Stephen M. Walt, professor of international relations at the Harvard Kennedy School
As expected, COVID-19 has accelerated the shift in power from West to East and put further limits on globalization, leading to a world less open and prosperous. But the pandemic has not ended traditional geopolitics or national rivalries, nor did it usher in a new era of global cooperation.
Populists have lost ground and autocrats are under greater pressure after mishandling the pandemic.
While China is recovering, the United States and much of Europe face further waves of infections, largely because leaders failed to respond promptly and effectively. This pattern does not vindicate authoritarian rule, as Beijing and its admirers would have us believe. Democratic Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan all performed well, while Russia, Iran, and many other dictatorships faltered.
Globalization is in reverse, and international cooperation to defeat the pandemic has been halfhearted at best. The pandemic did not prevent new clashes between India and China, and it did not bring the bloodletting in Syria or Yemen to a close. The rivalry between the United States and China continues to intensify.
The good news? Widespread worries—including my own—that authoritarians, populists, and would-be autocrats would use the emergency to consolidate power have not been borne out. Populists have lost ground in Austria, Britain, and Germany; Poland’s Law and Justice party is facing new opposition; and autocrats such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban are under greater pressure after mishandling the pandemic. Most important of all: The über-populist Donald Trump is now a one-term president.
That, too, is a reason for hope. With resolution, face masks, and the rollout of vaccines, we will get through this.