Covid-19 revives the nation state

by Ljupco Zlatev

The virus, of Chinese origin, known as “Covid-19” or coronavirus has been officially classified as a pandemic and will have a great impact on the health of the worldwide population. Statistics show that many people will lose the fight to survive before a successful mass-produced vaccine appears. Covid-19’s projected impact on the world is similar to that of Spanish fluwhich may have come from China.

In the age of digitalization and advanced medicine, we expect to avoid pandemics on the same scale as those in history. But the economic and political consequences of the coronavirus are unavoidable and will bring tectonic changes to the world as we know it. One day – be it in June, July, August, September or later – we will win this battle, but we are going to wake up to a completely new economic and political reality. 

The first thing to note is that “Covid-19” is a global problem and yet is being addressed by national institutions. No international institution has created a real, efficient or internationally followed solution instead nations are each approaching the crisis as they see fit. The whole concept of a “Global Order” collapsed upon first contact with the crisis. Each state has retreated to their own regulations, boundaries and resources. Whether we are talking about the United States, China, Russia, France, Great Britain, Italy or Iran, each country is solely interested in their own citizens, own borders and nothing more. In many ways it seems that the Internet and news are the only truly global commodities in the last month, everything else has returned to the control of national institutions. 

The European Union has suspended its open borders between member states. Once again member states have ordered their troops to their borders. When Covid-19 knocked on the door of the EU, all leaders copied Victor Orbán. They all wanted to protect their borders and take care of their own states. 

At the end of the Covid-19 crisis, the chances of Italy still being a member of the EU are fairly low. The media and many of the mainstream politicians in the country, which is the most affected European nation, are waging a political war against the European Union due to the obvious lack of support. Italians are proud and after this crisis, I expect that they will seek a way out due to the lack of EU solidarity.

After Brexit, this will be a second blow to the EU, which will either disintegrate completely or find a completely new form of existence. What form? No one knows yet, but by 2021 the EU will not be the same. The domino effect will appear but Schengen should remain as it has benefitted the EU. 

When it comes to preventing the spread of the virus, all European countries have suddenly introduced strict and authoritarian measures. This is understandable but means that the suspension of individual freedoms is acceptable in the pursuit of a higher purpose – states are taking their cue from Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan.

Indeed, official statistics show that authoritarian regimes like those of Yi in China or Putin in Russia have been far better at dealing with this pandemic than their Western liberal-democratic rivals. Of the authoritarian systems, only Iran is a complete failure. But this is to be expected, given the fact the Iran has a culture in which viruses are easily spread.

It seems like being a liberal democracy has made literally no worthwhile contribution when it comes to dealing with the virus nor does it seem capable, at this stage, of resolving the economic crisis that this virus is causing. This virus will open an important discussion about the direction of liberal democracy. If liberal democracies do not change, Covid-19 could mark the end of this period in the world’s history.

The economic crisis that is expected to follow the pandemic, is likely to be far greater than any crisis in the history of the global market era. Even before the appearance of the virus, many experts expected a new financial crisis. Many reputable computer algorithms for predicting Wall Street shares had already suggested investors should “short everything”.

Depleted and desolated, at the end of the crisis everyone will want to improve their economies – likely through protectionist measures – I anticipate that after the end of the crisis economic nationalism will be an official doctrine in Europe and the US. After all, the only unified EU policy in this time of crisis is that the drugs must not be exported outside the EU.

Covid-19 will bring the end of globalization as we know it. In addition to its effects on global health, it will do significant damage to global institutions and economies. Once the virus is brought under control, the world will be dominated by populism and economic nationalism. These two doctrines are part and parcel of Donald Trump’s appeal. The spread and effects of Covid-19 will be used to support his foreign policy agenda: China is a threat and risks damaging Western economies.

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