Illustration: Global Network [CC0 - Public Domain] via Piqsels
A virus, first appearing in the Wuhan region of China at the end of 2019, was labeled COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO). Very soon, WHO categorized it as a 'pandemic' when it rapidly became a threat to the world’s continents and countries in a very short timeframe.
The panic created by the pandemic did not only upset the world markets, but brought with it many social consequences. When the virus reached Europe, Africa, and America, countries called on their own people to stay at home to keep the epidemic under control. In education, online lessons materialized and in the workplace, remote or distance work quickly became the new norm. Even so, businesses stumbled, causing the announcement of economic packages to combat the economic disruption. Quarantines or curfews have been declared at regional or national levels. By mid-July, the number of confirmed cases worldwide stood at close to fifteen million.
Throughout the world, discussion is now focusing on how humanity will differ after this contagion. What kind of world is waiting for us after the epidemic?
What we have learned
The global panic and chaos created by the virus show their effect on the world’s economy, politics, and social life. Globalization has been the biggest factor leading to this situation — and this pandemic may in fact herald an end to this process.
With the emergence of the pandemic in China, global supply chains were immediately broken. This continues to affect production sectors all over the world. A process which started with the 2008 economic crisis, of shifting the global production centers from the U.S. and the Western world to Asia and China, is almost complete. As global production is disrupted, global capital holders continue to lose in the stock markets, affecting the money-making cycle.
The world’s short-term socio-economic distress revealed the impact and importance of production of basic food and supplies and of the service sectors. Those who produce needed consumer items and provide service in the new economic order will now be the main actors. Clearly the economic packages announced to combat the crisis are measures to protect these sectors.
Large-scale economic crisis will be at the door if the process of fighting the epidemic is prolonged. Moreover, this situation may emerge differently than the previous global economic crisis of 1929 and of 2008. These previous crises were based on finance, but to the contrary, the coming crisis will be due to a change in the sociological structure; that is, production stops because of the withdrawal of the people of the world from social life.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also taught us that current health systems are inadequate to combat sudden crises, particularly if they are simultaneous in numerous countries.
The end of globalization
Of utmost importance is the knowledge that the pandemic has brought social and economic life to a halt all over the world as a result of existing globalization. Combating the pandemic has revealed that globalization based on mutual benefits is not as reliable as was thought and that the global system is indeed quite fragile.
It is highly probable that states will learn from this situation and will not rely on a view of the world that views countries as being fully integrated with each other. At this point, it is exceedingly possible that the trend of 'deglobalization' — the reversal of globalization — will accelerate worldwide. The pandemic has accelerated this process, which had already started.
In our efforts to increase resilience against sudden global crises, a less relaxed world and less globalization may await us. However, globalization can never end completely. In the system of developing communication networks and the related global culture, all the countries of the world are interconnected. Even the pandemic process that we are experiencing reveals that we can never reset the existence of a global world system.
The weak countries of the new system will be those with high social unrest and weak and unbalanced growth. This would include Latin America, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. The peoples and states of these regions may face rapid disintegration and political fragmentation in the process of transition.
The situation will be similar for the countries of the EU, as their economy weakens after the pandemic. These countries will be economically influenced either by a stronger United States, as happened after World War II, or by China, if it takes the opportunity.
To reduce the vulnerabilities of the global system, many companies may decide to return to their lands of incorporation. The problem will be the increase of labor costs and the use of robots in production may become more common to reduce those costs.
Yet, clearly, the greatest threat to the new world order may come from bio-terrorism and cyber attacks. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened the door to consideration of biological weapons. Such biological attacks could conceivably disrupt and harm to a degree associated with nuclear weapons.
Equally of concern is the threat from cyber attacks to high-tech societies and all those states using electronic measures. Cyber security will now be even more important than before.
At the individual level, people staying in their homes during the pandemic, have flocked to the digital world to maintain their existing patterns and contacts. At the organizational level, online training has been adapted to the home-office reality. In addition to businesses and corporations, many universities are continuing their activities using virtual applications such as Google Classroom or Meet, Zoom, Cisco Webex, and Skype. Many organizations may prefer to keep in touch with their members this way.
This rapid adaptation seems to have resolved any concerns the world may have had about digitalization. Indeed, beyond the community level, state entities have begun to hold their meetings through the digital world. This process will no doubt be accompanied by the proliferation of digital currency which can also combat any panic created by the claim that paper money carries germs — a concern that may prove strong enough to change the habits of communities and switch them over to crypto money.
The author is a political analyst at the School of Diplomacy of Azerbaijan, working on her advanced degree at Western Caspian University.