Impossible to identify at this point what will be the post-Corona effects: Falk

TEHRAN, Apr. 21 (MNA) – Richard Anderson Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University says t is impossible to identify at this point what will be the post-Corona effects on global structures and fundamental characteristics.

The current coronavirus pandemic ravaging every corner of the world and many states are desperate in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Nations and governments are panicking and the economy has already collapsed. This crisis is expected to deepen more and more without a serious global willingness and cooperation.

Due to the great impact of the coronavirus on the world from different aspects, many believe that changes to existing world order and international relations are inevitable in the post-corona era. 

In an effort to make the dimension of the changes to the existing world order by coronavirus clearer, we reached out to Richard Anderson Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University.

Here is the full text of the interview:

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

At this point, in the middle of the pandemic, any response is highly speculative. When speculating it seems helpful to distinguish between what we regard as probable and desirable effects of a kind that would be beneficial for humanity.

With respect to probable effects, I aware of two broad sets of influential perspectives emerging, some of which admittedly somewhat confuse what is likely to happen with what we wish would happen. As near as I can tell from listening to the American post-pandemic discourse, the private and public sector leaders are now preoccupied with taking steps to restore the pre-pandemic dynamics without substantial modifications beyond the recognition that governments should invest more resources in preparing national health systems for a recurrence of the COVID-19 outbreak or from another contagious disease. It is important to appreciate that previously in this century there were several lethal epidemics (SARS, Ebola, avian flu), although this COVID-19 experience has a far greater human and societal impact for two main reasons: first, the WHO has officially declared it to be a ‘pandemic,’ which automatically focuses attention on the severity of the challenge; and secondly, the crisis has seriously afflicted countries in the West, which heightens world media and public attention further, and ensures more effort to assess the experience from a world order perspective. This latter observation is particularly true for the United States, and possibly China, as both have become ‘global states,’ that is, States with an array of major political, economic, and social engagements beyond their national boundaries.

What restoring pre-pandemic world order is not entirely clear, and is somewhat contested, as to what were its essential features. Most obviously, it would mean facilitating the rapid revival of transnational trade and capital flows, a renewed effort to overcome rising economic tensions before the onset of the pandemic. Such a preferred model of a restored world overlooks the ultra-nationalist trends in major States that involved a retreat from neoliberal globalization and was reinforced by negative reactions by many Western countries to refugees from combat zones and migrants seeking a better standard of living. The lockdowns during the health crisis also provided pretexts for relying on surveillance technologies, and generally led to greater social tolerance for authoritarian policies and practices, governance habits that could easily persist after the pandemic phase of the disease have ended.

These obstacles to reviving the ‘old normal’ will also be challenged by the widespread belief that many of the jobs lost during the pandemic will not become available to workers in a post-pandemic atmosphere as economies will take advantage of automation due to developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics. Particularly in capitalist countries, past economic crises have been occasions for a streamlining of the labor force on the basis of more rigorous standards of capital efficiency. In so doing, profit margins are retained, even increased, while jobs are being lost and high unemployment haunts the recovery process. There is little reason to doubt that this pattern will be repeated in the present circumstances, which included such drastic socio-economic dislocations.

A more prescriptive effort to restore the old world order based on stability and economic growth places emphasis on recreating the conditions that produced what is embraced as a past success. Henry Kissinger, writing in the conservative Wall Street Journal, recommended an imitation of the strategies relied upon after the end of World War II, especially assertive American global leadership, mobilization of resources to restore market vitality in the countries of the West most adversely affected by the pandemic, and a strengthened health system as integral to future national, global, and regional security. This kind of assessment blends the probable with the desirable, but it also swims against the pre-pandemic tide of ultra-nationalism that placed stress on transactional bargains rather than cooperative problem-solving that acknowledged global interests as a main component of national interests, given the realities of digital globalization, or the complexities of interconnectedness. Insofar as directed at Washington, any serious prospect of strong American global leadership depends on replacing Trump with someone more responsive to the global scale challenges facing humanity.

From my perspective, a desirable post-pandemic approach would definitely seek ‘a new normal’ that gave primary attention to meeting the pre-pandemic challenges of global inequality, climate change, extreme poverty, policy concerns that were not being adequately addressed by the procedures of state-centric world order, especially given the various failures of global leadership by the United States and the excesses of post-Cold War capitalism. Such a reorientation of international political behavior would also require the repudiation of militarist geopolitics and the abandonment of coercive diplomacy (including sanctions), and their replacement by respect for international law and the authority of the United Nations, and a better balance in foreign policy between the sovereign rights of States and the global responsibility of the UN System to secure compliance with individual and collective rights, as well as encouraging ecological stewardship and climate justice. Such a visionary approach will strike many observers as utopian, but from another perspective, such advocacy can be regarded as embodying a necessary ethical, security, and ecological response framework to the realities and threats of the contemporary world.    

The current world order is mostly based on neoliberalism and to some extent on political realist policymaking. What are the deficiencies of these approaches as revealed by coronavirus?

I would add a structural element to your way of summarizing the current world order. It is the statist character of world order that has evolved over time from the 1648 Peace of Westphalia that ended the Religious Wars in Europe, and gave rise to the primacy of the territorial sovereign state as the main building block of world order. This state-centric world order, originally a European regional arrangement, became gradually universalized as the dialectic between colonialism and anti-colonialism in the non-Western world unfolded, culminating in a consensus among governments that only States were eligible to become fully accredited participants in formal international politics. This criterion regulating status and participation in international political life also explains limiting membership in the United Nations to entities that qualify as States under international law. Colonialism imposed statist networks in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa with little attention to the antecedent experience of empire and colonial rule, thereby overlooking the reality of ethnic and traditional contours of the human community for the affected peoples. This has led these regions to endure continuous strife in the post-colonial world that can only be avoided by imposing an authoritarian rule that achieves order by repressing resisting elements in society.

A further aspect of this kind of Westphalian world order is the role of geopolitics, which here refers to the discretionary behavior of leading States that refuse to accept restraints on their freedom of maneuver externally, and reject any kind of accountability with regard to abuse internal to their own country. The legalization of such rogue behavior is exhibited in the UN Charter by vesting a right of veto in the five permanent members of the Security Council, the only decision-making body within the UN System. In effect, the UN Charter rather shockingly acknowledges the uncontrollability of the five political actors that most endanger international peace and security. Turkey has for a decade been challenging this kind of hegemonic arrangement by calling for global reform, adopting the slogan ‘the world is greater than five’ to highlight its campaign to diminish the influence of geopolitics within the workings of the UN System.

As your question suggests, neoliberalism and political realism have played influential roles in giving shape to an international life, but in both cases, at considerable cost from the perspective of human wellbeing and ecological stability. As earlier indicated, neoliberalism privileges the efficiency of capital over the wellbeing of people, accentuating ecological harm on one side, and extremes of inequality on the other side. The effect of this ideological shaping of behavior is to accentuate poverty, alienation, class conflict while inclining governance at the level of the State toward autocratic leadership. Political realism is imbued with the idea that national interests, narrowly and selfishly conceived as excluding both global concerns and deference to international ethical and legal norms. Such a realist insists that such a calculation of national interests in only a reliable basis for the formation of foreign policy. In this sense, realism has become unrealistic. In our times we need to develop strong mechanisms of global problem-solving to meet such challenges as global warming, migration pressures, declining biodiversity, ecocide, and genocide. Political realism remains anchored in seventeenth-century conditions where autonomous territorial communities didn’t need any external framework of restraint. Under twenty-first-century conditions, such realism has become dangerously out of touch with the severe and accumulating existential threats of the twenty-first century.

Although Corona has drawn the attention of countries to the realist approach and the principle of "self-help", on the other hand, it has led to the inefficiency of the realist approach to security, which is based on "state security" and prioritizes It defines "the security of the ruling elite" and sees the issue of security as purely military. On the other hand, the outbreak of the virus has shown that militaristic economies do not provide public security(human security) and that governments should pay more attention to "human security" in the post-Coronavirus world,  which confirms that the overlapping of "state security" and "human security" is greater than ever. What do you think about this?

I would again call attention to my distinction between probable and desirable outcomes once the crisis atmosphere subsides. There is no doubt in my mind that a human security approach to ‘security’ would be a desirable way to incorporate the lessons of the COVID-19 ordeal. Yet I believe this to be a highly improbable outcome beyond a narrow focus on strengthening national preparedness for facing future epidemiological challenges, and possibly endowing the WHO with an early warning responsibility. Even this focus is less a matter of upholding human security than it is a realization that governmental legitimacy depends on keeping the economy functioning, and this depends on minimizing the impact of disabling health challenges, which unlike climate change have an immediate concrete life-threatening potential impact on every person on the planet as to make the threat unpostponable or deniable at least after the bodies begin to pile up.

Nevertheless, it is more important than ever for public intellectuals to insist upon a human security framework both to challenge the war system, including its enormous unproductive diversion of energies and resources and to endow a human rights culture with political potency so as to ensure that state/society relations develop ethical standards implemented by the rule of law. We live at a time when what seems necessary also seems out of reach, which suggests that we should reach further, and admit that struggle for a better future is worthwhile because good surprises, as well as bad ones (for instance, the pandemic) can happen. In a sense, to meet the threats confronting the world we need to realize that our basic condition is uncertainty about the future not a fatalistic sense of doom.

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 new meanings will experience fundamental changes?

I think it is impossible to identify at this point what will be the post-Corona effects on global structures and fundamental characteristics. I believe that there is unlikely to be any profound effects without prior seismic-scale challenges to the established order in major countries of the world. Neither the U.S. nor China, the former asserting itself via reliance on military capabilities and the forcible penetration of foreign political spaces and the latter expanding its influence by way of positive economic inducements, seem inclined to alter world order in ways that are structural and fundamental, but this perception might be mistaken. The U.S. seems somewhat open to a movement from below for drastic change gaining power and shifting the policy focus of government to a human security agenda. The Sanders campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination arguably came close to gaining enough influence to mount such an effort, and it has pledged to continue pursuing these goals by further augmenting its influence as a social and political movement. China has become a formidable global state by relying on ‘soft power,’ expansion of trade, economic growth, foreign economic assistance, and non-coercive diplomatic activism at the UN and elsewhere. Hard power geopolitics heavily depends on military capabilities for leverage and as a policy instrument, while soft power avoids to the extent possible, without rejecting on principle, political violence, conserving its resources for more productive applications, including global cooperation and human security. At the same time, with respect to internal politics, the U.S. ‘soft’ authoritarianism is more amenable to reformist changes and more adaptable to certain aspects of human security than is China's‘ hard‘ authoritarianism. From this perspective, the main energy for human security in the West is likely to come, if at all, from movements of people wheres in China and other deeply rooted authoritarian systems such energy for change would almost certainly have to come from governing elites.   

Interview by Javad Heirannia

News Code 157864


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