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A brief analysis on Global South’s paradigms: Global Governance Case

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From scheduled jet airline services to millions of bookings simultaneously around the world, experiencing foreign exchange turnover $3,500 billion in a daily basis, a broadcast of CNN reaching 260 million households within a second, on the other hand, several airplane crashes or computer viruses which are designed by an individual who knocks off a bank account at the diametrically opposite geography in the world…

These facts are being considered as a daily routine for most communities without interrogating the insight of these facts, however, a combination of forenamed practices also poses a challenge for our reality and our perception on reality: namely globalization. To describe the phenomenon, liberalists argue that its main focus is the economic interconnectedness of actors while political realists put forward inter-state activities in terms of core-periphery relations. Nevertheless, the mutual opinion which they agree on is that intensification of supra-territoriality in the 21st-century world affairs and the decline in statism promoted the notion of global governance which emphasizes polycentric governance notion. Since the consensus has been reached by many scholars, accessing a coherent basis for operational polycentric global governance and actors of the concept have become prominent variables. From this perspective, understanding Global South is the key component to launch a more inclusionary and functioning system.

In the contemporary world, it is a fact that multinational actors and NGOs have an ability to act beyond the defined borders. For instance, agencies who are heads of global financial and communicational companies like Shell and General Motors or non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International have the capacity to lobbying and involving decision-making mechanisms, shaping future global agenda on various topics from ecological preservation to transcontinental agreements. Equivalent practices are recognized as the primary characteristics of globalization also known as the post-Westphalian state model. Before the post-Westphalian understanding, the majority of states were functioning as Scholte argued “Westphalian sovereignty held that each state would exercise supreme, comprehensive, unqualified and exclusive rule over its territorial jurisdiction” (2005, p.188). This notion of centralised and incontestable state authority dominated world affairs for almost four hundred years, however, as a result of a decline in statism, the state has transformed itself into a polycentric and more transparent model that authority has become a questionable concept by states’ “citizens”. More significantly, the state authority has recognized its society as rulers, not the subjects to be ruled. In this sense, states are expected to adopt and internalize some patterns such as an efficient social welfare system, avoiding unnecessary armed conflicts or defend its domestic interest by collaborating through foreign investors. Thus, obsolescence of statism has been proposed as a new outlook which paved the way for polycentric global governance driven by reconstructed intrastate relations and capable agencies in the system.

Apart from all these progress, there is Global South where the historical development of state-state and citizen-state relations are fairly dissimilar in comparison with the Global North case which limits Global South’s contribution to the global governance. To specify most diversified inspirations on global governance, nation-building myth can be elaborated. It is assumed that the idea of nation is standardized by a common language, law, religion and territory. Furthermore, discussion maintains as such “Longevity, effectiveness, and successful mythmaking are essential ingredients of the state legitimacy formula” (ed. Aydinli & Rosenau, 2005). From this viewpoint, industrialized countries in Global North, namely in Europe and North America, have had the stage and considerable material and intellectual capability to accomplish communal nexus and to form collective myths which ended up with the foundation of the EU, NATO and suchlike bodies which substantially contribute to global governance at the moment. However, most of the countries in Global South, particularly the Third World countries, are far beyond reaching such an integrity with their neighbors since the Third World emancipation has been started in mid-18th century up to mid-20th century. According to Scholte, “National identities in the South developed largely through opposition to colonial rule” (2005, p.132). It can be deducted from the argument, there is no wonder that components and historical developments of the post-Westphalian state structure sound unacquainted advancements to communities in Global South which have established their national identities against the predecessors of post-Westphalian argument. In fact, as Scholte argues, “polycentrism both captures the multi-sited character of current governance and invites an exploration of the interplay between sites” (2005, p. 187). Nevertheless, within this North-South framework, approaches to the global governance do not highlight inclusive skeletons of the notion and support the polycentrism idea which ensures practical basis on the topic since interplay between states are mainly based on one-sided view and the social cognitions are immensely dissimilar.

Secondly, another core element of the global governance is a civil society that assists to exceed the polycentric point of view by the masses whose constitutional rights and liberties are not evaluated as low politics any longer thanks to the changing state dynamics. At this point, Scholte argues that “The shift from statism to polycentrism has prompted changes in the object of civil society activity away from the state alone to a multi-scalar and diffuse governance apparatus” (2005, p. 186). Within this context, civil society is principally organized around NGOs and empowering them to act on the legitimate basis in order to monitor events at the UN or the WTO; also lobbying to remark various concerns as well as proposals. Yet, the participation of Global North to civil society activities are much influential than Global South because the state transformation of the Third World has not been experienced comprehensively. Since colonial ties of Global South were not broken off until the mid-20th century, the state reconstruction process building upon social evolutions of communities has not taken place in most Global South countries. Scholte mentions that “National-territorial constituencies remain very important, but raison d’état has become more than raison de la nation” (2005, p. 194). The situation is a meaningful fact for societies in Global North but not for authoritarian regimes of Global South which control and intentionally restricts its citizens’ participation to civil initiatives. In other words, the polycentric outlook in the global governance which apprehends the compact interaction between states, actors and agencies has to concentrate on civil society of Global South and critically approach to understand the limited dynamics towards the concepts.

In light of the aforementioned explanations, it can be claimed that globalization has broadened our outlooks both on the world affairs and societal relations. This domain also revitalizes academic dialogues taking a shape around how to explain and expand the global governance idea in a more effective and functional way. Accordingly, if the global governance is analyzed to offer polycentric and inclusionary solutions addressing world-wide difficulties or, at least, catalyzes the delicate issues, understanding characteristics of actors and making an effort for their ongoing emancipation on nation building phenomenon and civil society case play a crucial role. Therefore, Global South constitutes a key paradigm for the better global governance.

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“Kyoto-2”: The lame duck of Western European climate diplomacy

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Lessons learned from the international climate process

For many years, the problem of global climate change – one of the most serious environmental threats of our time – has been making international headlines and has been the subject of high-level political negotiations.

A new milestone will soon appear on the thorny path of the international climate process: the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) comes into force on December 31, 2020. This document extends the period of the Kyoto Protocol for 2013-2020 (hence its informal name – “Kyoto-2”), and contains a whole set of amendments to the Kyoto regime, including updated quantitative indicators of greenhouse gas emission cuts for a group of developed countries.

Climate activists are likely to mark this “historic” stage in the battle against global warming with new marches, and the leaders of many countries – to renew their calls to “raise the level of ambition” in the name of averting a global climate collapse.

What doesn’t immediately meet the eye here, however, is why “Kyoto-2” is coming into force at the very close of its second commitment period (2013-2020).

Let’s take a look at the real – not retouched – picture of the events of the lengthy negotiating process going under the auspices of the UNFCCC. However, if we take a look at what is going on “behind the scenes,” many things will clear up.  

The first attempt to find the key to solving the problem of global warming was made by the UN member states in the early 1990s, by adopting the abovementioned Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. The general atmosphere of enthusiasm, inspired by the proposed concept of sustainable development, made it possible to come up with the world’s first-ever climate treaty that took a mere 15 months to agree on.

The long and arduous negotiations that followed – from the development of the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC (1997) to the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement (2015) – resulted in a series of major successes and very painful failures: the chaotic work of the Hague Conference (2000), which led to a six-month suspension of all activities; the jubilation over the outcome of the Marrakesh meeting (2001), which finalized the agreement on the entire set of rules for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol; the euphoria in Montreal (2005) following the launch of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and the decision to start negotiations on the second period, the collapse of the Copenhagen Conference (2009); the adoption of the Durban Platform for Action (2011), which inspired hope for a positive outcome of the talks on the new climate regime, and the cynical disregard for procedural rules and UN principles displayed during the Doha Conference (2012), which called into question the legitimacy of its decisions, and sealed the fate of “Kyoto-2.”

What has over the years been happening at the UNFCCC negotiation platform, reminds one of the topsy-turvy world of Lewis Carroll’s timeless Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The situation was further complicated by the West European countries’ essentially dual climate diplomacy purported to spearhead the international campaign to save the Earth’s climate. From the outside, it looks like a sincere desire to find a speedy solution to an acute environmental problem, which, however, hides a clear temptation to use pro-environment rhetoric to achieve economic advantages by changing the global energy balance that would rule out any multivariate national energy strategies, and, secondly, to redirect international cash flows, all the way to limiting investments in projects related to fossil energy sources.

Moreover, we have very often seen far from perfect methods being used to achieve these goals. Some people, for sure, would prefer not to make public little-known examples of this so as not to sally the reputation of the West’s environmental diplomacy. There are multiple examples of this that have piled up over the entire period of negotiations.

The 2000 session was traditionally presided over by a representative of the host country – then the Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment of the Netherlands, Jan Pronk. His thinly-veiled political bias, unwillingness to listen to partners and, in particular, his arrogantly demonstrative refusal to give the floor to the Russian representative at one time forced the Russian delegation to temporarily leave the conference room in protest. The Russian delegation eventually managed to fulfill its tasks during that session. However, the chairman’s arrogant behavior had a very deplorable effect on the overall results of the conference, which failed to achieve a balanced solution and take into account the interests of all participating countries and thus led to its suspension for a period of six months.

It was in The Hague that the EU’s “green aggressiveness,” which reflected so badly on the future of the Kyoto Protocol, was manifested so clearly. Due to the intransigence demonstrated during the conference by the German and French environment ministers, Jurgen Trittin and Dominique Voynet, both representatives of their governments’ “Green” political wing, the European Union blocked the adoption of a US proposal to ensure greater flexibility in the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol by taking into account the potential of the land use sector in absorbing greenhouse emissions.

The participants were stunned by this short-sightedness, as the United States was then the world’s biggest polluter, accounting for about 17 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. It was the conference in The Hague that precipitated America’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. And with the United States out, the coverage of total global emissions in the Kyoto Protocol’s initial commitment period dropped from 47 percent to 30 percent.

Examples of the European Union’s “odd” attitude continued, During the 2001 meeting in Marrakesh, the participants worked well into the night in consultations initiated by British Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett, who was trying to convince the Russian delegation that the proposed threshold for the allowable offset of the use of the absorptive capacity of forests in fulfilling the obligations under the KP, which differed by just a few units from the earlier agreed indicator for Japan, was a “good deal.” But the truth was that in 2002, the area of ​​forested territories in Japan was about 25 million hectares, compared to 621 million hectares in Russia – almost 25 times more! Margaret Beckett still believed that we should agree on numbers that were virtually similar to the Japanese.

This begs a simple question: “Are you serious? What about math and logic?

Throughout the negotiation period, Western European representatives have never tired of calling – and keep calling now for “raising the level of ambition.” But here, too, we see a clear split of the European Union’s climate consciousness.

In 2005, Belarus expressed a desire to join the club of countries committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, and thereby, to increase, though modestly, the Kyoto Protocol’s coverage of global emissions. The participating nations approved changes to the Protocol, making it incumbent on Belarus to reduce its emissions by eight percent. And still, the European Union refused to ratify this. If this is not a case of double standards, then what is?

Therefore, the crushing fiasco of the 2009 Copenhagen Conference came as no surprise at all.

Everything that could have been done wrong, Denmark did as chairman of the conference, starting with the decision to force the members of official delegations to stand in a tens, if not hundreds of meters-long line for security checks along with numerous observers (representatives of NGOs, the business community, and journalists), resulting in the negotiators being an hour or more late to the consultations room, and ending with a complete confusion during the closing stage of the high-profile event.

And this at a time when the heads of state and government of 119 countries had gathered in Copenhagen to adopt a fundamentally new document to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which would give a start to the implementation of a strategy of truly collective climate efforts, which included commitments not only for developed, but also for developing countries.

The stakes were high and political tensions were going through roof. On the night before the closing day of the conference, the heads of a number of states and governments representing major groups of countries, including  Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, joined in the talks. It seemed that after a series of exhausting informal discussions, a compromise was finally at hand. But!.. Without waiting for the final official meeting of the conference,  French President Nicolas Sarkozy left the meeting early in the morning and lost no time telling journalists before entering his plane that “the deal has been reached.” The morning papers came out with splashy headlines and triumphant reports about a “historic climate breakthrough.” Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen, who had presided over the conference, was equally in a rush to submit the final document titled “Copenhagen Agreement” for adoption by the conference, without bothering to first hold formal consultations with all its participants.

Many leaders, who had not taken part in the overnight meeting, felt themselves insulted, with Hugo Chavez mincing no words when expressing his indignation. “They are trying to slip something through the crack under the door!” he fumed. The emotional discussion about the violation of the basic UN principles and the lack of transparency continued for a whole 13 hours.  Neither Rasmussen nor UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was able to save the situation. As a result, the Copenhagen Agreement was never signed,  blocked by representatives of a number of developing countries, led by Venezuela.

The fiasco in Copenhagen cost the participants another six years of negotiations, started virtually from scratch, until the Paris Agreement was finally inked in 2015. A whole six years of practical work to tackle the climate problem had thus been wasted.

The events of the Doha Conference (2012) top the list of anti-records in environmental diplomacy when, amid heated discussions of the configuration of “Kyoto-2,” where basic national interests were at stake, the Europeans at the very last moment and without proper coordination with all participating countries added a provision that actually emasculated the so-called emission quotas saved by non-EU countries with transitional economies (Russia, Belarus, Ukraine). This automatically increased by almost three times (!) the burden of obligations for these countries and undermined the integrity of the regime of compliance with the Kyoto Protocol within its first and second periods.

Responding to the request of the Qatari presidency, and trying to rectify the clearly abnormal situation without putting at risk the constructive conclusion of the conference, Russia Belarus and Ukraine came up with a compromise option. Based on the results of urgent informal consultations presided over by the conference chair Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers of the State of Qatar, the participants worked out an algorithm for their further action, whereby the chairman would submit the Russian-Belarusian-Ukrainian proposal for formal consideration by a plenary session.

And … the chairman did not keep his word.

Almost immediately after opening the final plenary session, he, without raising his head or looking into the hall, proceeded to approve the draft Doha Amendment in its original form. The question on the order of the session, raised by the Russian delegation, was demonstrably ignored, which in itself is a gross violation of the rules of procedure of the UNFCCC, and the package of final documents was allegedly approved by a consensual decision. Nonsense!

But this is not the end of the story! What makes the whole thing even more outrageous, all this did not happen spontaneously, but had apparently been planned in advance – something Norway’s environmental minister Bård Vegar Solhjell, one of the two ministers appointed to head the process of unofficial ministerial consultations, unashamedly admitted later in an article, titled “This is how Kyoto-2 came about.” Here are some quotes from that article in an unofficial translation from Norwegian,  published in the online version of Aftenposten newspaper on December 11, 2012: “Bomb … Russia refuses to surrender … In a brief discussion in the corner, someone says:’ We can do this just like we did in Cancun.’ What does it mean? To put forward a proposal [the draft of the entire final document] and ignore the protests that we know will come from Russia …”

“Backstage” diplomacy”…  Compared to this, the “highly likely”-style tricks that the Western Europeans are playing today are no longer surprising.

Our response was honest, open and legally substantiated. In June 2013, during a session of the subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC, Russia, with the active support of the Belarusian and Ukrainian delegations, proposed adding to the agenda of the Conference of the Parties a new item – “Decision-making within the UNFCCC process” to serve as a barrier to manipulation and violation of the generally recognized legal norms and UN principles. Do you think the European Union supported us? No, for the most part it kept silent.

It took us two weeks of grueling procedural discussions to achieve this goal, but it was worth the effort. The inclusion of this item on the agenda of the UNFCCC governing body was an important contribution to the prevention of legal and political nihilism within the international climate process.

But what was the outcome of “Kyoto-2” accord? Well, just like the popular Russian saying goes, “What you reap is what you sow”…

The natural reaction from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine to the gross disregard for the UN procedures and principles at the Doha conference resulted in their refusal to ratify the Doha Amendment (as for Russia, long before Doha, we officially announced that we were not going to assume obligations under “Kyoto-2,” due to its extremely limited value for easing anthropogenic pressure on the climate). New Zealand and Japan refused to commit themselves to reducing emissions in the framework of “Kyoto-2.” Such major emitters of greenhouse gases as the United States and Canada remain outside the Kyoto regime. As a result, compared to the first period of the Kyoto Protocol, the coverage of global emissions fell by another four times – from 30 percent to 7.6 percent. Is it possible to use it as an instrument of tackling the problem of global climate change?

Most notably, after Doha, the European Union refused to ratify the Doha Amendment for a whole five years, apparently reflecting on its position as the only major player bound to cut emissions in keeping with “Kyoto-2,” and even to provide financial assistance for climate goals to developing countries.

In fact, “Kyoto-2” only put off for a whole eight years the implementation of collective international legal measures to solve the problem of climate change. It will fade into oblivion after briefly appearing to the world in the guise of a full-fledged document: it officially takes effect on December 31, 2020, only to expire that very same day. What a sad and ironic coincidence!

Now all hopes are pinned on the Paris Agreement. However, the international community should learn serious lessons from the almost 30-year history of the climate process, from all its twists and turns and “crooked mirror” diplomacy, so that further efforts to combat global climate change are truly comprehensive, balanced, rest on a solid foundation of laws and the basic principles of the UN, thus making a genuine, not fictitious, contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If this is not done, then the Paris Climate Agreement, which took years of painstaking diplomatic effort to come by, may repeat the sad fate of “Kyoto-2.”

From our partner International Affairs

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India-made Covid vaccines open a new chapter in New Delhi’s continuing medical diplomacy

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Ever since the pandemic began, India’s goodwill has significantly improved among its neighbours in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, as New Delhi continues to expand its soft power with timely delivery of needy drugs, as seen in last year, and vaccines, this year.

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Continuing its long-standing legacy as first responder to crises in the region, India reached out to most of its neighbours even before the World Health Organisation and the Covax initiative of GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization).

While China too promised supplies to South Asian nations, only India delivered it so far. Perhaps, the only exception to this would be Islamabad, which has neither requested nor discussed the delivery of India-made Covid vaccines.

India’s vaccines

The beginning of 2021 saw India’s drugs regulator granting emergency use approval for two domestically-made vaccines.

One is Covishield, manufactured by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, the largest vaccine producer in the world, and the other is Covaxin, manufactured by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech. The former is made in partnership with AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, and the latter entirely indigenous.

Government of India has procured hundreds of millions of vaccine doses at reduced prices offered by these two domestic companies. More domestic manufacturers are awaiting approval for their respective in the coming months. Currently, at this stage, India also has four vaccines in active clinical trials and fifteen vaccines in the pre-clinical stages, as well.

Adding a new dimension to ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy

For about seven years now, one of the key tenets of the Modi government’s foreign policy has been ‘Neighbourhood First’, as a means to improve cooperation with partner countries in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. The pandemic opened up new prospects to this highly-held policy.

Even though India has its own big challenges such as the task lying ahead to inoculate a billion-plus population in phases, as it began the world’s largest inoculation drive for Covid-19 on January 16, with the first phase targeting 30 million frontline and healthcare workers.

Notwithstanding the domestic challenges, three days after the beginning of inoculation drive, Indian government announced its decision to dispatch vaccines to countries in its neighbourhood such as Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Seychelles, which began the very next day after the announcement, mostly as gifts and grant assistance, free of cost, and some on a commercial basis.

Just four days after India began its inoculation drive, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan became the first country in South Asia to receive India-made Covishield vaccines, followed by the Indian Ocean island state of Maldives on the same day.

As gift and grant assistance, India supplied “150,000 doses of vaccines to Bhutan, 100,000 doses to Maldives, one million doses to Nepal, two million doses to Bangladesh, 1.5 million doses to Myanmar,  100,000 to Mauritius, and 50,000 doses to Seychelles”, the country’s foreign ministry said.

Sri Lanka and Afghanistan will also receive India-made vaccines soon after getting regulatory clearances. These moves come amid Chinese attempts to extend its influence in India’s backyard, as seen in the recent years.

When the world plunged into coronavirus-induced lockdowns in March 2020, India quietly began its medical diplomacy bidding for a collective response to this new health emergency by convening a virtual meet of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and by leading the effort to institute a new relief fund to tackle the pandemic.

Previously, the regular meetings of the organisation remained stalled due to India’s bilateral tensions with Pakistan. But, New Delhi used the pandemic as a good opportunity to revive the regional grouping which was followed by governmental level meetings in the later months.

India has also provided training to several neighbouring countries to enhance and strengthen their clinical trials of vaccines, through various assistance programmes.

‘Pharmacy of the world’

Being the global hub of vaccine production, New Delhi’s diplomacy is very much focused on reaching out to all needy countries, and it is not limited to the immediate neighbourhood. Throughout the pandemic period, the world also saw India projecting its soft power beyond its traditional spheres of influence to a truly global scale.

An effective conduct of medical diplomacy by providing medicinal tablets last year and this year through the supply of domestically-made Covid vaccines, India reaffirmed its position as the ‘pharmacy of the world’, being the world leader in the production of generic drugs and vaccines, and making three-fifth of the world’s total vaccines.

Even while battling the challenge of inoculating a very large population, Indian Prime Minister has recently stated that India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used for the benefit of ‘all humanity’ to fight the pandemic.

Contractual supply of India-made vaccines to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Brazil, and Morocco are also currently underway.

Indian government has made clear that continue to supply vaccines to friendly and partner countries even while the second phase of inoculation drive goes on at home. India also comes with an experience of running a successful immunization programme for more than four decades now.

Being a leader in drugs manufacturing, India was approached by many countries including the United States, last year, for the supply of medicinal tablets like hydroxychloroquine, which was exported to more than a hundred countries around the world from Asia to Africa toLatin America.

India also exported other tablets such as remdesivir and paracetamol, as well as diagnostic kits, ventilators, masks, gloves and other medical supplies to a large number of countries around the world.

When it comes to immunization against Covid through vaccines, India’s potential lies well beyond just its domestic population due to its invaluable experience in the pharmaceutical front.

Statistics say one in every six humans on earth reside in India. If this Asian powerhouse succeeds in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic, it simply means, a sizeable proportion of humanity is saved, so do the countries it assisted, contributing to the global response and continuing efforts of the scientific community in bringing the pandemic to an end.

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The case for more middle power involvement in the reshaping of the post-pandemic world

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The past year was the year of the pandemic, although initially 2020 was seen more as a year of increased great power competition. The pandemic took us off guard and revealed that generally a good handling of the crisis requires a combination of national self-sufficiency and global action, perhaps in dosages that have to be more balanced than what we thought before. A certain reimagining of how the world and each country should function naturally took place, but a more systematic process of transforming our governance toolbox (not because of COVID-19, but of what the pandemic has revealed about some major failures in our global “engines”) is necessary. Here, I make the argument that we should pay more attention to what the middle powers can bring to the international table.     

Despite expectations, 2020 was not a great year for the hegemon and the potential successor. China was the originator of the pandemic and this has been reflected in its popularity ratings. The international image of the country took a big hit, the commercial dependence on products made in China determined many to ask tough questions about the future of trade, and Beijing was sometimes put on the same level with Russia as a reactionary/resurgent power. Despite the mask diplomacy and the robust economic recovery, China has been seen more as a source of problems than as a potential solution to global woes. Moreover, the country did not count much in the symbolic race for a vaccine, although, with Sinovac, things might change in the future, depending on its effectiveness. The US also had to deal with a couple of major issues/headaches: a very poor handling of the pandemic that resulted in record numbers of American getting infected or losing their lives, extreme political polarization that did not avoid pandemic subjects (e.g., the wearing of masks, the lockdowns), a severe economic fallout, and a very contested presidential election in which the rules of the democratic games were challenged by the president himself. The icing on the cake was the January 6 Capitol Hill insurrection that further damaged the American image abroad and cemented the idea of the American decline already announced by the inward-looking approaches and decisions of the Trump administration. 

The idea that, once Trump is gone, international politics will go back to business as usual will not be borne out by the facts. The consequences of the Trump years will not go away easy or soon. President Biden has already committed that, in his first day in office, he will sign executive orders for the US to rejoin the Paris climate accord and to end the Muslim travel ban. These are not small steps, but many other details remain to be solved out, starting with the new approach towards the WHO (will the US leave the organization and, if not, what changes Washington will ask for?) or the reform of the WTO so that it does not become a museum institution with little influence on how the next stages of globalisation will look for. Moreover, as others have argued, Trump has put the China topic front and center on the US and international political agenda, so that issue cannot be ignored. Beyond employing different tactics than those characterizing the whimsical behavior of Trump, Biden will have to offer a substantive answer on how to deal with a rising power whose action is not as predictable as it was and that will claim a bigger role at the table than currently allocated (in a decade or so, potentially event the main seat at the table).

We like it or not, we are more and more caught by the language of power in international politics, we started to consider more carefully the relation between absolute versus relative gains, we look more carefully at the main international players, potential alliances and at how the new era of globalization and economic evolutions more broadly could change an emerging balance-of-power logic. Fortunately, we are far from the Cold War nightmare, but nothing guarantees that we will not end up in a situation that is perhaps even more unstable than the one that ended with the 1989 revolutions and the disintegration of the USSR. The times of crisis usually test our instincts, and this applies not only to the constructive side: fear and uncertainty, the game theory has shown so well, can very well generate suboptimal results. This is why we need safeguards that the post-Covid-19 situation will not bring to the fore the worse in us as citizens of the world.

One of the few clear safeguards we can consider is the role of middle powers. We already know that, in times of transition of power and hegemonic weakness, international public goods can still be provided by a coalition of states that have obvious stakes in the preservation of the system and are ready to act to make sure that international norms and practices are not destroyed by the vacuum of power. The likes of Canada, Denmark, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia, Japan or New Zealand can join hands and offer their agreed take on the hottest international topic: how to maintain honest international cooperation and ensure that we have the proper global institutions that will mitigate the health, economic, social, and political consequences of the pandemic. We already saw individual actions: the cooperation within MIKTA, an informal middle power partnership between Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia aiming to support global governance, an alliance which accounts for almost 10% of global trade; or the statement of the Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi that countries around the world need to make concerted efforts to promote multilateralism. But these steps should be more systematic and coordinated: we are in need of a bigger, louder platform.

We know very well that multilateralism has issues, that international organisations have problems: the pandemic has made all this too clear. However, we do not have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The reckoning and the rethinking will have to go beyond the interests and involvement of the great powers, in order to generate trust and the buy-in of the other relevant players. We really need honest brokers for the post-pandemic world, to prepare us for the next ones and for whatever lies in store for a debacle-prone future. A few months ago, the Lowy Institute rightly focused on the role of middle powers in the current crisis and made reference to a coalition of competent middle powers to offer a safer ground for the recovery. I would dare to say that this is true, but even more important would be a coalition of generous and enlightened self-interested middle powers, that recognize that their position of strength is also a by-product of the current international order that their consolidation is tied to refurbished, not overhauled global agreements. My call is as much a realistic assessment as it is a hope that there is an alternative to zero-sum great power competition in the post-2020 era.

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