The Perils and Promise of Globalization

I know my bias for internationalism and globalization are obvious. But I genuinely believe this pandemic has made clear that however we feel about global interconnectedness, there is simply no other way to fight something like a pandemic without the world working together.

Global threats like viruses, terrorism, environmental degradation, and the like don’t adhere to borders. They’re too big, spread out, and complicated for even the most powerful countries to handle them on their own. At the very least, countries need to coordinate and keep each other informed, but they also need to pool their resources, know-how, and ideas, too.

Consider this pandemic: On the one hand, globalization did make it easier for it to spread, given the unprecedented amount of travel, migration, and business that occurs across the world. But there’s really no preventing that: Even seven hundred years ago, the world was connected enough for the Black Death to sweep through much of Asia and Europe, wiping out a quarter to half of the societies it struck. Good luck going back to pre-Medieval levels of international engagement.

Plus, on the other hand, globalization is helping us tackle this virus and prevent another Spanish Flu, which claimed 50-100 million lives beginning during World War I, when most nations weren’t working together. (Heck, it’s called Spanish Flu precisely because Spain was the only country to report openly about it; the U.S. and the rest of Europe kept it under wraps so as not to appear weak in the war.)

Notwithstanding its poor initial response, China quickly acted to contain the virus and assist the world (whether for charitable reasons, to save face, or both, is irrelevant). As early as January, Chinese scientists figured out the genetic code of the virus and shared it with the world. Australian researchers quickly found a potential treatment, followed by scientists in Canada, Israel, Germany, the U.S., and elsewhere.

The west African nation of Senegal—all too familiar with pandemics given Ebola’s impact on the region—worked with the U.K. to develop one of the fastest testing rates and a possible treatment.

Thailand, Vietnam, and China have found novel drug combinations that may be effective; the Vietnamese have done well enough that they’re aiding their poorer neighbors and even the West with supplies.

Taiwan has become recognized as a global leader in pandemic response, aiding other countries with both medical supplies and its highly effective strategy (which have been emulated to great success by other countries, such as New Zealand).

Italy found a way to 3-D print lifesaving respiratory valves, while an Irish-based research group is making similar techniques openly available to the world.

For all its flaws, the U.N. World Health Organization has proven beneficial on balance. It’s brought together dozens of top researchers across the world to discuss solutions; has provided supplies to countries around the world (including the U.S.); and is leading a “Solidarity Trial” involving labs across the wold to test the four most promising treatments. (Recall that the W.H.O. led the effort to eradicate smallpox, which has killed hundreds of millions, and helped discover an Ebola vaccine.)

Speaking of global efforts: the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is also leading the charge for a COVID-19 vaccine. Based in Norway, it brings together governments and organizations all over the world to tackle the worst infectious diseases bedeviling humanity.

China and Russia: The New Defenders of the Global Order

As the U.S. loudly retreats from the global stage in favor of insularity and “patriotism”, its principal rivals are more than happy to fill the void with their own vision for a stable and prosperous international system. As PBS reported:

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi denied his country was trying to eclipse the U.S. as a world leader, but his speech at the U.N. General Assembly was a stark contrast to Trump’s “America First” message. It came amid rising tensions between the U.S. and China, which Trump accused this week of interfering in the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. China denies the claim.

Russia is also facing U.S. accusations of election meddling, which Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denounced as “baseless,” but didn’t dwell on.

His country has been working to make itself a counterweight to Washington’s global influence, and Lavrov used his speech to lash out at U.S. policies in Iran, Syria and elsewhere and vigorously defended multilateral organizations such as the U.N.

“Diplomacy and the culture of negotiations and compromise have been increasingly replaced by dictates and unilateral” moves, Lavrov said. In a swipe at U.S. and EU sanctions over Russia’s own activities abroad, he said the Western powers “do not hesitate to use any methods including political blackmail, economic pressure and brute force.”

Lavrov and Wang were hardly the only leaders to defend the concept of multilateralism at this week’s U.N. gathering of presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and other leaders. But coming in the wake of Trump’s proclamation that Americans “reject the ideology of globalism,” the Chinese and Russian speeches sounded a note of rebuttal from competing powers.

Both countries are also walking the walk when it comes to establishing their credibility as proactive and responsible global powers. For instance:

China has been asserting itself on the world stage under President Xi Jinping, though it continually stands by a foreign policy of noninterference in the affairs of other countries. It has long used that policy to rebuke other countries that criticize its record on human rights.

And gesturing at China’s influence in one of the international community’s most pressing issues, he encouraged North Korea — which counts China as its traditional ally and main trading partner — to keep going in “the right direction toward denuclearization.”

At the same time, he said the U.S. should “make timely and positive responses so as to truly meet the DPRK halfway” in their ongoing efforts to reach a deal that would bring an end to the nuclear ambitions of the nation formally called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. China says it has been instrumental in reducing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.

Still, “China will not challenge the United States — still less will China take the place of the United States,” Wang said earlier in the day at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Lavrov, meanwhile, spotlighted Russia’s role in efforts to end the civil war in Syria, where the government counts Russia as its closest ally.

And he said Moscow will do “everything possible” to preserve the multinational 2015 deal deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program, despite the U.S. decision to withdraw from it. Lavrov called the U.S. move a violation of U.N. resolutions and a threat to stability in the Middle East.

Seeking to maintain leverage in discussions on North Korea’s denuclearization efforts, Lavrov met with North Korea’s foreign minister earlier this week on the same day that Ri Yong Ho met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

It is interesting that neither country wants to outright declare itself the next global power, nor frame their respective rise as eclipsing or challenging the U.S. Either this denotes a recognition that America is still a potent power that is not to be openly challenged, or it reflects an acknowledgment that the 21st century is a fragmented place where global power is to diffuse for any single country to be a superpower. Perhaps there is no coherent and cohesive global order to defend, but rather a series of norms that most of the world has accepted for economic or political interest.

What are your thoughts?

France Calls for More Global Unity

Following what turned out to be a literally laughable speech from Trump at the U.N.–which had the usual anti-globalist rhetoric, albeit with soft praise for the U.N. overall–France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, followed right after with an indirect but clear rebuke of nationalism and insularity.

“What will bring a real solution to the situation in Iran and what has already stabilised it? The law of the strongest? Pressure from only one side? No!” exhorted Macron. “We know that Iran was on a nuclear military path but what stopped it? The 2015 Vienna accord,” he said.

[…]

While Macron did not name his US counterpart during his address, the focus of his speech – including highlighting the dangers of unilateralism that helped lead to the birth of the UN – centred on international dialogue and cooperation.

Noting that “nationalism always leads to defeat”, Macron urged his fellow world leaders not to “accept our history unraveling”, adding: “Our children are watching.”

It may seem idealistic, but the threats of climate change, nuclear war, and technological disruption–to name but three big examples–can’t be tackled without international cooperation. It is no coincidence that the creation of the U.N.–and the subsequent development of international legal and diplomatic norms–has coincided with an historically significant decline in war.

How Global Inequality Undermines Global Democracy

Yet another massive leak of offshore banking documents has revealed the remarkable extent of the world’s “parallel economy”, in which a large and growing proportion of global wealth is secretly stashed away in a complex and opaque network of tax havens.

In addition to the obvious diversion of literally trillions of dollars of capital that could be better spent alleviating the needless suffering of billions (with plenty left over to spare), this development is arguably a threat to democratic governance the world over, as Matt Phillips at Vice argues. Continue reading