assets in charge of responding to such an emergency.  There could also be a bolstering of not just the national stockpile, but the creation of 50 state strategic stockpiles, tailored according to the different population makeups and needs existing in the United States.

The second transformation that may potentially occur concerns future relations between countries. Economic relations and free trade will continue, but more and more industries, producing equipment vital for fighting pandemics, will be classified as strategically important and thus may be subsidized or brought under increased protectionism, thus limiting international business, as well as weakening bodies such as the World Trade Organization. Health questionnaires may become the new norm upon entry to Western countries and not just be prevalent in non-democratic ones. Finally, military exercises occurring between countries, such as under the auspices of NATO, may involve the deployment of forces during a pandemic scenario. Consequently, these approaches will be based first and foremost on how to make it hard for a future lethal virus to travel large distances, rather than prevent its outbreak in the first place.

Just like the World Trade Center was hit in New York on September 11, 2001, so is the Coronavirus hitting trade centers all around the world. It has taken advantage of our close links and ease of movement. It isn’t like hundreds of years ago when a virus was just local. Today, everything is local.

But as much as people are recognizing that everyone is part of a global village, a post-Coronavirus world may cause people to recognize their own world as much more important. It won’t just be about social distancing in countries, but distancing between countries. The Coronavirus crisis has not only shown how much we are connected, but how much disconnected we may need to become in the future.

The Cold War ended when a wall came down. The Corona War may end with new walls going up.

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