With the United States no longer funding the World Health Organisation, looking at how 2020 is changing the world power dynamics
The current Covid-19 pandemic has been truly “global” and adversely affected every country in the world. Its continuing longevity and profound effect has destabilized the world and shook the power dynamics of the emerging multilateral world we have seen in the last few decades. A possible trend in the post-Covid-19 world is the vacuum in global leadership and the inefficiencies of international institutions. It has brought attention to the various issues underlying this multilateral world and exposed problems in global governance and institutions. The institutions, like the United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO), which were created post-World War II, aimed to ensure peace and stability, are currently highly politicised. Lack of timely response by these organizations has eroded their importance at solving issues of the real world.
“The US-led world order propagated capitalism, collective defence, trade legalisation, and democracy as ways to uphold its ideals and norms”
The United States has been the world’s leading superpower, or rather, the world’s hegemon, since the last century. This is because of the glorious victory of the allied block in the Second World War and later, due to the US defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Moreover, its unmatched economic and military capacity, supposedly developed society, along with the support of its western allies has helped to cement this position. The US-led world order propagated capitalism, collective defence, trade legalisation, and democracy as ways to uphold its ideals and norms. Its allies would grant the US access to their countries’ resources and support in international institutions and the US provided them with funding and security. They were critical in upholding such a system through material and ideological support, which favoured American supremacy. However, the Trump administration has time and again questioned these alliances and viewed them as unnecessary burdens.
“The US’s response to Covid-19 has put major doubts on its capability of handling a crisis and brought devastation to human lives and the economy”
At the beginning of the pandemic, the US tried to hold on to its position in the world order. Moreover, rightly so, a collective response along with its allies would have been the standard response. However, the pandemic threw the country into a frenzy where it was unable to lead or care for its citizens, forcing it to look inwards, and threaten allies for medical supplies. The US’s response to Covid-19 has put major doubts on its capability of handling a crisis and brought devastation to human lives and the economy. Another big blow came from the Trump administration withdrawing from the World Health Organization, an international institution that depended on the US for $893 million in funds in the two-year budget cycle 2018 and 2019, that’s nearly 15 percent of its budget. The pandemic has shown how dependent international institutions were on their de facto leader, the United States. In addition, the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw troops from Germany could affect the US’s ability to operate in the Middle East and Africa, while handing over a strategic advantage to Russia. This leads us into a time when the international community is going through one of its biggest vacuums in global leadership.
“The termination of the United States’ relationship with the WHO is a complete disaster for public health research and life-saving work administered by the WHO in treating Ebola, HIV, and polio in many poor and low-income nations, where the US public health researchers and policymakers are a huge guiding force.”
The termination of the United States’ relationship with the WHO is a complete disaster for public health research and life-saving work administered by the WHO in treating Ebola, HIV, and polio in many poor and low-income nations, where the US public health researchers and policymakers are a huge guiding force. International institutions like the WTO and the United Nations were established to ease the response to global threats, and they are global resources, which the world cannot do without. These institutions have in the past, aimed to act as an agency working for the greater good, to provide scientific information, peace, and assistance to both, developed and underdeveloped nations. Most importantly, being accountable to all countries. Hence, in such uncertain times, the US could have aided the world, rather than divide it.
What withdrawing financial support amid a global pandemic showcases is a lack of global understanding by the United States and gives way to a possible domino effect leading to the crumbling of international institutions. Losing financial and organizational backing from the world’s leading superpower puts doubt on their acceptance, applicability, and importance by many of United States allies in the post Covid world. Imre Hollo, director of strategic planning for the WHO, said it is already hampering their financial plans and budget for 2021 and might cause many employee cuts.This move by the US could make these institutions obsolete. It has only led the international community to believe that the United States is no longer upholding the world order and can not be relied upon. It could force allies to doubt collective action measures and the possibility of a collective response to the pandemic.
“This power vacuum might have an upside: it brings the possibility of a world order which is much more decentralized than being controlled by a hegemon. This cooperation can be different from the previous one, which only benefitted a few elite nations.”
This power vacuum might have an upside: it brings the possibility of a world order which is much more decentralized than being controlled by a hegemon. This cooperation can be different from the previous one, which only benefitted a few elite nations. It could lead to a world order containing groups of nations, which support ideals of global governance, progress, and issues that the United States and its allies have failed to act upon. Such groups could still support multilateralism and harness its benefits in the globalised world. They need not pursue the norms of capitalism, trade liberalization, or collective security guided by the Western World, rather, propagate a new set of norms and ideals.
The economic boom and the rise of emerging powers like Japan, Australia, South Korea, India, and Brazil in the last few decades have made their presence felt in the post Covid-19 international order. These states have the capacity and ability to influence global leaders. They have already begun safeguarding and assisting their neighbourhood nations to leverage support and reduce dependence on either the US or China. Hence, partnerships between these states could restructure ideals and guide material resources and capacity. These partnerships could be more productive since a collective approach encourages states to leverage capacities by providing information, collaboration, and medical expertise.
“the lack of responsibility by the United States has thrown major doubts on its ability to expand its power, while the collapse of its hegemony seems inevitable.”
At present, the world is going through one of its biggest economic and health crises and such unprecedented circumstances make it impossible to correctly shape the post-Covid-19 world order. At the centre of all this, is the manner in which the WHO handled the Covid-19 pandemic. Their failure to make responsible decisions and timely action in declaring it a pandemic made it impossible for nations to be prepared for the wreckage which was soon to come. This has resulted in a lack of trust forcing them to reduce their reliance on such organisations. In addition, the lack of responsibility by the United States has thrown major doubts on its ability to expand its power, while the collapse of its hegemony seems inevitable. This brings to question the validity and use of international institutions, which rely heavily on the US for funding, along with their existence.
The tragic termination of the United States’ relationship with the WHO affects its very existence in the post-Covid-19 world. This vacuum in global leadership allows for the rise of middle powers as groups that can benefit from collective action and shared interests. Thus, the upcoming world order hangs in the future, but cannot be fathomed without factoring in the role and power these middle powers will hold in the upcoming decade.
Kavya has recently started working as a management consultant after completing her Economics Honors degree from Christ University, Bangalore.
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