Event Summary: US Global Leadership in the Age of Coronavirus
On Thursday, April 23, 2020, the SETA Foundation at Washington, DC hosted a virtual panel of experts to discuss ‘US Global Leadership in the Age of Coronavirus.’ The discussion featured Charles Kupchan, professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and Patrick Cronin, the Asia-Pacific Security Chair at the Hudson Institute. The panel was moderated by Kilic Kanat, Research Director at SETA DC.
The discussion began with Kupchan highlighting the fact that it might be too early to make judgements about the long term impacts of COVID-19. People should exercise caution when jumping to conclusions. He believes that the pandemic will not fundamentally change the global order; this is not a reordering moment. The global distribution of power will largely remain the same in the aftermath of COVID-19, but the world will experience an acceleration of certain trends. He did, however, bring attention to two situations in which he foresees the international system changing. First, Kupchan said that if things get really bad, where social unrest and populism increase and strongman leaders foster domestic repression, the global system could change. But he does not think the world is headed that way. Second, if failing states fail even worse and the virus spreads to states where social distancing is impossible and health care is nonexistent, the global order could shift. When speaking about the role of international institutions, Kupchan insisted that the institutions themselves are no better than the states that they are comprised of, and called for a more flexible grouping of key players that can provide oversight.
Cronin began his comments by demonstrating that this crisis is not in isolation; many factors in the international system have contributed to the changes the world is experiencing. The depth of the economic recession is uncertain, so he wonders how it will affect the geoeconomics of the world. He explained that in order to deal with this open-ended pandemic, it is critical that states increase diplomacy, cooperation, and investigation tactics in order to produce results beneficial to all. It is also important for the US to take a serious look at its healthcare policy and future crisis management. While the US is finally reaching out to Southeast Asia to provide assistance, the US is not mobilizing the world. The US is preoccupied with its competition with China, and Cronin believes that this competition will grow in the short term. The fact that China is acting up in the South China Sea and across the Indopacific shows that they are not backing down amid the pandemic. He calls this competition “total competition” as it is bringing together all resources short of war. China seeks to create a more Sino-centric world and exploit the pandemic in line with its own agenda.