All epidemics end sooner or later. Today’s coronavirus pestilence will also end, leaving behind many human tragedies, huge economic losses, forced changes in our customary way of life, shifts in geopolitics and worldviews that will in some manner affect each and every one of us. Although we still have a long way to go before the pandemic even peaks, it is never too early to ponder the outcomes we are ready to accept as relatively “benign” and those we would unequivocally deem “malignant.” What costs will be seen as inevitable losses and which will be viewed as the result of subjective mistakes and managerial miscalculations in combating the pandemic?
In other words, it would be useful to determine humanity’s provisional KPIs in combating the pandemic. Naturally, the concept of “acceptable losses” changes as the virus spreads and the pandemic grows in scale, and what seemed entirely unacceptable a month ago today appears to be a sad reality.
It is also obvious that these provisional KPIs will be different for different countries and regions, at least for the simple reason that the value of human life is not the same in all civilizations, societies, and political systems. Nevertheless, let us try to calculate the total cost of vanquishing the pandemic and of those practical lessons that global society must learn while combating COVID-19. What outcomes do we need to see in order for future historians to be able to conclude in all honesty that in 2020, humanity passed the coronavirus test with flying colours?
Duration certainly is one of the criteria of humanity’s success in combating the pandemic. The sooner we cope with COVID-19, the better. How far are we from turning the corner? Expert assessments vary wildly. Optimists believe that the global morbidity will peak in early summer or even in May, and subsequently, the number of new cases will gradually decline. Pessimists believe that the pandemic will last for two years at best, or will never end at worst, turning into a constant factor in our life, similar to the seasonal flu.
Just how long the active phase of the pandemic lasts largely depends on three factors: (1) the time it takes to develop, run clinical trials and mass-produce an effective vaccine; (2) how successful we are at preventing the mass spread of the disease in those regions that have thus far barely been affected by the pandemic (Africa, South Asia, Middle East, Latin America); and (3) the effectiveness of the lockdown and self-isolation measures in those countries where the pandemic appears to be approaching the turning point. And, naturally, it depends on our success in preventing repeat outbreaks in countries where the number of people infected with the virus is declining (East Asia, Iran).
We should not count on a miracle vaccine being developed in the next few months. Consequently, success on a global scale entails the following dynamics of the war on COVID-19: (1) approaching the global morbidity peak by mid-summer; (2) suppressing the main hot spots of the pandemic in the winter-spring of 2021 (after a vaccine has been developed); and (3) concluding the war on individual hot spots during 2021. Therefore, the war on the pandemic will end within the next 12–18 months, although some isolated action taken to suppress probable relapses will continue later as well.
This schedule of attacking the coronavirus proceeds from the premise that the pandemic will peak in Europe and the United States no later than early to mid-May, with morbidity levelling off in areas that are “catching up” (Turkey, Brazil, Russia, etc.) a month later on average, and that such densely populated countries as India, Nigeria, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Egypt will not demonstrate the exponential growth we have seen in Europe and North America. The ability of the countries in the global South to safeguard themselves against the explosive spread of the virus is an arbitrary assumption, but thus far, this assumption has been borne out by the weak dynamics of coronavirus cases in the South.
There is no consensus on this issue even in the expert community, and the estimates vary wildly again. Some cite the experience of China and other East Asian states, suggesting that the spread of the virus can be successfully contained through a strict lockdown in other regions, too, and the mortality rate can be kept at the level of China (5 per cent) or even of South Korea and Japan (approximately 2 per cent). Others doubt the possibility of transplanting “the East Asian model” into other regions or mistrust official Chinese statistics. Instead, their forecasts follow the figures of such countries as Spain (10 per cent), France (11 per cent), Italy and the United Kingdom (13 per cent).
Neither of these predictions has been definitively proved or disproved by the observed dynamics of the disease. Still, the current dynamics give more ground for alarm than for hope. What is alarming is not so much the number of people infected (over 2.35 million as of April 19), as the growing mortality rates (162,000.). The average global mortality rate (7 per cent) is significantly higher than the mortality rate in China, not to speak of the mortality rates in Japan and South Korea. If the pandemic spreads to the global South, with its undeveloped public healthcare systems and multiple armed conflicts, these rates are likely to increase as the number of infected grows, and so too is the burden on the medical infrastructure. For example, the mortality rate in Algeria is already over 15 per cent, although there is nothing to suggest that Algeria is or will be typical for the rest of Africa.
Given the “global average” indicators that are already emerging and basing our predictions on the geographical spread dynamic outlined above, we could call it a relative success if we manage to keep the total number of infected to below 10 million people with 5 per cent mortality rate (which is 2 per cent below the global average), that is, 500,000 deaths globally. In other words, humanity would do well on the whole if the total increase in the number of infected and dead only quadruples compared to the mid-April figures.
The expected dynamics appear horrifying, but we should remember that in late March, the number of infected in the United States quadrupled every ten days; in France, the number was quadrupling even faster in mid-March—every six days. So the predicted dynamics are, in fact, extremely optimistic. In absolute figures (10 million cases and up to 500,000 deaths), compared to the infamous “Spanish flu” of a hundred years ago (500 million infected and between 17 million and 100 million deaths), the predicted outcome for COVID-19 would be an undisputed achievement for humanity. And this certainly does not diminish the value of every life lost in Europe, America, Asia or Africa.
Naturally, the pandemic is not the only cause of the global recession. The current economic trouble stems from many factors, ranging from the natural conclusion of the extended growth cycle to the harsh oil price war unexpectedly breaking out between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, the pandemic played an important part in exacerbating the dynamics of the emerging crisis. Apparently, the timeframe for vanquishing the coronavirus will also influence timeframe of the world hitting “rock bottom” of the current economic downturn and rebounding.
There are no major arguments concerning the price that humanity will have to pay this year in its war on coronavirus. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that global GDP will shrink by approximately 3 per cent in 2020. The pandemic will also clearly have different economic costs for different countries and regions: the decline is predicted at 7–9 per cent of GDP for the Eurozone states, about 6 per cent for the United States, and 5.5–6.6 per cent of GDP for Russia, Brazil and Mexico. At year-end, India and China may demonstrate growth (1.9 per cent and 1.2 per cent, respectively), unless coronavirus has some unpleasant surprises in stock for these countries. Naturally, the current predictions reflect the immediate situation and generally correlate with the duration of the individual stages of the pandemic as outlined above.
The discussion principally focuses on how long it will take the global economy to rebound. Some economists believe that global economic growth may resume as early as late 2020 (the IMF optimistically predicts a growth of 5.8 per cent in 2021), while others predict a lengthy recession similar to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Still, others believe that we should not be talking about a “rebound” at all since what we will witness in the coming years is not going to be an economic recovery (i.e. a return to the starting point), but a profound transformation of the global economy towards a new technological paradigm. Obviously, countries that export raw materials and energy sources (including Russia) will encounter greater difficulties in such a scenario than the rest of the world, since they failed to make the best use of the “fat years” and will have to diversify their economies in highly unfavourable external circumstances.
In any case, the pandemic will prove especially destructive for individual economic sectors, particularly air travel, the hospitality industry, office real estate and shopping centres. A wave of bankruptcies will sweep the world, accompanied by a spike in unemployment and an exacerbated debt crisis. On the whole, we may conclude that humanity can count itself extremely lucky if by late 2021 global economic losses have totalled less than USD 5 trillion (approximately 8 per cent of today’s global GDP), the number of unemployed has topped out at 500–600 million people, and the global economy has managed to return to the pre-crisis level by 2022.
Of course, it would be a major economic victory for humankind if we were able to create the necessary international mechanisms, regimes and procedures to significantly reduce the volatility of world finances and global raw material, food and energy prices, deal with the debt problem, increase the role of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and reform it, and abandon trade wars and unilateral economic sanctions—that is, if humanity agrees on new rules of collective economic management for at least the next 20–30 years. However, not only are these tasks simply too big, but they do not match today’s dominant political trends. And this is a crucial problem.
The pandemic inevitably changes the balance of power in any country that has been seriously affected by the coronavirus. Where ruling centrist coalitions cannot control the situation, populists in the opposition win. Yet for populists already in power (the United States, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, etc.), the pandemic has become a major trial. It is easy to predict that in the next 12–18 months, we will witness various surprises in national elections throughout the world; we will see many features that are typical of life-changing eras, including traditional party coalitions being reformatted, new charismatic leaders emerging, etc.
As humanity emerges from the epidemiological crisis, it would probably be incorrect to view the global balance of power between liberal democracy and political authoritarianism as the principal criterion of its success or failure. A far more important indicator is the ability (or inability) of individual countries to demonstrate the safety margins of the political systems that they had in place when the crisis began. This does not in any way mean freezing the current political status quo, but merely implies preventing a collapse of governance, increased instability and slipping into political chaos.
For instance, right- or left-wing politicians coming to power in two or three states can be seen as an acceptable political cost of the pandemic in Europe, provided that Germany and France keep their centrist governments in place, since without the “Franco-German axis” the future of the European Union will be in jeopardy. Regardless of who wins the November elections, the key thing in the United States is to prevent the current socio-political polarization from exacerbating, since a split America is incapable not only of global leadership, but even of steering a responsible and consistent foreign political course.
If non-liberal political regimes, from Saudi Arabia and Iran to Venezuela and North Korea, avoid mass repressions while at the same time preventing their relevant political institutions from falling like dominoes, it will be an achievement in itself. Staunch opponents of authoritarianism may say that the coronavirus pandemic is an excellent time to change archaic political regimes and promote democratic values. However, changing political regimes during a pandemic is an enterprise that is entirely too risky and potentially too costly from the point of view of the collateral loss of life. Chaos during a pandemic can hardly be seen as a political victory. Additionally, secular political authoritarianism may be replaced with religious extremism that expounds eschatological interpretations of the advent of the coronavirus.
Way of Life
There is no shortage of grim predictions that the pandemic will irreversibly change the way of life we have grown used to. Much is said about the inevitable and irreversible decline of geographical mobility, about professional and social activities rapidly migrating online, about the growing societal “atomization,” about customary hierarchies eroding, and about fundamental shifts in value systems. Concerns are being voiced that the coronavirus will promote “technological totalitarianism” throughout the world by giving governments advanced and highly sophisticated tools to control the population.
The possible costs of the pandemic for our customary way of life are hard to estimate for the simple reason that many of the fundamental changes are related not so much to the pandemic itself as they are to long-term fundamental processes that are taking place in the development of information and communication technologies and in the economy as a whole. The coronavirus did not produce the Big Data concept, nor is it responsible for the unprecedented transparency of our social and private lives. It did not privilege multiple weak social connections (“friends” on social networks) over a few stable offline ties (real-life friends). The pandemic simply accelerated many of those shifts in our way of life that had been happening under our mind’s radar.
So, a victory over the coronavirus would not mean returning to the Ancien Régime of the late 20th century. Rather, it would mean establishing an acceptable balance between new information and communication realities and the eternal human desire to have individual freedom and protect one’s privacy. Apparently, this balance must be specific to every individual society and culture while also including certain universal norms that are acceptable for all of humanity. The pandemic has shed a harsh light on a problem that could have otherwise remained overshadowed by other, more obvious civilizational problems. If this problem recedes to the periphery of the public mind again once the war on COVID-19 is over, the victory over the virus will be incomplete. And we will have failed completely if, once the pandemic is over, the emergency control measures implemented by states remain for an indefinite period under a dubious pretext (that the epidemiological has not subsided, for example).
Preventing a new European or even global migration crisis would signify a major success in preserving our customary way of life. The pandemic and the economic recession make a repeat of the events of 2015–2016 quite probable. Apparently, the oil monarchies of the Gulf and the West will reduce their financial support for such states like Egypt and Sudan; regional conflicts in the Middle East and in Africa will continue and spur new waves of migration flows towards Europe. On the other hand, growing unemployment in Europe, coupled with the accelerated development of manufacturing automation, will increasingly reduce demand for a new workforce, with the exception of a few in-demand jobs. Therefore, a second migration crisis following hard on the heels of the epidemiological crisis would be even more destructive for the European way of life than the first migration crisis.
Alarmists keep saying that the pandemic is a death sentence for globalization as we understand it today. Empty airports and hotels, cancelled exhibitions and forums, deserted city streets, no sporting events (including the Olympics)—all the erstwhile symbols of the unity of humankind are now in a critical condition after being hit by the coronavirus, fading and shrinking before our very eyes. Even more serious symptoms are the rise of protectionism and nationalism, the paralysis of the UN Security Council and its failure to take action against the pandemic, the United States cutting funding for the World Health Organization, the G7 and G20 summits issuing vague and helpless statements, the WTO being in a state of permanent crisis, and the World Bank and other global institutions being slow to act. Doomsayers predict the collapse of global technological chains, the reduction of world trade, the tightening of border controls and other signs of the crumbling (or, to borrow a word from the Valdai Club’s vocabulary, “shattering”) world.
A few qualifications are in order here. First, many of the alarm bells above started sounding long before COVID-19. Talk about the crisis of globalization has been around for at least ten years, if not longer. Second, the very fact of the virus spreading around the world like wildfire clearly confirms that, despite anti-globalist prophecies, globalization continued at a brisk pace in the 2010s. Third, the ties that have been temporarily cut due to the virus can be restored fast if the economic prerequisites are in place. For instance, after 9/11, air travel in the United States fell by 20 per cent, but recovered just a year later.
This is not the key thing, however; the key point is that globalization can develop in various forms and even in different dimensions. Symbols of the unity of humankind can change. For instance, the rapid expansion of the number of people being able to work from home, internet commerce, and online communications creates radically new opportunities for developing cross-border and global technological chains. For the first time ever, truly global markets are emerging, including the labour market. A small village in the middle of nowhere can, under certain circumstances, prove to be just as efficient at driving globalization as a huge megalopolis. As for our way of life-changing, COVID-19 has served as a catalyst for those inevitable shifts in globalization mechanisms that had long been brewing but had remained overshadowed by other trends and phenomena.
As for institutionalizing globalization processes, a transition to a new level of manageability of the international system would constitute a true triumph for humanity in its war on coronavirus. But we can hardly count on this happening. Therefore, it would be a success of sorts to prevent the further escalation of trade wars after the pandemic, as ending them completely is an unrealistic prospect. In the same vein, preventing the further deterioration of international organizations, rather than elevating their status, would also be a success. It would seem that humanity’s triumph over the virus would also manifest in bolstering regional organizations such as the European Union, ASEAN and its natural extension, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Agreement between the United States of America, the United Mexican States, and Canada (USMCA) and the EAEU.
Risks of a Relapse
We still know little about the nature of COVID-19 and how it spreads. Therefore, we do not understand the degree to which such pandemics will accompany humanity from now on. As in other matters, there are optimists who believe that such large-scale pandemics happen once in a hundred years, and pessimists who insist that such pandemics will become seasonal, like the flu. However, despite all the uncertainty, one obvious conclusion that we can make from the current situation is that the healthcare systems in most countries are inadequate to the challenge. It is important that we are talking systemic problems here, not merely insufficient funding: the United States spends over USD 3 trillion a year on healthcare, yet currently leads in the number of COVID-19 cases (over 700,000 as of April 19) and the number of deaths (40,000).
Going back to “business as usual” after the pandemic would be a clear failure. Improving the efficiency of national healthcare systems is technically complicated, politically sensitive, and generally extremely costly. It is no accident that former President of the United States Barack Obama considered his healthcare system reform (“Obamacare”) the main achievement of his eight years in office, while his successor Donald Trump vowed to fight this reform. However, regardless of the differences in national healthcare systems, COVID-19 leads us to two obvious general conclusions. First, a healthcare system must be excessive; that is, its capacities should significantly exceed the population’s current needs. It makes the system more expensive, but the coronavirus has shown that when serious problems arise, cost-cutting ends up being far more expensive.
Second, the system cannot be mostly based on market principles. The market is not always interested in making medical services more accessible or in new medications being developed faster and sold cheaper. Since the early 1990s, the cost of medications in the West has virtually doubled every decade!
Given all the uncertainty, as humanity emerges from the pandemic, a significant increase in the WHO’s potential and powers could be viewed as a success. Let us remember that even though the WHO played an important role in eradicating smallpox and combating polio and malaria, it was not initially established as an instrument for fighting global pandemics. A careful analysis of the COVID-19 experience is in order to subsequently fine-tune the mechanisms of immediate global monitoring for and responding to new infectious diseases. We also need to create an effective system of cross-border cooperation to develop, testing and manufacture vaccines for viruses. We would very much like to hope that creating a COVID-19 vaccine will be an example of a true multilateral project similar to building the international space station instead of transforming into a global “pharmaceutical” race like the “space race” contested by the United States and the Soviet Union in the mid-20th century.
Winner Takes All
Many people are likely to see our criteria for success in combating the coronavirus as not ambitious enough. Yet the main thing today is to give a realistic assessment of the scale of the challenge we face and not entertain any dangerous illusions concerning humanity’s ability to cope with COVID-19 in quick fashion and with minimal losses. It would be a mistake to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is “solely” an epidemiological, economic, or managerial challenge. It is also the first truly civilizational challenge of the 21st century, and the response can be neither easy nor quick, because when we face a civilizational challenge, the response must come from society as a whole, and not only from international organizations, great national powers, research labs and the headquarters of transnational corporations.
Let us recall the infamous plague epidemic (the “Black Death”) that devastated Europe in 1346–1353, claiming, as people regularly point out, the lives of an estimated 30–60 per cent of the population. The Black Death, however, also served as a powerful catalyst for social, economic, technological, cultural and spiritual shifts that had been brewing in Europe. The plague influenced all aspects of life, from gender roles to religious practices, from agricultural technologies to the social structure of medieval societies. Causal links can be established between the pandemic and the European Reformation and the Age of Discovery. In the east of Europe, the Black Death, among other things, dealt a crushing blow to the Golden Horde, thereby opening a window of opportunity for the rising Principality of Moscow.
Naturally, COVID-19 cannot be compared to the Black Death. However, the potential long-term consequences of what we are experiencing today may prove to be no less significant. Although the civilizational challenge posed by coronavirus affects the whole of humankind, it also affects each individual country. After the pandemic, multiple shifts in global and regional balances will transpire at a much quicker pace than before. It will also be clearer far sooner who the winners and losers are. Their victories and defeats will be more apparent, and their hopes for a “rematch” will be largely unfounded. The crisis will quickly put everything in its place in the world that is now emerging. To quote perhaps the most outstanding financial mind of our time, Warren Buffet, “Only when the tide goes out, do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”
From our partner RIAC
High expectations from the newly designated Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan
The new designated Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Mr. Nong Rong, an expert in trade and commerce, currently serving as a minister in a Guangxi provincial government. According to the website, The Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nongrong, a male, born in September 1967, Zhuang ethnicity, a native of Mashan County, Guangxi Province, joined the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) in January 1987, started work in July 1991, holding a MASTER degree in business administration, Senior management, and International business. He has been serving in the Government in various capacities including, foreign trade and economic cooperation, ASEAN-business, City Mayor, and Hong Kong, Macao & Taiwan regions. In December 2019, he assumed the post of Secretary of the Party Committee of the Ethnic Minority Language Working Committee of the Autonomous Region and Vice Minister (and concurrently minister) of the United Front Work Department of the Autonomous Region Party Committee. In January 2020, he assumed the post of Director of the Ethnic Minority Language Working Committee of the Autonomous Region. Deputy to the 13th National People’s Congress and member of the 11th Party Committee of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Mr. Nong Rong will replace Ambassador Yao Jing, who has been serving as a Chinese Ambassador in Pakistan and has served in Pakistan three times in the various capacity of the diplomatic mission. He has also served in India as Deputy Head of Mission and as Ambassador in Afghanistan. He understands the regional issues very well and has been a successful Ambassador in Pakistan. However, he has been called back two months in advance before completing his three-year tenure. He enjoys popularity in Pakistan. He will be joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing until the assigned next assignment.
China and Pakistan are traditional friends, strategic partners, and a nation of shared destiny. Pakistan is the largest supporter of Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI), launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013. Pakistan is a host of one of the Six-Planned Corridors, “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor” (CPEC). The CPEC is a flagship initiative and in the most advanced stage of its execution among all other Corridors. Pakistan is the largest beneficiary of BRI, in the form of CPEC.
The early harvest projects, or generally known as phase I, have been completed or going to be completed soon. Most of the projects were in Power Sector and Infrastructure development. Pakistan has almost over-came the shortage of electricity, and a vast network of Motorways and Highways has been established the width and length of Pakistan. The Railway network is being ug-graded soon.
CPEC is to enter into phase II, where the focus will be Agriculture, Industrialization, Services Sector, etc. It will enhance Economic activities and eradicate poverty. This phase will be crucial for Pakistan, as the country is passing through the worst economic crisis. Both governments have been in close consultations to make the second phase more fruitful.
The designated Ambassador is a political appointee and expert of Trade and Commerce; he might be the right choice for Pakistan to take-off CPEC phase II. Keeping his track-record of success and achievements in Guangxi province, it is believed he will contribute toward CPEC a lot. China and Pakistan both nations are committed to turning CPEC as a “role model” of BRI for the rest of the world to be followed. Designated Ambassador has the requisite and relevant expertise.
Although, previously, several Chinese Ambassadors were career diplomats and have been served in the diplomatic assignments in several countries before their appointment as Ambassador to Pakistan. The Appointment of Mr. Nong Rong is out of routine and expected to perform extraordinarily. However, he is not the only political or non-career diplomat appointee. General Geng Biao was also a political appointee as the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan in the 1950s, and he also performed extraordinarily. He was known as the Chief Architect of China-Pakistan relations.
Based on Mr. Nong Rong’s profile and success stories & achievements, high expectations are circulating even before his arrival.
Doubt candy: How to sell inconsistency
“Ah, it is easy to deceive me! I long to be deceived myself!” — thus famously ends one of Alexander Pushkin’s poems entitled “Confession”. A lot is being said today about the negative consequences of forced positivity as well as the effect that the excessive advertising has on our psychological well-being. Gender studies specialists point to the disruptive influence of unrealistic expectations of both women and men perpetuated by the media and society at large. For some reason though, foreign policy research, along with the scholarly work on public diplomacy — a field more readily associated with public outreach — rarely find themselves integrating findings from psychology; social, group subdiscipline of the latter all the less so.
Truth be told, the explanation seems to be obvious. Foreign policy making remains an exclusive, if not elitist, and not necessarily very transparent domain. On top of that, we still primarily associate it with the classic European tradition of diplomacy, wherein the grandmasters such as Metternich, Talleyrand, Richelieu and Bismarck almost single-handedly formulate and execute the chess game moves allegedly beneficial to their respective states. This hardly comes as a surprise: one of if not inherent then certainly currently observed features of democracies is the abundance of apolitical, uninformed or ill-informed citizens whose political activity or lack thereof directly impact the nature of the government. Given the high stakes involved in what is known as the high politics, providing for a separate set of procedures appears justifiable on both rational and irrational grounds: after all, the very essence of the social contract lies with the state ensuring security of its subjects.
Let us now take a closer look at the concept of consistency. We rightfully expect the politician of our choice to deliver on the promises made during the campaign. Or else, we like his or her personality to the point where our emotional predisposition makes us likely to consider this person’s failures as non-critical for re-election. One can think of a number of cognitive biases helpful in explaining this deviation from presumed (now we know: bounded) rationality; to name just two, subjective validation and halo effect are at play. But then, whenever this figure crosses the threshold of our approval, and this often comes in the form of not fulfilling some of the points we prioritized when casting our votes or even ruining our pre-existing image of oneself completely, he or she may well give up on a career of a politician.
Whether this pattern brings us closer to living in a more prosperous country might not be the question that is normally asked; however, neither is denying globalization of humanity’s challenges an option to consider. What is more, an act of taking a person off the political scene and refusing him or her the professional and otherwise future because of a stain on the reputation is frequently driven by the accusers’ own fears or self-interest. It is yet to be explicitly stated, with all the grassroots talk of mental health, what Monica Lewinsky and many others like her really did suffer for. Antonio Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony can be further generalized to account for the desire to preserve a given state of affairs by attaching moral evaluations to one’s behavior; without being trained in psychology, it is still easy to acknowledge that guilt tripping is a powerful manipulative technique. Another supporting line of thought was developed by Carol Gilligan, an American psychologist who criticized Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development as biased against women. She found that only white men and boys participated in his experiments and also that Kohlberg clearly saw the consideration of individual rights and rules as more important compared to the consideration of care in human relationships. Further research revealed that in competitive contexts, despite men being prone to reason from a justice rather than ethic-of-care perspective, they demonstrate lower moral standards than do women. This observation might be of an utmost significance to those engaged in social and political theorizing; what is left out of the picture is more telling than what serves to confirm a theory. Theories have the property of affecting us deeply since our mind is programmed to adopt shortcuts to navigate in a demanding environment; all the worse is the impact of those of them that gain broad recognition in spite of, or owing to the biases they are built on.
To add fuel to the fire, premature disappointment with a public figure is hardly a smart measure in the pursuit of one’s political aspirations. The person in question might be a real fighter and a quick learner, yet in no social interaction, and especially not within the complex interrelated governmental systems can one act in complete independence. Before blaming the culture of instant gratification for this tendency in people’s behavior — although undoubtedly invigorated by the former — let us refer to the collection of cognitive biases once again. Here we find the fundamental attribution error, categorized as one of the common distortions emanating from the need to act fast. Humans are inclined to assume that what people do reflects who they are; except when judging ourselves, we assign a greater importance to the external factors.
Every peculiarity of the thinking process had at some point its adaptive value, otherwise it would not have developed. The modern civilization, while taking enormous pride in the achievements of the rational mind, is no better prepared for a drastic revision of its founding principles, however outdated they might be, than any of its precursors. At the heart of liberalism lies the conviction that human beings are selfish by nature whereas proponents of anarchism assert that people are born equal; they bear neither merit nor guilt for their innate differences and are capable of interacting harmoniously without setting up a hierarchy. As the British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman observes, people today are fearful of public gatherings and joint decision-making; anarchic society, on the contrary, demands that the individual be active, open to dialogue and uninterested in handing over to the state or any superior group of people responsibility for managing one’s own life. What stands behind our willingness to be dependent on a state, is it not conformity or status quo bias? Have we not, in fact, had enough revolutions, or is it merely an ordinary ruling class rhetoric?
It is time to explore in greater detail just what exactly the above-mentioned rational and irrational justifications for singling out the foreign policy making are. The curtailed opportunities for popular control of and say in developing strategies and decisions applied in this public policy area is something often taken for granted or seen as historically inevitable. As Eric Alterman shows, the democratic deficit in the way the foreign policy of the US, a traditionally strong democracy, is being made is no recent phenomenon. He comes up with a proposal to set up a novel institution allowing for a more inclusive discussion, thereby tackling the root cause of the problematic situation — a tradition of institutional and, in particular, presidential secrecy in foreign affairs. This political reality precludes the enlightenment of the people, necessary for a healthy functioning of republic. Neither are the conditions for it created nor the incentives of the elites to proceed in that direction are formed.
The idea that a handful of specially trained people would do a better job of deciding on highly complicated issues than a larger group of non-specialists holds in most contexts. The content of the training and the organizational setup, however, are of crucial importance. Social institutions within which the reflective forms of information processing are encouraged effectively attenuate common biases. All too often, closed systems operating on rarely questioned principles — this is what many states’ foreign policy communities resemble — amplify cognitive biases by relying on shared misconceptions. When the price of making commitments is low; when there is no audience to judge one’s choices; when there is a high degree of certainty regarding one’s professional future, no motivation to think more flexibly and rigorously exists. Accountability pressures have to be introduced artificially. Additionally, experimental work indicates that the choice process taking place in the open and transparent settings is characterized by a reduced number of breakdowns in consistency on the part of decision-makers. Here is another reason to transform the conventional mechanisms of shaping the foreign policy — if only consistency is what we are striving for.
Coming back to the question of personal consistency in political leaders, let us now address the following question: since ensuring security is referred to as the most important function of the state and the competence unique to it, can a popular preference for the strong, confident and principled leaders be connected with the public understanding of security? A situation in which the people of the country vote for an authoritarian personality after having been through a period of tumultuous transition or war is well-known and can easily be described in psychological terms. Yet the right choice to make is frequently counterintuitive. In fact, if by consistency we mean sticking to the same set of values and beliefs all along as well as maintaining little to no gap between words and actions, then by putting it first, we basically deny a politician opportunity for personal growth. People would rather have it predictable than look out for someone who is capable of reassessing his or her past behavior, draw conclusions and change; someone whose approach is nuanced and adjustable. Both the US-led and the USSR-led camps during the Cold War rallied behind an unambiguous ideology and both, just as observed in the aforementioned studies on male morality in competitive contexts, committed horrible things while positioning themselves as firmly committed to the common good — only to preserve a holistic facade and come out a winner. The American approach towards proliferators of the weapons of mass destruction has the quality of placing every hostile to it authoritarian regime in the same box regardless of the motivations behind the pursuit of weapons — at the same time, treating proliferators friendly to the US much more leniently — and the following adoption of harsh measures with little attempt at negotiating. Possibly out of the experience of a highly consistent but criminal political regime, today’s Germany pays greater attention to specific circumstances of the proliferator and acts on the basis of the nature of the threat, if any, and the degree of urgency of prevention. On the other hand, its commercial interests prevailed on a number of controversial occasions in the past and it might be argued that the same is happening these days, too. These examples demonstrate just how typical is the connection between the exhibited and desired consistency and the quest for power. A psychological explanation for the proposed cases requires a reference to the need for closure, an urge to put an end to uncertainty, to find a clear answer to a disquieting question. In the words of Vladimir Bibikhin, a prominent Soviet-Russian philologist and philosopher, “..Unfortunately, nothing in humanity is as widespread, takes away as much energy and kills the mind as mercilessly as mending consciousness for fear of rupture. Supposedly in life there must be a “harmony” of consciousness. No, there should not, for this is death.”
Before moving on to the issue of application of marketing tools in public diplomacy, let me add another stroke to the psychological portrait of a person who chooses to outsource his or her security. Prospect theory, which was developed by Kanehman and Tversky in 1979, challenges the expected utility theory by positing, on the basis of empirical information, that people assess their gain and loss perspectives in an asymmetric manner. Not surprisingly, this approach is extensively applied to political decision-making, predominantly in matters relating to security. The statesmen trained to view the international arena as a realist-type environment of self-help and resenting certain historical occurrences are tempted to disregard the subjective well- being of the citizens they supposedly serve and work towards tilting the geopolitical balance. Their perception of a probability of success or failure in this endeavor has a decisive influence on whether an attempt to do so, and by what particular methods, will be undertaken. And so, because chances are — and as we learn from history, they are high — that the decision-makers under- or overestimate those probabilities, the nation is at great risk of suffering economic and otherwise hardship. Even if the venture turns out to be successful, availability bias — the tendency to overestimate the probability of events that come to mind easily — along with a long list of other cognitive distortions inevitably are here to plague every new cohort of politicians. Conversely, the population does not fancy any alternative institutional setup and regards conflicts as normalcy: people are either unaware of a larger socio-political context or live with implicit ideas of an established state of affairs, not recognizing that many of their private struggles result from a mode of societal functioning they take for granted. Yet beyond it there may lay a reality in which a discontinuation of outsourcing security brings about a more peaceful and prosperous world. Until then, we are destined to instinctively choose the leaders whose apparent resolve to prevail at all cost feels comforting and makes us believe that the entity meant to protect us will not disintegrate.
It may be objected that the role of the liberal norms in contemporary international community is such that hardly any state wholeheartedly believes and has a possibility to exercise Realpolitik. This statement does not stand up to criticism; to see that, it suffices to review the latest doctrines and policy proposals in the fields of security and defense issued by various states. The language being used and the total absence of references to any recent psychological discoveries that have the potential to alter our threat perceptions are indicative. The promise of nuclear disarmament enjoys little enthusiasm of possessor states. This traditional political actor has indeed lost much of its mandate in the last decades, but a number of states nevertheless pretend to be operating in an environment where the primary demands of their citizens are concentrated not around their own material and spiritual well-being but around an imaginary success of an imaginary community.
Political choice is optional, economic choices are inescapable. Marketing experts never tire to emphasize the importance of consistency in branding. A brand, just like a country, is both imagined and experienced. Companies seek to promote a clear picture of themselves, to become associated with certain values, to gain trust of potential customers. Money is a key resource people dispose of and exchange for what brings comfort and satisfaction. We choose from a great variety of options and quite naturally, every firm does its best to appeal to us and be preferred over others.
In doing so, it essentially cultivates its recognizable identity with a view to grab its share of customer attention and finance. Is market economy, especially when regulated loosely, not an example of a kind of self-help space similar to that pictured by the realist school of thought in international relations? Simon Anholt might regret having coined a term “nation brand”, but what happened to it is a timely reminder of how politics is about economic competition more than anything else.
The central problem is the same as outlined above: people’s interests, not necessarily expressed in economic terms but necessarily contradicting, are nowhere to be represented. As Naomi Klein brilliantly put it, “..Unlike strong brands, which are predictable and disciplined, democracy is messy and fractious, if not outright rebellious.” In other words, the task of self-presentation for a country is complicated by the fact that there is no such thing as an absolute consistency whereas dynamic objects evade clear-cut definitions. Governors are supposed to appreciate and act on the feedback from those affected by the measures they enact. When a country seeks to improve its image and feels pressed to present itself in a consistent manner, it is tempted to clamp down on some of the dissenting manifestations of itself, both domestic and external. However, this goal itself is questionable. Among Robert Jervis’ hypotheses on misperception there are some underlining human tendency to assume that others act in a more coordinated fashion than is the case. The foreign ministry is responsible for conveying the state’s official position, but it is only natural that the state institutions are incapable of keeping tabs on the moves of every agent associated with it. What makes this impossible should not be called the state’s weakness, for this term is misleading. Expanding state control will not only gain us a diminished discrepancy between what it claims to oversee and what it actually does, but will also come with all of the adverse effects of centralization. Instead, reinventing a state’s role would avert the need to correspond to an unlikely standard.
Psychological research does more than chronicle human cognitive imperfections. In actuality, it also uncovers the features of behavior that give hope for the positive change. It was shown that people dislike being instructed by infallible and overly smart leaders. Not only do you have to be an effective communicator — and this correlates with emotional intelligence stronger than it does with IQ — but you also have to, in order to gain public sympathy, be able to admit your shortcomings and thus give people a sense of being in the same boat rather than clearly standing out. An approach both human-oriented and strategic, said to be more congenial to women, wins over hearts and drives the business forward. If men are socialized to suppress their emotions to be able to concentrate on what is called the facts of life and fix the problems, we can now claim that this practice probably entails more negative repercussions than benefits. A caring, empathetic governing style is usually not welcome in the top political circles and especially not in those of the nation states aiming to project a coherent, uniform image. It is not the change per se that is a problem, but rather an adversarial mindset we are taught in our families and societies, often ageing and inherently conservative.
Man-made orders cannot but be flawed, if only because so are our ways of thinking. Order is created and maintained to ensure predictability and one’s freedom to be fulfilling one’s vision using captured resources over at least some period of time, always at the expense of somebody else’s freedom to do so. Hence, the question of whether inconsistency as a characteristic of an image projected outwards can induce desire to take possession of or grow closer to the given object, can be curiously rephrased. What kind of people and under what circumstances would find the lack of security, predictability and material wealth to be a positive, not a negative? This question makes me think of revolutionaries who are committed to an idea and brings to mind the unfortunate events of the Russian 20th century. Together with that, it reminds me of how high of a price in violence, stifled voices and, ultimately, underreported and unresolved problems is being paid in the name of the status quo. Knowing that social reality impacts immensely on the way we perceive and interpret things, one may well arrive at a thought that we have to learn to transition smoothly. Only then will a deep-entrenched association between the change and humiliation gradually retreat into the past, along with all the cognitive biases borne of fear of defeat and exclusion. And if today, triggering the erosion of this link still requires some risk, those who embark on this path regardless may draw some courage and inspiration from a proven fact — and prove it yet again — that people fall for honesty.
Exceptional Diplomacy: Counter-hegemony and Resistance in International Relations
Formally established in the summer of 2013, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA) outlines its governing principles by stating that it is “a global non-profit organization that supports representatives of international football teams from nations, de-facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports-isolated territories.” Distinguishing itself from and operating outside of and beyond the oversight of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), CONIFA instead provides an ostensibly neutral and apolitical platform from which marginalized, oppressed, or endangered communities can interact with one another on the global stage while competing in what is arguably the world’s most popular sport. Unfortunately, this year’s CONIFA World Football Cup, originally scheduled to take place in Skopje, North Macedonia, was cancelled because of concerns related to the spread of the corona virus.
While at first glance it might be easy to diminish, if not outright dismiss, the relevance or significance of CONIFA and its project, upon further and deeper consideration what becomes clearer is how it and similar organizations and alliances can serve to challenge existing geopolitical and commercial hierarchies. By creating and participating in alternative and parallel spaces, these groups help to establish novel forms of counter-hegemonic power and resistance that can provide for unique, creative, and exceptional forms of diplomacy, trade, and cultural exchange.
A recent case that reveals the complex and complicated dynamics of modern statecraft is the successful outmaneuvering of the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) by the Taiwanese foreign ministry in its successful establishment of a representative office in Somaliland. Insofar as both Taiwan and Somaliland are considered un- or under-recognized states by the wider international community, their decision to establish representative offices is noteworthy. In a brief prepared for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Thomas J. Shattuck, Research Associate in the Asia Program and Managing Editor at FPRI, discusses the productive and disruptive potential of the economic and political alliance forged between Taiwan and Somaliland by arguing that “Taiwan can offer mutual respect—something that it fights for around the globe every day, something that is in short supply for Somaliland internationally, and something that Beijing cannot provide. Mutual respect between two unrecognized countries will foster stronger bonds than any economic package ever could. (emphasis added)”
By resisting and denying the overtures of the PRC in favor of pursuing a relationship with Taiwan, Somaliland has in effect successfully subverted China’s so-called aggressive “wolf-warrior diplomacy” and was able to reject the economic enticements associated with the Belt and Road Initiative which for many nations around the globe has ended in the accumulation of unsustainable levels of debt and dependency. For its part, Taiwan has shown that it has a continued and sustained interest in establishing its autonomy, if not explicit sovereignty and independence, in the face of relentless pressures placed on the island by the PRC.
In response to Taiwan’s recent success in Somaliland, Paul Antonopoulos asks the following question: “If Taiwan is creating a network of unrecognized and partially unrecognized states, especially as it already recognizes Kosovo, could Taipei in the near future approach the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (recognized as a part of Morocco), the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (recognized as a part of the Republic of Cyprus), South Ossetia and Abkhazia (recognized as a part of Georgia), the Republic of Artsakh (recognized as a part of Azerbaijan) and Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (recognized a part of Moldova)?” While the risks and challenges for Taiwan associated with conducting such an agenda are manifold, Antonopoulos’s speculation as to the potential efficacy of the pursuit of this type of policy is indeed suggestive as it gestures toward the idea of the establishment of a kind of counter-hegemonic power referenced above.
Above and beyond achieving the much sought after and deeply important status of international legitimacy or the demand for recognition of territorial, cultural, or linguistic rights afforded by existing conventions and protocols, other regional and political blocs advocate for policies relevant to mere survival. Recognizing the threats of global warming and the potential catastrophic effects of the melting of the polar ice caps, the Alliance of Small Island States pushes for more aggressive measures regarding ecological justice and other pressing environmental issues.The mission of the alliance is as follows: “AOSIS is a coalition of 44 small island and low-lying coastal developing states, including five observers. As a voice for the vulnerable, its mandate is more than amplifying marginalised voices as it also advocates for these countries’ interests. In terms of size, AOSIS closely resembles the countries it represents on the global stage, but often punches far above its weight, negotiating historic global commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, among other achievements.” Thus, in contemporary international relations, defined as they are typically by the demands and dictates of large states (both in terms of area and population), it is of crucial importance for alliances such as AOSIS to have a seat at the proverbial table in order to have their very necessary and urgent concerns addressed.
Of course, no discussion of marginalized people or vulnerable and at-risk populations is complete without mentioning the continuing struggle of the Palestinians for justice and international legitimacy. Obviously, a complete and total history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is impossible in the space of a brief essay; suffice it to say, however, that recent developments, including the relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem and the Israel – United Arab Emirates peace agreement, can be read as actions that serve as barriers to what is hoped for in Gaza and the West Bank will be the eventual successful establishment of a universally recognized independent Palestinian state. And while the latest ceasefire understandings between Hamas and Israel are constructive, especially regarding the maintenance of peace and security as well as concerns over the spread of the corona virus, they are not necessarily indicative of a lasting and durable framework for the cessation of hostilities in the region.
Ultimately, in order to adequately and forcefully confront the neoliberal status quo now governing the international political order, new, perhaps even idiosyncratic, strategies are required. Among these are certainly the ability of a wide variety of actors, including unrecognized states, NGOs, and various blocs and alliances, to offer alternatives to and different perspectives on traditional modes of conflict resolution, resource allocation, and territorial disputes. And finally, in full recognition of the transcendence of sport, let us hope that very soon there will be a rescheduled CONIFA World Cup to lift our spirits after a supremely demanding 2020.
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