Whether intentional or unintentional, it seems that Covid-19 has become a weapon for some. It seems to have caused more havoc and disasters to the liberal world than to the illiberal world. The impacts of this virus can be summarized in separate paragraphs.
As per World Bank, Covid-19 has reduced the world GDP by more than 4,2%. The advanced countries have been hit more disproportionately with a shrink of more than 7%. Added to it, the end is still not in site and will most likely continue till deep in the next year. We are told that China (an illiberal country) where in fact Covid-19 originated, not only got the pandemic under control but has also managed to restore their economic growth.
China has also used the distraction of Covid-19 to buy into the technologies, businesses, infrastructure and intellectual properties at highly depreciated value. Once the pandemic is over, this will add to the unfair advantage that illiberal countries have over liberal ones.
The respite that Covid-19 brought to the environment clearing of smogs in India, reduction of pollution caused by the aviation industry, however, was all short-lived. The world's biggest polluter, illiberal China has soon after has restarted its industry, and pollution continues. The Pandemic increased the use of one-use plastic significantly, in the production of gloves and masks, which are soon going to end up in the rivers and oceans.
In addition, there have been a few other noteworthy effects.
Many Governments have even lesser resources to protect endangered natural habitats, forests, etc., thus giving free hand and opportunities to poachers and loggers to go into protected areas.
Even rich economies like the European Union, where lots of resources were put aside for environmental plans and investments are being redirected to shield weaker economies. Recently I was told that the UN SDGs which are meant to be achieved by 2030 will most likely be pushed further back.
Impact on Society
Societies have been severely impacted. As per UN estimation, Covid-19 has pushed 118 mln, people, into poverty and nearly half-billion into unemployment. This will soon start transforming to events like social unrest, migration, etc. These numbers are not including those who are already fleeing war.
Recently I was in a Panel discussion with Hon. Izumi Nakamitsu, the Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs of United Nations. She said that Covid-19 also has had negative effects on disarmament. It has reduced much-needed attention and investment into areas of disarmament, conflict resolution, and sustainable peace, while global military spending and violence are at an all-time high. Thus, putting Global Arm Control regimes further under stress.
To my knowledge, Covid-19 has complicated arm control measures, thus increasing the risks of a sudden outbreak of conflicts. What is clearly visible is that Terrorist groups and Criminals are fast-moving in to fill the gaps which are left behind by diminishing government controls.
It seems that the distraction of global attention has also given the opportunity to a few illiberal countries to go on Military adventurism.
In Europe, while the liberal countries remain distracted by Covid-19, Azerbaijan broke 26 years of Peace. The last was supported by the Turkish (another illiberal country) military, weaponized by Pakistan, freely used mercenaries from Syria to commit asymmetrical warfare against the civilian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Liberal countries remained silent and conveniently forgot the Armenian genocide of the last century. It was finally Russia, who acted and enforced temporary peace. While Turkey again got a foothold in that region. In Asia, China the most illiberal country unilaterally trespassed into the borders of India and Bhutan using military force to change ground reality. China also increased its hegemony over the citizens of Hongkong, once seen as the most liberal place in Asia.
Ambassador Tuula Yrjölä, the Officer in Charge/Secretary-General and Director, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Conflict Prevention Centre recently mentioned that we seem to be entering Cold War settings, only now with regional powers.
One positive news among all these gloomy tidings is the victory of President-Elect Biden of the United States. Hopefully, he will bring the US back on the World Stage, and empower the activities of the UN.
In conclusion, the points above explain my choice of the title of the article. I believe that the world today needs more multi-lateral engagements and stronger transnational institutions.
This will motivate the illiberal countries and the new Regional powers to stop trying to use Pandemics like Covid-19 for their own benefit to advance their agendas and instead learn that long-term thinking brings greater and long-lasting benefits.
I will end with the quote of William Lamb, who said in 1817, "The possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility”.
Ben Banerjee, 8.12.2020