World Order and Covid-19 Pandemic

By Richard Falk,
19 April 2020. Daniel Falcone: Carlos Delclós,
a sociologist based in Barcelona has highlighted the need for bottom up
responses for social solidarity in Spain when compared to the unity
declarations put forth by the monarchy. Further, journalist Ben
 cites that while there are severe problems with the
government, remnants of a democratic spirit and mutual aid keep optimism
and hope alive within their system of universalized healthcare. Can you comment
on the greater European response to

Richard Falk: I am aware of
the greater
strength and role of cooperative movements
 in European
countries, a residue of the socialist movements of the prior century, that give
rise to more spontaneous approaches on local levels to immediate threats to
well-being, exhibiting both less trust and less dependence on governmental
Furthermore, European health
systems are more evolved, fewer people left out, and more sense of public
responsibility, although some deficiencies also emerged. Italy and
 lacked sufficient governmental capabilities to cope humanely
with the challenge of a pandemic, although the epicenter was initially in Lombardy,
the richest part of the country.
Given the urbanization and social
complexity accompanying modernity, the need for intelligent, imaginative, and
humane governance is a necessity in times of societal crisis, and its absence
magnifies suffering.

Daniel Falcone: The World Bank is
reporting that 
 is experiencing a drastic economic downturn and
the first in more than a couple of decades. Can you explain the unfolding in
this region, which is fairly under reported by western democracies?
Richard Falk: Sub-Saharan
 is still heavily dependent on the exports of resources
rather than on the provision of services and high-end manufacturing, and as a
result is exceedingly vulnerable to changes in the adverse terms of trade that
arise whenever “deglobalization
trends are present. It would seem that the rise of ultra-nationalism, as
highlighted by “Trumpist” economic nationalism, have negative
 on sub-Saharan African development prospects.
Daniel Falcone: Recently, I spoke
with John Feffer of
Foreign Policy in Focus and he explained how the pandemic has impacted
globalization in regards to a “slowbalization.”
He has commented on additional dimensions of this elsewhere. Could you
elaborate on the anti-globalization and ultra-nationalist worldview wave that
autocrats around the world are riding currently? This looks as dangerous as the
Richard Falk: There is no little
doubt a rise of autocrats, elected and non-elected, in what seemed entrenched democracies (U.S.,
UK, India, Brazil), in faux
 (Russia, Hungary, Egypt), and monarchies (Saudi
Arabia, UAE, Morocco). This authoritarian surge, which came initially as a
surprise to most of us, superseded expectations associated with the end of the
Cold War that were triumphantly interpreted as an ideological victory for the
West and its values, and especially for the American political economy.
George H.W. Bush, president at
the time of the Soviet collapse, proclaimed ‘a new world
’ in which the geopolitical hegemony of the U.S. now was
unopposed, and would no longer be challenged in global arenas. This meant that
the UN could function as intended on the basis of consensus in a world without
ideological rivalry, which allowed the UN to sponsor the Iraq War of 1992
designed to restore Kuwaiti sovereignty by compelling Iraq to abandon conquest
and annexation.
Then Bill Clinton came along
promoting a foreign policy based on a doctrine of ‘enlargement,’
shorthand for predicting and promoting the spread of democracies. It was
accompanied by the optimistic belief that an era of peace and prosperity would
follow the further spread of democratically governed states. It was widely
believed that democracies do not go to war against one another and capitalism
is the best engine of growth the world has ever known. From such perspectives
the post-Cold War world was envisioned as becoming increasingly both peaceful
and prosperous.
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Such a worldview was supportive
of regime-changing interventions, especially in the Middle East, to get rid of
the more strategically troublesome remnants of autocratic regimes and reflected
the prevailing enthusiasm about the growth potential of neoliberal globalization,
an approach long championed by the neoconservative movement.
To become operational such a
policy outlook needed both the 9/11 attacks to re-securitize American foreign
policy and the neoconservative presidency of George W. Bush. The decisive test
of this proactive outlook occurred in the Iraq War of 2003. Expressing this
jubilant mood, Bush II introduced a government
report on national security in 2002
 with an assertion of faith
in the singularity and superiority of the American form of governance that went
largely unchallenged at the time. He contended that market-oriented
constitutionalism (as exemplified by the USA) had demonstrated to the world
that its form of democracy (elections plus capitalism) was the
only legitimate way to organize the political life of a sovereign
state in the new century.
So, the haunting question
remains, ‘what went wrong’? The most obvious explanation rests on the
alienating impacts of neoliberal globalization
that seemed to heap its rewards on the very, very rich while leading to
stagnation or worse for the multitudes.
This structural explanation of
the rise of autocracy is certainly a large part of the story as predatory
capitalism in this period gave rise to gross inequality on all levels of social
order, symbolized by the 26 richest
 controlling more than half of the world’s wealth.
Another part of this story, less frequently acknowledged, is that the socialist alternative to capitalism
was successfully discredited
 by falsely representing the Soviet
political and economic failure as a decisive and sufficient test case of the
viability of a socialist alternative.
This ideological supremacy of
neoliberal capitalism facilitated two regressive developments: first, leading
neoliberal globalization to privilege capital over people,
or put differently, to choose economic efficiency over human well-being.
Secondly, creating a political consciousness that fed the illusion that there
were no tenable alternatives to the existing mode of political economy,
completely ignoring the kind of autocratic state capitalism that flourished so
remarkably in China in an ideological atmosphere that presented itself as
fulfilling the hopes and dreams of socialism, experiencing a remarkable
modernizing facelift under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping that
had did not rest its claims on the virtues of democracy.
For most of the world, the
Chinese phenomenon, while mesmerizing, was seen as not generalizable beyond
China, or at least not beyond Asia. In such a setting there was a very
unhealthy political situation—the dominant practices and policies of neoliberal
 were not delivering material benefits to most
people living in democratic societies, and the excesses of this stage of
 were left unchallenged, and hence unmitigated, by
socialist challenges that had since Marx led the most adept masters of capital
to seek accommodation with the laboring classes and create an image of an
ethical capitalism that was inclusive of the great majority of people in their
respective national societies.
With that humanistic imperative
of ideological rivalry pushed aside, the path was cleared for the emergence of
demagogues, and those who found scapegoats to blame for the widespread distress
among the public, especially foreigners. This new kind of political appeal
produces a blind kind of trust in the leader, however misleading the diagnosis,
and feeds a
nationalist frenzy
 at the very time that the world needs
recognition of a cooperative global order to address such challenges as climate
change. It is not without irony, that the U.S., which had long lectured the
world on the many virtues of democracy, should voluntarily
succumb to the autocratic ‘charms’
 of Donald Trump.
It is notable to take account of
the existence of some dissenters from ‘slowbalization,’ the most prominent
is Richard Haass,
former government official and currently President of the Council of Foreign
Relations. He anticipates a recovery process that involves an ‘acceleration’ of
pre-pandemic trends, including a concerted effort to restore the
neoliberal world order with
especial emphasis on its orientation toward limitless growth based on
technological innovation and capital efficiency, but revamped in the precarious
context of continuing American decline, which includes an absence of the kind
leadership required to address global problems through multilateralism.
In the background of the Haass
view of the post-pandemic world is an intensifying geopolitical rivalry
producing conflict and increasing dangers of strategic warfare, presumably
featuring a standoff between the U.S. and
, a stalwart of the triumphalist outlook that followed the
Soviet collapse, is more hopeful than Haass, projecting the period after the
pandemic subsides as a call for the reassertion of robust American leadership
on the global policy stage. He believes that the openness of trade and the
transnational mobility of people depend on the renewal of
confidence in the neoliberal world order
 that proved so
successful after World War II, and was constructed on the basis of
Enlightenment values emphasizing the fusion of political stability, confidence
in science and technology, and market-driven economic growth
In the background of the
restoration of the pre-pandemic ‘normal’ is the ecological
 of supposing that maximizing economic growth via
globalization, or otherwise, can proceed without respect for the limits on
carrying capacity of the earth. Frank Snowden,
the widely respected expert on epidemiology in an illuminating interview (Il Manifesto,
Global Edition, April 11, 2020) suggesting that COVID-19 virus and earlier flu
epidemics (SARS, MERS, Ebola, avian flu) can all be traced to zoonotic
 of the virus from animals to humans, expressing
spillovers that he argues are bound to occur when animal habitats are encroached
upon by spreading urbanization and industrialization.
A more reconstructive
post-pandemic approach would strive for ‘a new normal,’
which combined the health imperative of sensible preparedness and universal
coverage with an ecological sophistication that sought to mitigate inequalities
among peoples and societies by addressing
poverty as a health issue
, including the recognition that diseases
are more lethal in relation to vulnerable peoples, who suffer as victims and
victimize others by becoming agents of contagion.

Daniel Falcone: After the dust
settles from the pandemic, if it does, can you attempt a forecast of how global
powers will align or realign?
is more likely than ‘realignment.’
I am assuming here that either that the nationalist retreat from neoliberal
globalization will continue or there will be strong moves, hard to forecast, in
the direction of regional and global cooperation in key sectors of policy, with
international institutions given important coordinating roles. In either
alternative alliance, diplomacy seems not likely to reemerge in any manner
comparable to what it was in the prior century. Trump has already
significantly weakened the
Western alliance structure
, and except for the forays of “coercive
” contra Iran (in concert with Saudi Arabia, Israel), seems
to have adopted a unilateralist foreign policy course supplemented by
transactional bilateralism in
which the interaction seeks win/lose outcomes based on hard power disparities.
Reverting to Haass and
, it is worth noting that the pessimistic assessments of
Haass are explicitly linked to his anticipation of the post-pandemic world
order as resembling what happened in the decades after World War I, that is,
the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, and a second world war. Kissinger,
although habitually associated with a fatalistic
 of the international scene, somehow strikes more hopeful
notes by advocating and somewhat anticipating a post-pandemic recovery that
resembles the dynamics of world order following World War II with the U.S.
playing its former leadership role by recognizing the opportunities and needs
for a more cooperative approach to global problems.

Daniel Falcone: Are there any
chances for United States reform at a local or even an institutional level that
can offset the political capital maintained by autocrats both here and around
the world? Are we in fact, a “
failed state?”
You raise an interesting
question. A response must start with the disappointing observation that the
2020 election is between Trump and
, a familiar political figure who shaped his career around the
bipartisan Cold War consensus of militarism, neoliberalism, and pro-Israeli
. This orientation is what I have called elsewhere ‘the
three pillars of American foreign policy’ that only Sanders dared challenge
(and paid the price) as one sees what was done to his frontrunner status by the
guardians of the established order. Sanders’ response that he lost the primary
campaign, but his
movement will go on fighting
, is suggestive of the gap between the
establishment world of political parties and his movement consisting of various
societal domains of people that seems openly hostile to the bipartisan
consensus, the deep state, and the special interest lobbies that continue to
dominate not only the governing process, but also the electoral process
What is worth noticing is that
even Trump despite his bombastic claims during the 2016 presidential campaign
has as president paid his dues to the bipartisanship
in foreign policy
 with his enlarged military budget, tax cuts
for the richest and rollback of regulatory interferences with predatory
capitalism, and the greenest
light ever given to Israeli expansionism
 and one-statism. His
only halfhearted departure from bipartisanship has been the downplaying of
Euro-American alliance geopolitics.
Possibly, the autocratic edge of
American politics would be dulled by a Biden
 by more moderate judicial appointments and some
effort to address gross inequalities, student debt, infrastructure, and an
improved health system that encompasses the whole society. Yet, it would seem
absurd to expect more from Biden, given that his principal message is
ideational, a promise to restore national unity by reaching out so far as
to include
so-called ‘moderate’ Romney Republicans
, who have never struck me as
moderate except in comparison to their alt-right Republican leadership of the
Trump era.
Biden’s unity message is also
code language for restoring the bipartisan consensus in an overt form that
would counter some of the ultra-nationalist retreat from globalization. In
foreign policy we could expect a shift in tone from ‘America First
to ‘NATO First
as a way of differentiating his approach from that of Trump and of reaffirming
faith in the Western alliance as once again the centerpiece of American foreign
policy. It would be foolhardy to expect Biden after a centrist lifetime
political career to pursue a progressive social and ecological agenda, yet
without such an agenda we can be thankful to Biden for ending the reign of
Trump while renewing our
severe worries about the social and ecological shortcomings of the American
 experience given 21st century