San Francisco, New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Kinshasa, Karachi, Bangkok and then Peking. Those are the cities that in just a week Dr. Peters must visit in order to release the lethal virus that will wipe out 99% of humankind in the movie Twelve Monkeys. Probably not even the great Terry Gilliam could imagine in 1995 that all this perambulation would seem quite excessive 25 years later for any psychopath out there who would wish to start a pandemic. In 2020 have been enough for the virus to originate in a city like Wuhan so that it could be replicated across the planet in less than two months.But it is not surprising, in a short time globalization has become radically more intense than in 1995 and we, its participants, more interdependent. Today we travel and trade more than twice what we did then, and China’s GDP, for example, is twenty times greater.
However, in terms of global governance institutions, things have not improved since the mid-1990s, it actually seems to have gotten quite a bit worse. If we analyze the current situation we will be able to realize that the panorama is critical. The World Health Organization (WHO) takes center stage when a pandemic like the one we are experiencing now occurs, it is one of the most heard voices and a source of hope for many, but this United Nations agency is abysmally far from having a truly crucial role in the quest to solve a problem like the one at hand. In fact, it does not even seem capable of fulfilling one of its more modest functions, such as coordinating the global response to health emergencies. At the end of the day it is no more than a voice that is lost among the crowd, within a sea of other relevant global actors.
Global catastrophes continue to be addressed (glocalized) from eminently national strategies, that is: in a fragmented way. Even the member countries of the European Union have taken their own measures, consulted their own experts and are using all the resources at their disposal exclusively within their own borders. We know that China has sent doctors and medical equipment to different countries, including Italy (the country that registers the most deaths from the virus so far). Even Cuba has sent doctors to help this country. But, on the other hand, we have heard nothing about samples of aid from Sweden or Portugal, countries where the outbreak so far remains relatively mild. What has been done almost immediately has been the closure of borders, clearly the harmony and coexistence in the European Union is based on the maxim: “everyone for themselves”.
But what else can be expected from the famished global governance that we have today? We have long lived in what Ian Bremmer calls the G-zero, that world order where there is no power or group of powers interested in ruling over global issues. Each country is on its own precisely in the face of threats to which they are too small to handle: the big problems, those that when they manifest kill thousands or millions of people. The worst thing is that the trend is going in the opposite direction, each time more is committed to promoting purely national interests. If anything has gone global in recent years on this issue, it is Trump’s America First. As if it were a virus in turn, what was initially harshly criticized as protectionist has been replicating its localist postulates even among the most cosmopolitan governments.
The worst thing is that this withdrawal from globalism is not limited to the mere populist jargon of politicians at both ends of the classical political spectrum (left-right), but it translates into concrete actions. In February of this year alone, the U.S. government proposed halving its contribution to the WHO budget by 2021. Therein lies the root of the problem, given the lack of an adequate budget, this agency cannot be expected to be much more than an entity that classifies the type of problem we face (pandemic or epidemic) and makes some general recommendations, as if It would be an expert in deciding whether or not someone is ill, but who is unable to implement any type of treatment. The WHO budget (which has not increased in the last 10 years) for the 2020-2021 biennium is ~ US $ 4, 421 million, less than half the budget the government of Costa Rica has budgeted to spend in a single year, or which is the same, less than what the Mexican government spends in 6 days.
In 1995 the consequences of eating an animal bought in a wet market in Wuhan probably would not have crossed the Great Wall of China, but although the key difference is that globalization is now much more intense, the problem is not globalization itself, but the kind of globalization we have wrought. We are experiencing a globalization at different speeds where, for example, the globality of the markets does not compare with that of the health standards. In the end, it was the capitalist economy that determined the logic of global relations and, according to this, it was best for China to be part of the vigorous trade network in only some respects. Otherwise it would have been impossible to exploit the dumping that a country with more than 770 million poor people in the late 70s had to offer. Things are like this because when you start to demand that a country adopt certain measures, such as labor rights, environmental protection laws or public health policies, labor and imports are no longer so cheap and the very sensitive pockets of the richest 1% of the planet begin to suffer.
Everything is happiness until the boomerang effect occurs, until those risks that obviously will come sooner or later manifest itself, since it is a logical consequence of the scheme under which the world works. It is something that, at least since 1986, Ulrich Beck had commented almost as an omen:
Unlike poverty, Third World risk pauperization is contagious to the wealthy. The empowerment of risks turns world society into a community of dangers. The boomerang effect also affects rich countries, which have taken the risks off themselves, but import food at a good price. The extreme international inequalities and the interrelations of the world market bring the poor neighborhoods of the peripheral countries to the gates of the rich industrialized centers. They become hotbeds of global pollution that also affects (similarly to the contagious diseases of the poor in crowded medieval cities) the wealthy neighborhoods of the world community.
Seeking refuge within the borders of our nation-states is the most immediate response to these kinds of problems. The enormous figure of Leviathan has always been the great protector of the societies that constitute it, that is its greatest virtue. However, as Byung-Chul Han says, “it is a shallow display of sovereignty that is useless.” In spite of everything, there is serious talk of the possibility that this virus will end up accelerating the process of deglobalization within a search by the political units in which the world is divided to break with interdependence and become self-sufficient. The problem is that globalization has unleashed forces that have freed themselves from the powers that gave rise to them and have adopted their own dynamics, you can no longer put the genie back in the bottle. As things stand now, even the best of the old leviathans is doomed to be crushed by the juggernaut of modernity.
We will survive this one, but next time who knows. The global governance that we currently have cannot guarantee us that, in a few years, in those biological alchemy laboratories called wet markets, a new virus, more deadly and contagious than the one that now plagues us, will not be transmuted. No matter how hard they try, nations, even the richest, will not be able to erect walls that are high enough to prevent the boomerang effects of what they have caused in their capitalist ambition: pandemics, migratory waves, terrorism, climate change. Therefore, unless, as in Twelve monkeys, we have a machine that takes us to that past in which the problems were truly national, the answer must be in the opposite direction: we must seek to build a globalization of politics that can ruling over global spaces that nation-states simply cannot reach. Only in this way can we procure some kind of security against the ever-present risk that, in the most forgotten corner of the world, the germ of that thing that erases the rest of us will be unleashed, regardless of which flag we hide behind.