The Zoonotic Rupture of Covid-19 has ushered in the 21st century in earnest – 20th century continuity no longer! The pandemic’s challenge to international relations as we think we know it is now the urgency of the world community accelerating a transition from competitive geopolitics toward ever stronger manifestations of international cooperation in achieving a pluralist One World Governance System, one transcending what passes for the nominal sovereignty of nation-states as a global human and environmental security imperative. Why?
Because the deadly global magnitude of the pandemic brings home as no other historical or contemporary crisis the interconnectedness of nature and humanity, the fact of humanity’s existence as an integral part of nature as opposed to notions of humanity being separate from nature. Or indeed, the hubris of conquering nature. The fact that Covid-19 is a zoonotic pathogen that has jumped from animals to humans is a misnomer; this is in as much as humans constitute an evolved animal species within the mammalian order of primates. Therefore, as the most recent evolved of hominines, we must become considerably more conscious of how our uniquely predatory adaptive evolution has dialectically impacted the natural world of which we are integral – and how the natural world, in turn, is inevitably impacting us.
Imbalance of nature
Over millennia this inquisitively predatory aspect of our evolution has unfolded with such exponentially geologic force to the point of triggering zoonotic pandemics threatening human security globally. Covid-19 is the latest in such blowbacks. There could be more and deadlier to come. They represent a tipping point reflecting decades of deteriorating environmental security resulting from degrading of ecosystems comprising earth’s biosphere interacting with accelerated climate change and its cascading momentum threatening life as we know it.
From a dialectically naturalist perspective, when one dwells on projections of humanity’s population reaching somewhere in the neighbourhood of 10 billion by 2050 within the challenging environmental security context of planetary warming and its ecological implications, the fact that we have radically disrupted the global balance of natural ecosystems based on the dialectical logic of Food Webs, should bring home the magnitude of the existential crisis we among other life forms face as Covid-19 presents a rude wake up call.
Hence, the basic question: can a predacious species approaching 10 billion by mid-century continue pursuing a hyper-predatory capitalism in how we relate to our diverse regional environments without accelerating the undermining of global security? From this question others flow.
Can humanity reverse course and/or accelerate adaptive mitigating of the ecological-climate change threat we face? What does this mean in terms of the optimum international system required to address this challenge and the kind of global economy that would accompany such a radically reformed global governing regime? Will collapse in the oil market caused by Covid-19’s economic impact and reinforced by Saudi-Russian rivalry be reversed by post-pandemic recovery? Or will a post-fossil fuels transition accelerate? What can be expected regarding global supply chains in the reconfiguring of production and distribution supply webs? ‘Resilience’ and ‘redundancy’ have now entered discourses emerging from the global crisis spawned by Covid-19. Along with the world’s economy, how might global and regional governing architectures have to evolve in relation to the presumed sovereignty of nation-states in terms of military capabilities as well as the economics and geopolitics of peace and security in meeting challenges post-pandemic?
Within the Covid crisis and post-pandemic, how relevant is the competitive fixation on global power transitioning from West to East and/or the rise of China and US and Western decline more generally? and this at a time when all major powers are forced to confront serious internal domestic issues ranging from challenging demographics interacting with pressing national social and cultural as well as economic imperatives? Realistically, can any one country or presumptive superpower continue being expected or imagined to exercise primacy over the strategic landscape while simultaneously navigating urgent internal contradictions? To reiterate, how might global and regional governing architectures have to evolve? Within this context, there may be a need to rethink sanctions as a geopolitical pressure tool versus what may be a more compelling need to address global and regional violations of environmental security (think Brazil and Indonesia).
Then, apart from such geopolitical and strategic considerations as well as urgent economic concerns, there are questions of innovations for planetary sustainability. How fast can post-industrial adaptive technological innovations occur with timely applications rolled out that facilitate the sustainable international order made all the more urgent by the current and possibly future pandemics, not to mention all manner of natural disasters emanating from global warming? This again begs urgent questions of global governance in overcoming systemic entropy.
Global ceasefire and beyond
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s March 23rd appeal for an immediate cessation of hostilities in all corners of the world among state and non-state actors alike in order to allow all to focus on humanitarian aid to affected populations during the pandemic was initially greeted as fanciful, but has since gained sufficient political traction to at least begin to be taken seriously if not something likely to come to fruition. Neither of the P5 triumvirate -- US, Russia and China – are likely to back a global ceasefire. Regarding existing UN peacemaking initiatives, those state and non-state actors who do support Guterres’s call do so for a mix of motives reflecting specificities of their conflict situations. These may either facilitate local humanitarian accommodations and/or, if nothing else, gain geopolitically useful PR mileage.
Whatever the case, the secretary-general’s global ceasefire campaign demonstrates how the magnitude of the pandemic may have at least politically cracked open the door sufficiently to eventually generate world peace momentum as preconditional to the international community’s capacity to address threats transcending traditional geopolitical and strategic divides. All regions, continents and virtually all countries are confronting the Covid-19 challenge. This implies a politics of all being in the same boat – rich and poor as well as developed and developing countries alike although such crises tend to exacerbate already pre-existing human divides and inequalities.
The exponential potential of threats emanating from climate change (and the human refugee and migratory pressures created), interacting with the degrading of ecosystems that unleash natural disasters and zoonotic pandemics points toward the urgency of a global politics gaining traction emphasizing common collective environmental and human security; such an agenda would necessarily transcend the competitive zero-sum binaries of great power geopolitics and notions of whose rising and whose declining in presumed bids to dominate the international system or maintain primacy. The global impact of the coronavirus makes such preoccupations irrelevant.
So if just the idea of a global ceasefire is able to gain sufficient traction internationally so as to generate policy discourses on world peace-building targeting different conflict regions and linking to a broader security agenda prioritizing non-traditional threats, Secretary-General Guterres’s appeal may prove seminal. In the process, however, such a discourse will need to revisit UN reform and consolidating global governance beyond the ‘club governance’ G-20 format. Were such a scenario to evolve into a continental-maritime zone of peace and international cooperation system, so much the better.
Regarding economic governance, the G-20 must match the global ceasefire with global debt cancellation (bilateral and commercial) as so forcefully articulated by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in his New York Times Op-Ed in what needs to be part of a radical coming to terms between developed and developing countries in chartering the post-pandemic future. In the short term to medium term, there are “collective-action” measures that can be taken by the international community as outlined by Atlantic Council senior fellow Edward Fishman involving nuclear nonproliferation, global public health challenges, reducing carbon emissions and curtailing cyber-intrusions employing “commercial restrictions and the threat of economic and political consequences.”
Sustainable globalization regionalized
Realistically, given the pivotal US role in this mix, the US presidential election outcome in November will be key in determining how soon if at all such global systemic restructurings are possible. Emblematic of the extent of Washington’s abdicating global leadership is Donald Trump’s refusal of US participation in the virtual international donor vaccine pledging summit. Trump’s xenophobic nationalism is symptomatic of the extent of the postwar Americo-centric order’s erosion. Still, a Democratic Joe Biden administration will be hard put to effect a liberal internationalist restoration predicated on US primacy. A more tolerant Pluralist Internationalism might be a more plausible successor – UN primacy. Perhaps most urgent in this regard is a trilateral accommodation within the P5 between the US, China and Russia motivating a UN-centric global governance and security reform vision encompassing the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and its regional commissions as well as the Security Council.
Brussels to the rescue?
Such a vision might be in anticipation of and informed by how the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of neoliberal globalization. This has unfolded in a manner that may call for aligning both the UN and the G-20 with a regionalizing (as opposed to a ‘nationalizing’) of the global system into a more resilient and flexible pattern. Nationalizing supply chains in a technologically interconnected, financially interdependent global economy where nation-states have long since lost the substance of complete sovereignty seems absurd. A more compelling level of governing autonomy involving sharing and pooling of sovereignty may need to occur at regional and continental levels. This would involve the strengthening of regional economic communities and continental free trade areas.
Here, the European Union in all its regional contradictions in need of harmonizing between member states and Brussels may be indicative of how the global political economy could evolve in some form or fashion. Moreover, if Trump is re-elected US president, it will fall to the post-Brexit EU and its Alliance for Multilateralism to try and refashion the global order into some semblance of collective sustainable security. Brussels’ prominence in the vaccine pledging summit may be indicative. Nevertheless, EU leadership could turn out to be wishful thinking with its uphill struggle in overcoming European subregional divisions and leadership fragility.
But the global threat of a second Trump administration and Republican-controlled Senate would further weaken transatlantic ties and propel the EU into closer Eurasian alignment. Even in the case of a Biden presidency, it would be in the EU interest to influence Washington toward bridging the east-west divide in forging a NATO-Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Eurasian security partnership for stabilizing the Levant and Hindu-Kush. This would, in turn, revisit urgently needed UN Security Council accommodation between the US, China and Russia along with France and the UK.
The EU, however, is indicative of a broader globalization regionalism potential. This may be suggestive of the African Union and its fledgling African Continental Free Trade Area on the one hand and the Southeast Asian ASEAN Economic Community on the other and their joint potential for an Indian Ocean community of convergence in the Afroasiatic global South. Taken together with the EU the North American USCMA-cum Nafta relationship between the US, Canada and Mexico, a possible US rejoining of what is now the Comprehensive Trans-Pacific Partnership and its rival in the all-Asian Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the strategic landscape become suggestive of what can be conceptualized as Global Economic Federalism.
Should South America ever overcome the tragic setback of the destructive Jair Bolsonaro regime in Brasilia and return to some semblance of regionalism promised in the now defunctive Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations, the globally federated landscape would achieve its full complement. Linked to a reformed and strengthened UN system at the center, including an echelon of 5-year rotating members on a Security Council without a P5 veto, the new order might just be able to generate momentum in prioritizing a world peace agenda of climate change defense, inclusive of addressing threats to the biosphere that have given us Covid-19. Here, global governance reform may have to make way for establishing a regionalized UN Environmental Security Peer Review Mechanism for enforcing a globally sustainable economic regime. More on that in a future commentary.
Mr. Francis Kornegay is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue. He is also a member of the JIOR international editorial board and a past fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars where he worked on his edited work, Laying The BRICS of a New Global Order (2013). Kornegay holds Masters Degrees in African Studies from Howard University and in International Public Policy from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins. Kornegay served two stints in the US Congress as a professional staffer, among other things, developing financial sanctions legislation on South Africa. His latest co-edited publication is Africa and the World: Navigating Shifting Geopolitics (Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, 2020).