Prof. not expecting major change in socio-political arrangements

TEHRAN, Apr. 16 (MNA) – Prof. Nicholas Onuf, one of the founders of constructivism in International Relations, has told MNA that “Despite the uneven, laggard response of public health authorities at every level to the pandemic, I do not expect a significant change in what I would call modernist socio-political arrangements.”

The following is an exclusive interview on the post-corona world order with Nicholas Greenwood Onuf, renowned as one of the founders of constructivism in International Relations.

What will be the effects of coronavirus on the current world order?

This is a very difficult question for a theorist to answer since theories seek to explain in general terms, and the pandemic is not a generalizable phenomenon for the purposes of international relations theory.  As a theorist, I think it is most useful to view the pandemic as a potential catalyst for a significant change in the current world situation.  In this respect, the influenza pandemic of 1918 (in which my own grandfather died at the age of 32) was not a catalytic event in itself, because it came at the end of an already disruptive world war.  The current pandemic comes at a time when the world's political economy is in serious trouble.  Financial institutions are over-extended, disparities in wealth are widening, technological innovation is waning, infrastructure is decaying at an alarming rate in the advanced economies, and climate change is relentless.  The 2020 pandemic will inevitably cause a deep, global depression possibly lasting several years.  Whether a full recovery is even possible remains to be seen.   I suspect that the pandemic catalyst will trigger down-growth, at best leading to a Japan-style deflationary stagnation in the wealthier economies.  Elsewhere, rapid, uncontrolled down-growth will prompt social unrest within states and beggar-thy-neighbor polities among them.  I have publicly warned of this eventuality for many decades, and I often wondered if I would live long enough to see it happen.

The current world order is majorly based on liberalism and to some extent on realism approaches. What are the deficiencies of the said approaches revealed by coronavirus?

Political realism is broadly materialist, but it is predicated on a few assumptions about human nature, and not a ‘nature’ that makes a mockery of our self-regard.  Realists have nothing to say about a crisis, not of our making—even if health specialists would argue that it is very much a crisis of our making.  Neoliberals smugly believe that the world capitalist economy has brought unprecedented prosperity and relative peace to the world as a whole, but they consistently underestimate the fragility of the current world situation; they will have nothing helpful to say when the world economy fails to recover ‘on its own.’  Leftists and postmodern theorists will content themselves by saying ‘we told you this would happen.’

Although the Outbreak of the virus has put the realism and self-help approaches in the center of the focus, it also has revealed deficiencies of the realism which is based on state security and looks at the security issue just militarily. The outbreak of the virus also showed that militaristic economies also are not able to maintain the security of nations and governments in the post-corona era. What do you think of this?

The problem is not just ‘militaristic economies.’  The modern state in whatever form has shown itself too easily overwhelmed by this crisis in human security.  Arguably China is one of the most militarized states in the world and one of the most successful in managing the crisis.  The same goes for South Korea.  The US has been a disaster in this respect and for many reasons, including an ineffectual president and a constitution that empowers local authorities in matters of human security.  It seems to me that real issue is the rise of functionally-oriented administrative regimes at every level, from the World Health Organization to city health departments, and the absence of effective coordinative mechanisms within and between levels.   

If we accept that the post-corona world order will be different from the existing one, will the changes be structural and fundamental ones? Which meanings will experience fundamental changes?

Despite the uneven, laggard response of public health authorities at every level to the pandemic, I do not expect a significant change in what I would call modernist socio-political arrangements.  Publics everywhere will depend more and more on functionally defined administrative regimes for their welfare as the modern world undergoes uneven immiseration in the decades ahead.  When and where functionalist elites fail to provide for minimal public needs, social unrest will increase, as I pointed out in my response to the first question.  With ever fewer resources to draw on, administrative capacity will diminish, state leaders will dither, and crises in human security can only increase in number and scale.

By Javad Heirannia

News Code 157656

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