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Reform of global governance has no quick solutions

Author  :  BAI LE     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2021-10-06

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly challenged global governance. What is important in the short term, scholars observed, is to fight against certain countries’ changes in the rules of the game to serve their own interests only. In the long term, however, there are no quick solutions.

Crisis of global governance

Tullo Vigevani, a professor of political science and international relations from São Paulo State University in Brazil, said that the pandemic has highlighted international tensions in public health. The COVID-19 crisis also puts on stage many issues of serious international friction. What it strongly highlighted was the asymmetry in relations between countries. The amount of vaccines available to rich countries is much greater than that available to poor countries.

“If this is not quickly corrected, it will have consequences in many global sectors, such as problems for the productive structures in general, and even food crisis,” Vigevani noted.

“Across the globe there have been certain degrees of populism, nationalism, and vaccine-nationalism,” said Michael Braddick, a professor from the Department of History at the University of Sheffield. Some forms of violence have also increased—non-state violence by those opposed to the global order, or excluded from it; and violence within multi-national states.

Marcos Cordeiro Pires, a professor of international political economy at São Paulo State University, noted that the pandemic accelerated some processes that have formed since the 2008 financial crisis. Moreover, trade protectionism, nationalism, and widespread discontent in the West with growing unemployment and social inequality have increased.

“The post-crisis period showed the US hegemony’s weakness, the fragility on which the Euro is based, and, above all, China’s role as the ‘second engine’ of the world economy,” Pires continued. To him, these trends were strengthened by the pandemic, as it highlighted the centrality of China in global supply chains and, on the other hand, the intensification of Washington’s actions in trying to contain its growing influence on trade, production, cutting-edge technologies, and global finance.

Adjustment and reform needed

As the pandemic crisis exposed the structural weaknesses of the international system that do not work well, values and rules of international regimes need to be reformulated. In addition, the pattern of power and distribution of interests under the framework of international orders now face the difficult problem of being rearranged and optimized.

In this sense, shades of heavy haze brought by the pandemic create opportunities to reform the international system.

According to Braddick, in Europe there is now much greater awareness of the need for rapid change in international governance. There is also an awareness of the need for greater international coordination and cooperation more generally.

Pires argued that the global governance model created after World War II no longer reflects developing countries’ growing political and economic weight.

“It is necessary to give more voice to developing countries, give greater credibility and more resources,” Pires said.

As Pires further pointed out, the control of the United States and Western Europe over private banks, the IMF, and the World Bank makes these institutions and their imposition of political and economic conditionalities an obstacle to developing and improving the standard of living of the poorest countries. This ends up curbing world economic potential and bequeathing slow growth, and concentration of wealth.

“When the known international rules do not serve the interests of some countries with a lot of power in the international system, these countries search for abandoning the rules, such as fair competition,” Vigevani noted. An example is that there was persistent criticism by US agencies of the WTO and its rules and the search for new institutions—such institutions as the OECD were encouraged to take over the regulation of the international economy. According to US agencies, the WTO should be reformed or replaced by “better” institutions. However, history has proved that the interest of some countries to impose their own will in the long run would fail, Vigevani argued.

Role of international organizations

At the crossroads of transforming the current international system, international organizations are pinned to great hopes, expected to become an important force in addressing the global governance crisis.

But to Vigevani, all international organizations have limited capacity for action. “The concept of national sovereignty is the theoretical starting point of, and presides over, international relations. The foundation of the League of Nations in 1920, and the creation of the United Nations in 1945, does not elevate the power of international organizations above the sovereignty of states.”

This is particularly true when some states search for geo-political instrumentalization, with the result of weak international organizations’ activities, Vigevani added.

Pires expressed similar ideas. As he mentioned, developed countries have a heavyweight power in the WHO, but they are unwilling to work in coordination under the institution’s guidance. We are currently seeing this problem with the lack of medical supplies and vaccines for the poorest countries, as, instead of resolving a global problem equitably, the rich countries opted for nationalistic selfishness. In view of this, the WHO’s reform is necessary.

“Prosperity periods overshadow structural problems that only emerge in times of crisis. In these moments, each country or social class tries to seek selfish solutions for themselves that only make the situation worse,” Pires summarized with strong concern.

Editor: Yu Hui

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