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The World After the Coronavirus (Foreign Policy)

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BRIAN STAUFFER ILLUSTRATION FOR FOREIGN POLICY Jan 2, 2021

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As the pandemic enters a new phase, we asked 12 leading global thinkers to predict what happens in 2021 and beyond.

One year after COVID-19 began its relentless spread across the world, the contours of a global order reshaped by the pandemic are starting to emerge. Just as the virus has shattered lives, disrupted economies, and changed election outcomes, it will lead to permanent political and economic power shifts both within and among countries. To help us make sense of these shifts as the crisis enters a new phase in 2021, Foreign Policy asked 12 leading thinkers from around the world to weigh in with their predictions for the global order after the pandemic.

A Time for Leadership

by John Allen, the president of the Brookings Institution

Few, if any, true winners will emerge from this global health crisis—not because the disease was beyond our control but because most countries failed to exert the leadership and societal self-discipline necessary to bring it under control until vaccines became available.

COVID-19 has fast become one of the ultimate stressors on our already fragile international system, exposing vulnerabilities, magnifying weaknesses, and exacerbating long-festering issues. At the most basic level, this difficult moment has highlighted just how ill-equipped our global health systems are, forcing many countries to make devastating ethical decisions to determine who among their citizenry is most deserving to receive medical care. Furthermore, rather than build a renewed global coalition to fight this awful disease, many countries have instead relied on isolationist policies. This has resulted in piecemeal, ineffectual responses as cases once again spike wildly all over the world, the United States being one of the worst examples.

In truth, COVID-19 represents a complex series of interconnected transnational problems that demand leader-driven, multilateral solutions. To address issues such as systemic racism, climate change, and the need for a global economic recovery, it is truly imperative that we seek to strengthen, not weaken, our shared international order. While science will ultimately save us, there is no hope for coordinated action against the disease—and for our ultimate recovery—without leadership.

The Seeds of Revolution

by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the CEO of New America

The pandemic has demonstrated conclusively that the U.S. government is not an indispensable player in global affairs. The outgoing Trump administration pulled the United States out of the World Health Organization (WHO), refused to join the 172-nation COVAX partnership to ensure equitable global access to a vaccine, and abdicated responsibility for addressing the pandemic at home to U.S. states and cities. Americans are paying the price—but the rest of the world has moved on.

It is U.S. philanthropic and civic organizations, companies, and universities that are indispensable. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helped organize Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, both key partners to the European Union and WHO in pandemic-fighting efforts such as COVAX. U.S. pharmaceutical companies are critical to developing, manufacturing, and distributing a vaccine—with or without U.S. government help—even as European companies are also making fast progress. U.S. scientists, doctors, and epidemiologists play vital roles in global networks by sharing information about the virus as well as successful strategies for prevention and treatment.

The biggest surprise of the pandemic is the dramatic national and global decoupling of the economy of the rich from the economy of everyone else. COVID-19 has caused more than a million deaths worldwide and created an economic disaster for wage earners and small businesses. Yet financial markets show little damage—on the contrary, asset values are reaching ever loftier heights. Gaps like that sow the seeds of revolution.

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