The State and Globalization during Covid-19

Policy responses to Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic debunks a myth that globalisation – the forces of global economic and political integration – can provide solutions to global issues. The outbreak of coronavirus reveals that though the problem may global, response efforts to the pandemic were predominately undertaken by states and their respective institutions. The implementation of stimulus packages and health measures by states raise questions about what globalization can offer to resolve crises. Developments show that both markets and international institutions – which are considered significant aspects of globalisation – have lacked resilience and preparedness respectively. The assumption behind globalisation is that the role of the state is diminished in place of markets and international organisations.

Hyperglobalists, for one, have held the view that markets have diminished state sovereignty given the rise of transnational corporations (TNCs). Some scholars believed that markets became ‘the masters over the governments of states’. The fact is that state institutions around the world have poured resources into combating the economic and health offshoots of the pandemic. In the midst of a falling US stock market, state institutions have made attempts to restore market confidence and businesses alike. President Trump together with Congress implemented a $2 trillion stimulus package which provides financial assistance to individuals and $100 billion for the US health system. The US government has also focused on reviving the airlines industry by holding discussions about support funding.

Like the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP)where the government injected $700 billion into financial institutions and businesses, the US is implementing measures to overcome the impact of the coronavirus crisis. Trump’s stimulus package reconfirms that globalisation was merely a buzzword, rather than an instrument for resolving global crises. In fact, the pandemic may drive new approaches by states and open new opportunities to stimulate economic development. The economic impact of the coronavirus on supply chains as well as trade in service sectors, such higher education and tourism, exacerbates the need to strengthen economic statecraft to find new markets, as well as boost local production. The ongoing policy responses to the coronavirus juxtapose claims made by hyperglobalists that the nation-state is dead. While markets are an important factor in supporting economic growth, they can’t work efficiently in isolation. The role of the state in diversifying new markets is particularly important to ensure countries can meet their economic and security interests.

Furthermore, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been considered a legitimate sourcefor information on new diseases. The ‘globalization of public health’ was promoted to establish both surveillance and monitoring mechanisms to produce ‘early warning systems’. Since the 1990s, the WHO’s core functions were seen as an important feature of the organisation, including governance over central health problems and the sharing of valuable information and research. The rise of health challenges, particularly new diseases, altered the coordinating features of the WHO. The International Health Regulations (IHR) were introduced by the WHO proceeding the SARS, giving powers to the organisation to announce a public health emergency.

Although8000 people contracted the coronavirus across 19 countries, WHO General Director announced a health emergency on Jan 30. Rather than acting swiftly with appropriate readiness, the WHO in seeking to resolve the pandemic has offered more words than action. The rhetoric of Direct-General of the WHO has centred around international solidarity, urging countries to “act together and right now” to overcome the health challenges posed by the Coronavirus.

Similar to the Coronavirus response, the evidence suggests that lagging within the organisation led the Director-General to wait four months to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) from when ‘outbreak’ was announced. In failing to construct guidelines for previous epidemics, there is ambiguity over how prepared the WHO can be to beat the coronavirus and ascertain better health outcomes overall.

Despite calls for an international solution, the globalised public health paradigm did not translate into preparedness in dealing with a pandemic. In contrast, states have demonstrated their willingness to govern and respond. Given the complexity of the pandemic, there are practical reasons for the inherent need for state-based solutions. The sheer scale and impact of the coronavirus in Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain have shown that state, albeit tailored solutions, are necessary to ‘flatten the curve’. For one, the health implications of the coronavirus have been localised – the tiny Italian town of Castiglione D’Adda became one of the first towns to be quarantined in Lombardy. The Lombardy region is one of hardest hit regions which needed the army to impose the lockdown and prevent the spread of the virus having rapidly increased the death toll.

A culmination of poor financial management and planning reduced the effectiveness of the WHO. Underpinning the WHO’s passiveness reflects the lack of internal cohesion and fragile structure, dimming hopes of the WHO being able to deal with the coronavirus issue. Both thelack of funding and internal corruption reduced the combative efforts of the WHO’s Emergency Program. President Trump indicated that he would be giving the WHO a ‘good look’ over the organisation accepting China’s information regarding the potential impact of the Coronavirus. The consequence of lagging efforts may push the US to review funding of the WHO which totalled $500 million in 2017.

Reacting slowly to overcome serious global health issues is a historical feature of the WHO. Previous responses to infectious disease outbreaks, particularly the execution of emergency guidelines, were found to be unreliable with inadequate information. The cause of poor information derives from ineffectively responding to changes occurring in the course of the epidemic. The WHO’s management of Ebola Outbreak, for example, also exemplified a large degree indecisiveness This indecisiveness was driven by political decision making and low levels of transparency, as shown by leaked WHO documents.

Nevertheless, any pushes to isolate states from the global community may hinder prospects to introduce crisis mitigation and resolution. Whilst the state has played a central role during this pandemic, the importance of interstate cooperation in overcoming the economic, political and health consequences of the coronavirus should not be ignored. Rather than hoarding vital medical equipment, such as testing kits and respiratory machines, states should be willing to cooperate.

More importantly, while some competition is inevitable, countries should still work together towards in creating a vaccine against the coronavirus. No matter how policy responses to the pandemic develop, one thing is more certain. There is no one-size fits all approach that can overcome obstacles presented by this pandemic.

Nikola Popovic
Nikola Popovic
Nikola Popovic has worked as an adviser and researcher across state and federal governments in Australia. He holds a Master of International Relations from the University of Sydney.