By Maj Gen CP Singh (Retd)
Corona pandemic has cast a pall of gloom over the human race, threatening its very existence. The all mighty humans, armed with latest technologies, weapon systems, super computers having artificial intelligence, diagnostic tools, advance medication and abundance of resources have never felt so helpless in front of a tiny virus called COVID-19. All scientists, doctors, statistical analysts, philosophers, astrologers, religious teachers and soothsayers are putting their heads down to predict, when the Corona onslaught will end.
However, I am eternally positive and I feel this shall also pass. Humaan race. Human race has existed for millions of years and survived many such catastrophes. I just am flagging only two such pandemics here. The Bubonic plague (Black Death) in the 14th century AD reduced the world’s population by over 100 million from 475 million at that time. It brought the Mongol empire to its knees and it cut China off from Europe for centuries. Similarly, Spanish flu shook the world, a century ago. Almost 50 million people perished in the world and almost 10 million (one crore) in India itself from a population of only 25 crores. The pandemic lasted two years with three waves hitting the world between 1918 and 1920. After every such catastrophe, human race has come out stronger and more resilient to live for another day. However, the world will never be the same again.
Present world order in disarray
Turbulent times like present one invariably change the existing geo-strategic trends and lead to unexpected results, sometime turning earlier expectations on their head. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed similar fury of nature. A world struggling with decline in economic growth has effectively been pushed into a recession of unmatched precedence. While populations are struggling to keep body and spirit together, the nation states are mostly fighting this tiny enemy within its own frontiers. Social media is making its own contribution by giving overdose of negativity and thus converting fear into panic. The world will sooner or later get over this Pandemic. The geo political realignment that it will cause will have much larger ramifications and will result into a new world order that will emerge post Corona times.
The key indicators of the present world order, in disarray, are as follows-
UN – The United Nations is faced with the most challenging crisis since its inception after World War II. Corona virus does not recognise man made barriers and hence the need for international solidarity and synergised global action. However, UN Secretary General António Guterres has only pleaded for a unified global response though it has gone disregarded.
The UN Security Council’s inaction reflects a bitter standoff between two of its five veto-wielding permanent members, over the origin of the pandemic. WHO Chief has also been criticised openly for shielding China. The UN being the largest international forum could have played the key role in containing the pandemic through its extensive humanitarian aid network but unfortunately it was found wanting.
US no longer the only superpower – Corona crisis seriously diminishes America’s credibility globally and that of the President Trump administration within America. The image of a hapless superpower with the world’s greatest economy and military might has been caught with its pants down and then brought to its knees. The decline of US as superpower has indeed started. Who knew that it will happen by a tiny creature called Corona. The loss of America’s superpower status will accentuate the transition to a multi-polar world.
- China’s image takes a beating – All the linkages of COVID-19 spread to a covert war by China have been negated by the scientists. The scientists have declared that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus. Yet, there has been a chain of suspicious activities which indicate too many coincidences. China is being portrayed as villain due to its alleged lack of transparency. The positive image building of China which was the prime focus of Xi Jinping government has certainly taken a beating. China will be seen with suspicion for quite some time. Japan has already shown the way by pulling out its manufacturing units from China. US will soon follow. The world is social distancing itself from China.
- Europe, no longer in relevance – In a cruel twist of fate, the Europe is the hardest hit by Coronavirus. The world has witnessed all countries of Europe struggling to fight against Corona. At a human level, Spain, UK and Italy have been badly hit by the pandemic. But it’s also true that countries whose economies are dependent on tourism will see much bigger economic losses in the long run. Therefore, the edifice of high and mighty European continent has crumbled with one stroke of Corona. The failure to mobilise a pan-European response to the pandemic and the tendency of member states to look after their own citizens has dealt a blow to the EU.
- Globalisation redefined – At a general level, more and more people are blaming globalisation – a decades old system that, by and large, created the China behemoth and made most of the advanced economies dependent on her for everything from pharmacological inputs to surgical masks. In Corona times, the concept of globalisation has taken a back seat. The countries are busy fighting the Corona within own resources. In future also, Corona will teach the world a lesson to be more self-reliant. If the countries are locked down for prolonged periods, it’s the internal strength that will stand up to the need of the hour. Hence, globalisation will be redefined in the new post Corona era.
- Non reliance on regional alliances – Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed the way by reviving the SAARC to fight the global crisis together. G-20 followed suit. However, all the bonhomie of jointness soon got on backburner and each country is fighting its own battle. NATO failed to recognise fight against COVID-19 as a war which needs to be fought sans borders. Today, NATO is almost nonexistent with all members unable to rise above their individual requirements. The regional alliances are by and large defunct or cosmetic in joint battles against Corona.
The new world order
But one thing is certainly predictable that the history of COVID-19 and new geopolitics will be scripted by the victors on the global level and they will lead the world in the emerging new world order. It will again depend upon the longevity of the pandemic and the victors will be the one who manages its country the best.
In order to maintain global primacy, countries in the post Corona world will have to engage in a zero-sum geopolitical contest, politically and economically. Though it’s very difficult to crystal gaze the post Corona world, however, certain pointers are as follows:-
- The concept of superpowers will be over for some time and a multi-polar diffused world order will emerge. The balance of power may shift from West to East with Europe fading into oblivion.
- The globalisation in the present form with seamless trade will be a thing of the past and a new template of globalisation based on fairness, equality and humanity will emerge.
- The world is preparing to find a new type of pragmatic and protective internationalism. COVID-19 will undermine the basic tenets of global manufacturing. Companies will now rethink and shrink the multistep, multi-country supply chains that dominate production today.
- International travel for tourism, business, cultural exchanges, pilgrimages, education, knowledge sharing and geopolitics will take a major beating.
- The pandemic will strengthen the state and reinforce nationalism. The nations will become more and more self-reliant, looking inwards for production and consumption.
- Large scale migrations across national frontiers and intra state will also reduce considerably, with local son of the soil concept gaining prominence.
- These trends may trigger realignments where blocks of interdependency are defined by proximity, natural resources, markets access and security interests. Therefore, need based mutually interdependent regional alliance may come up.
- Working norms for the industry may change. Work from home and digital linking will be predominant. Resultantly, work force may move to suburbs for cheaper and better living. This will reduce pressure on metro towns reducing traffic congestion and easing out of pressure on civil resources in towns.
- Social distancing will be the new norm with events and ceremonies confined to near and dears. Even modes of work place and offices will have to be modified to new ways. Eating out will have to redefine itself with open air restaurants, home delivery systems and sanitised places of leisure.
- Health and hygiene will be the primary focus of nation states and considerable expenditure will be incurred to strengthen the same.
- Economic recession with increased unemployment and lower budgetary availability with governments will be a stark reality. Governments will have hard choice in subsidising the employment creating industries for long term benefits.
Seizing opportunity in threat
You never let a serious crisis go waste. The global financial crisis of 2008 had its roots in an over-leveraged US economy. Yet, the US with bold measures turned it into the biggest opportunity, driving income and wealth of Americans to a new high through uninterrupted 11-year bull run in the US stock markets.
India has been proactive in fight against Corona and present leadership has been courageous to go to extremes. India has successfully controlled the transmission of COVID-19 till date. India will certainly tide over this threat and thereafter, use this opportunity to play a pivotal role in new world order. Every threat should be converted into an opportunity and our PM Narendra Modi masters this art, very well. India is looking to position itself as an alternative manufacturing destination for global companies after the Coronavirus outbreak. The threat of Corona has also presented a never before opportunity as the deadly virus has spread to other manufacturing hubs such as South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.
Advantage India post Corona
The cause for spread of COVID-19 from China is yet to be fully ascertained. However, certain pointers indicate to a certain extent, the anger with which the world perceives China today and holds it responsible for this global tragedy of immeasurable proportions. Post COVID-19, ‘Brand China’ will definitely lose its sheen. After the virus spread across the globe, the Chinese now face ‘social distancing’ by the international community.
From a geopolitical perspective, this crisis has given India an opportunity to position itself as a strategic part of global supply chains. As the world looks to de-risk supply chains originating from China, India can state its competencies and advantages much more emphatically. India with huge manpower, existing availability manufacturing units, strong national leadership in PM Narendra Modi and his team which has already improved ease of doing business rankings, provides a reasonable opportunity to such companies. However, the concern is that unless India moves faster, others may have already seized the opportunity.
The shock waves set off by the covid-19 pandemic could lead to a cumulative loss of US$9 trillion in global gross domestic product (GDP) over 2020-21. The International Monetary Fund expects India’s GDP to grow at 1.9 per cent in 2020-21, making it the fastest growing major economy in a recession-hit world. Today, we are in a position to negotiate as equal partners with the US, EU or Japan. India will play a pivotal role in the Emerging World Order with strong leadership and mature democratic credentials highlighted during Corona crisis, when high and mighty struggled.
Turbulent times more often than not cause upheavals in the Global Order. However, such crisis also provides an opportunity to both nations and organisations, which if availed, can help them elevate to a higher pedestal in world order. India’s efforts in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic have been praiseworthy so far. The world is standing up in appreciation of our leadership and willing cooperation of 130 crore population, in unison, to successfully beat Corona evil. Who knows, COVID-19 may be larger design of the almighty to provide India, the divine land (God’s Own Country) an opportunity, to restore back it’s golden days of magnificence, when India was the glorious ancient civilization. India can catapult itself to the centre stage of Emerging New World post Corona, if it leverages Corona threat to its advantages. 21st century belongs to India. Just wait and watch!!
-The author is a scholar soldier and has widely travelled in India and abroad. He is an avid reader, prolific writer, social activist, career consultant and a motivational speaker in demand.
The author can be contacted at -www.majgencpsingh.com.