coronavirus

But, after all, shadows themselves are born of light. And only he who has experienced dawn and dusk, war and peace, ascent and decline, only he has truly lived. Stefan Zweig —The World of Yesterday, 1941

2020 is turning out to be one of the most challenging years since the end of the Second World War.  A coming disruption for Pankaj Mishra, a ‘portal’ in Arundhati Roy’s radical description, ‘figment of neoliberal capitalism’ for Noam Chomsky in his unique expository stance and ‘Medical Katrina’ for Mike Davis, the coronavirus has evinced the global discussion from the leading public intellectuals to confined individuals as how this overnight nerve-racking catastrophe stalled the world and froze the living spaces to a pause mode. We have seen the problems being magnifying as coronavirus pandemic has, among other things, exposed the vulnerabilities of political structures worldwide. Today, states are battling a threat against an invisible enemy that is rising exponentially and putting most of their citizens at risk.  There are geostrategic and geopolitical implications of this spread in the wake of ‘containing’ the impact of this virus thus impregnating a thought of how the nature of global order would be shaping up given the ‘progressive’ trend of this pandemic

Before the pandemic had its mark on the global scene there was a spectre of weakening role of international institutions and the spate of regressing markers of democracy across the regimens of global politics. Europe was struggling with existing crisis, Middle East crisis, new age theatrics of absurd governance from Trump to Bolsanaro and downward spiral of US global leadership. This viral disaster has magnified the impacts of the existing fragilities in the kaleidoscopic geopolitical and geo-economic spheres concurrently

Geopolitical Signatures to Sphere of Influences

Developing countries have been faring worse in this fight with already intrinsic governance issues and relatively frail architecture of public institutions, where people defied the lockdown orders as they live in precarious conditions. African Union report suggests that pandemic puts nearly 10 million jobs on the Continent at risk of ‘destruction’ while as  in Sub-Saharan Arica World Bank report predicts first recession in nearly 25 years. After the cold war we are first time watching the geopolitical lexicon taking a departure from the oft-spoken bi-polar binary with middle powers rising to the spectacle of global politics with entrance of China and other regional powers.  As more countries are getting effected we would see transformation of geopolitical order not necessarily the bipolar or 2.5 world order with regional powers binding in  but there would be increasing fragmentation. With  countries vying for having Wallerstein’s “hegemonic cycles” in their side Coronavirus  opens up some new matrices to be paired/multiplied to their “respective power spaces” .We have seen Russian aircrafts aiding Italy in the form of ‘medical relief’ with Russian military planes emblazoned  a message of “From Russia with Love”, Serbian President kissing Chinese flag on account of the aid received from the China .Turkey too joining the bandwagon of showing their presence of  flag sending its support to Balkan, Arab and Asian Countries. These examples of soft power dimension have always been in the dictionary of geopolitics popularized by United States and the irony is that America has been absent in the same geopolitical antics. China and Russia put up a great deal of strategizing endeavours on systematically expanding their geopolitical swath and their ‘sphere of influence’ on governments across the world. Europe is their top priority because it is the industrial and commercial base of Pax Americana. Today, U.S. policymakers should recognize that if the United States does not rise to this occasion , the coronavirus pandemic could mark another “Suez moment”  like the one  in 1956 when United Kingdom  saw its end  in  global supremacy  because of that  ‘intervention’ (misadventure) on  Suez canal

Spectre is Haunting Europe

Europe facing a defining moment in history, the perception  that European Union  has always been at the forefront in crisis situations was this time  missing as the same ideals have taken a massive hit with this pandemic upping the ante on the integrationist fabric of European Union . EU split in the latest Eurozone meeting  was apparent  with the north-south fissures (structural imbalances) looming large as  more political power moving to Brussels in fiscal dimensions  as Berlin needs to recognise that a Europe-financed restoration will come through Germany, the only European country with enough capital to marshal such a restructuring design. . The result would be further erosion in the confidence of European Union as the pandemic has raised fears of a new euro crisis and its waning identity got further deep   as the examples of Spain and Italy unfolded the weakening cooperation and support for these countries when right at the outset European borders were shut.

China, USA and the Structure of New Global Hegemony

China has capitalised on the widening America’s fault-lines, while making many of its strengths temporarily irrelevant. The world’s most powerful military machine is not much use against a virus when American economic and political systems are both reeling. But a lack of universal healthcare coverage is suddenly a threat not just to the poor but to the whole of US society. Paul Krugman, the Nobel Laureate economist and columnist, recently argued that American democracy itself is in peril given state of domestic affairs in the country

China, however, seems resolved on signifying some of the values with which the West has generally been seen: solidarity and cooperation. China’s decision to send medical equipment and staff to Europe to fight the coronavirus was not only an act of esprit de corps, but a geopolitical exercise: the country has been extending a support mechanism to a West that is facing serious problems. This is not mere altruism; it is a rallying for China’s will to play the role of rising hegemon and make the most of on the growing vacuum left by the US. This argument about US decline has in fact, been ringing on for decades.  It could even be the beginning in the end of American primacy with the cries for de-westernisation and de-globalisation getting louder and strong. With the safety and health of their citizens at stake, countries may try to block exports or hold critical supplies, even if doing so hurts their allies and neighbours. Such a retreat from de-territorialisation would make generosity a powerful instrument of influence for states that can afford it. There is an anticipatory risk that is hovering over the US currency losing the world’s confidence but the pattern seems a pointless given the fact hyped alternatives to the dollar still fare worse like the gold, bitcoin having major drawbacks.

Middle East Conflict, Oil Crisis and Viral Suffering

The coronavirus has hit the Middle East and North Africa at a time when the region is already fraught with manifold problems, scarred by a series of prolonged conflicts, sectarian crisis, economic stresses, displacement/suffering and widespread political unrest .There is increasing China-Russia pivot in Eurasia and for that Iran is a conduit for each Eurasian giant’s broader strategic schema in the Middle East. Beijing and Moscow have a unique prospect to reorient both Iran and its regional adversaries towards the China–Russia Eurasian architecture as security architecture of Persian Gulf is now in flux.  With the recent historic OPEC deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia ended the deadlock in price war over fall in petroleum prices and the decrease in demand owing to the lockdown across the world. This event can largely set the stage for new dimensions of events in the Middle East now onwards as we recently saw a symbolic truce gesture by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.   For nations having reliance on oil coupled with the price collapse and the coronavirus pandemic has given rise to the new fears of poverty and geopolitical tensions uncertainty from Iraq to Saudi Arabia.

The  current pandemic can make or break the existing geopolitical and geo-economic order with ‘actors’ vying for the strategic gains over the fleeting state of countries around the world. Whatever power equations would emerge post-coronavirus spectre, one thing is certain world would never be the same.

 Mir Sajad Research Fellow Department of Geography and Regional Development, University of Kashmir


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