The COVID-19 pandemic has been a real shock, attacking the global governance system and diminishing multilateralism worldwide. Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, never before has international politics been threatened by such a terrifying foe, as well as witnessing skepticism and fear dissolve many traditional international relations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has diminished multilateralism worldwide. (Photo: International Trade Centre)
When COVID-19 broke out in late 2019, no one ever thought the pandemic would turn into a systematic global crisis that could possibly create a premise for the most dangerous geopolitical confrontation since the end of the Cold War. Only a few weeks after its outbreak, the pandemic forced a third of the global economy to shut down, causing the biggest economic shock since the Great Depression in 1929. At the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, the lack of exchange of essential information about the fatal nature of the disease triggered skepticism. Accusing each other of being the perpetrator of the pandemic, the United States and China thereby lost their global leadership roles. The next shock was the US withdrawal from the World Health Organisation (WHO). The race to develop COVID-19 vaccines gathered a fierce pace. All these factors have exposed multilateralism to serious threat.
According to experts on international politics, the most important factor affecting world politics is now a collective leadership crisis. In order to restore global cooperation, it is necessary to clarify three points considered "mysteries”, each with an impact on international politics in 2020.
Firstly, the world will face systemic risks due to non-traditional security threats, such as the virus that causes COVID-19. The pandemic is just one effect of human-induced climate change, with global temperatures having increased by two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.
Secondly, COVID-19 undermines the image of globalisation. However, globalisation remains a powerful catalyst, most evident in the formation of a community of scientists sharing research results and findings to develop COVID-19 vaccines. Never before have so many scientists from so many countries joined together on such a large project.
Thirdly, the current policy instruments and institutions cannot help the world overcome the crisis, but only mobilise the resources needed to control the pandemic and its socio-economic impacts, unless international organisations’ operational methods change and private sector resources are further utilised in common.
The COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the context of a crisis in global cooperation. To achieve a balance between economic growth and ensuring social welfare is a thorny problem, requiring the world change its level of cooperation. It is simply a must to strengthen a multilateralism that has been deeply weakened and eroded during the pandemic.
First of all, it is necessary to restore more comprehensive leadership at a global level. The development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines should be run smoothly.
In particular, G20 member states have affirmed their commitment to coordinating with relevant international organisations and private sector partners to create a platform for the rapid and fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. This is truly an unprecedented challenge, so it requires unprecedented cooperation.
The world needs more strength to jointly prevent the threat of financial crisis lurking in emerging and developing economies. International creditors need to show more goodwill, as well as expanding support coverage and dealing with the increasing debt crisis in borrowing nations. The international community should join hands to build the alliances needed to ensure success for important multilateral mechanisms and international events. The United Nations should remain a strong, unified global forum with a commitment to making war a step too far for mankind. The world always has different options, but instead of accepting the collapse of the multilateral system, it is necessary to discover, outline and establish new solidarity mechanisms to heal the divisions created by COVID-19.
The pandemic is an alarm bell for multilateralism. The fight against COVID-19 requires transparent and science-based global cooperation with a holistic and human-centred response.
As fire proves gold, the pandemic offers an opportunity for the world to redefine cooperation to cope with challenges and to withstand future threats. When people are placed at the centre and cooperation is the guideline for all actions, multilateralism will surely claim victories.
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