What did not happen by the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union will definitely happen after the end of the war on the coronavirus pandemic.
But it is going to be a long war, of many months to come.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of 1992, there was this impression that the world had entered a new era which had nothing to do with the preceding period that had extended from the Yalta Conference in 1945 to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The United States won the Cold War, but it wasn’t a decisive victory, as it became clear that other powers would emerge and exert influence in parts of the world.
Indeed, East European countries joined the European Union one by one, but the United States could not have full control of the fate of the world for long.
In Russia, the star of Vladimir Putin, who still dreams of restoring the former glory of the ex-Soviet Union and its global role, was on the rise.
If truth must be told, the new Russian “Tsar” has succeeded, in part, in demonstrating that Russia is still a military power to be reckoned with. He went ahead and recaptured Crimea, which is of strategic importance to the Russian fleet, from Ukraine. In fact, Crimea was originally Russian land that former Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev had abandoned to Ukraine. At the time, it did not matter if the Crimea was Ukrainian as long as Ukraine was a republic of the Soviet Union.
Next you have China, which has transformed into the second-largest economy in the world and which now has its own international strategy, especially after its regime succeeded in suppressing the popular uprising that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union. The whole world still remembers the tragic events of Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.
The repressive machine of the Chinese regime was able to quell the massive revolt when the Chinese wanted to emulate the East Germans who have had enough of the wall of shame that had divided Berlin for a long time.
In the post-coronavirus era, there will be a new world order based on the idea that every country in the world, including the United States, is going to be interested in one thing only: taking care of its healthcare system. The coronavirus pandemic took the world by surprise and spread dramatically, especially in Europe and the United States. So, each country will have to adjust to and prepare for the possibility of new epidemics.
Europe has discovered that it cannot be a truly unified entity. Italy found out at its expense that it cannot rely on the European Union in times of crisis. Its healthcare system was simply and suddenly overrun by the consequences of a health catastrophe never envisioned before and so were the public healthcare systems in Spain and France. There is no doubt that the state of political chaos in Italy during the past few years has played a role in bringing down the country’s health system to where it is now. Italy used to enjoy some political stability with well-established political parties competing for power; but now, with the emergence of extreme right-wing and secessionist parties with no clear political or economic agendas to offer, the Italians have become polarised by political amateurs.
Furthermore, the chaos in Italy was happening while the European Union itself was living under the shadow of internal conflicts due to several reasons. Among those reasons is the expansion of the Union to include poor countries with fragile economies, on the one hand, and Britain’s exit, on the other. Britain had played a role in sabotaging the European Union from the inside by first agreeing to expand the Union, thinking that would undermine the growing influence of the German-French duo, and then suddenly deciding to leave it in largely mysterious circumstances. The reasons given for Brexit are still unconvincing.
In any case, relations between members of the Union are bound to change towards more independence for the EU’s members. What is almost certain is that there will be no new steps towards more integration between the countries of the European Union. The dream of a unified, united Europe is now much farther away than expected. The United States will remain the largest and most developed economy in the world but many questions still persist about its ability to face new challenges. It has simply turned out that even this unique global superpower is unable to confront the coronavirus pandemic. Even worse, the virus can quickly paralyse a good portion of its military might.
American scientists have been able to decipher the mysteries of human genes, make great leaps in medical sciences and be at the forefront of artificial intelligence — until the coronavirus outbreak. The whole world has found itself back at square one. Now, it is time to take stock of what has been achieved on a global level so far and start working to beat the pandemic.
So, what kind of world order will we see after defeating the pandemic? What is certain is that there will be no place in this order for regimes such as the one in Iran. The coronavirus has ravaged the country but its leaders are still convinced that they can control the fate of the entire region. Their evidence is a vague theory of providential protection but their tool is sectarian militias in need of continuous funding.
It is also certain that many values are going to change. Each country, small and large alike, will have to take care of its internal security, social discipline and matters related to its healthcare system. But, most important of all, the average person on this globe has learnt the value of life. People are going to rediscover the importance of life and its fragility in the face of a disaster such as the coronavirus pandemic. The United States was able to land a person on the moon and send a probe to Mars, but it finds itself powerless in the face of COVID-19. If he wants to ensure his re-election, US President Donald Trump has no choice but to address his fellow citizens on a daily basis and reassure them of his leadership in the war on the virus.
Yes, the concerns of Americans have changed to the point that the battle for the US presidency has become intimately linked to the battle against the virus and not to the economy or to politics or to relations with other countries. How is that for evidence that the coronavirus pandemic is going to give birth to a new world order?
Khairallah Khairallah is a Lebanese writer.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.