Coronavirus will most likely have strong geopolitical effects everywhere
Wednesday 22/April/2020 - 01:11 AM
In this article, renowned historian and geopolitics expert, Roland Lombardi, explores the effects the coronavirus outbreak will have on the stability of major states.
Plagues have always had their toll on geopolitical conditions. Some of these plagues became turning points in history. This happened in the case of the plague of Athens in the fifth century, which led to the death of the prominent Greek statesman, Pericles. This was the beginning of the end of the golden age of Athens.
The same plague was said to have caused the death of almost a third of the residents of Athens, which had a total population of 200,000 at the time.
The Plague of Justinian, which happened between the sixth and eighth centuries, seeped out of Greece and into the rest of Europe. The origins of this pandemic were not known, but it had probably started in Egypt or central Asia and then moved on through the Silk Road, the main trading route at the time.
This pandemic caused the death of between 25 and 100 million people, a third of the world's population at the time. Around 10,000 people died from the pandemic every day in Constantinople. The city lost 40% of its residents in one summer.
The Byzantine Empire was a major military and economic power when the plague first erupted. Nevertheless, the same plague weakened the empire and even undermined efforts for the creation of a unified Roman Empire. The Great Plague, which happened in the Middle Ages, continues to linger in the collective memory of Europeans. The plague caused the death of over 35 million people, which accounted to 40% of the population of Europe, between 1347 and 1353.
War and trade caused the infection to spread. Traders within trade convoys arriving from Asia were the first to contract the contagion. Thriving and rich Mediterranean coast cities, such as Constantinople, Messina, Genoa, Venice and Marseille, were affected by the disease one after another. This was when quarantines came to existence. Nevertheless, the plague had major social, political and geopolitical ramifications. A large number of the members of the Catholic Church died from the disease, having been on the frontline of the fight against it. The church tried to infuse new blood into it later, but this was a hasty process that did not achieve its aspired goal. The same failure was seen by some historians as standing behind the Protestant reform which emerged a few decades later. The plague, called "Black Death" at the time, caused the demise of the Byzantine Empire which was making its last gasps at the end of the 11th century. The empire fell into the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
The plague slowed down the Reconquista and caused the weakness of the Genoa and Venice republics. But for the plague, Christopher Columbus might have had funding from his country for his voyage into the New World and South America would have spoken Italian by now.
A hundred years ago, the Spanish flu pandemic, technically known as H1N1, swept through the world. It represented the climax of the pandemic as a case in the human collective memory. It was the most devastating pandemic, having negatively affected the whole world. The pandemic caused the death of 400,000 people in France and 200,000 in the UK. It would have caused the death of the whole population of Europe which was devastated already by World War I. French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, French author Edmond Rostand and German economist Max Weber were but a few of the famous people who were victimized by the pandemic.
Advances made in medicine and virology led humans to believe that they would be prepared for the fight against viruses. When put to the test, this theory proves to be untrue. The emergence of the coronavirus caused unprecedented losses to stock markets at the beginning of this year. Losses sustained by international stocks last week portend an acute international financial crisis, one similar to the 2008 crisis. This seems to be inescapable.
The Chinese economy has conked out. Almost 80% of the goods used or consumed by the world come from China or are made from Chinese components. Italy and Iran were the countries most affected by the pandemic because they enjoy strong relations with China.
The international economy is on the verge of stopping. The transport and financial sectors are passing through very tough times.
Statistics have it that South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and even China have almost eradicated the disease, thanks to the firm measures they took and the contributions made by civil society organizations. Other countries took similarly effective measures.
The five countries dealing most effectively with the pandemic are Israel, Germany, South Korea, Australia and China. They are followed by New Zealand, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong. This brings Asian leadership back to light.
France is not among the 40 countries dealing most effectively with the disease. The UK and the U.S. are not among them either.
China is ready to get out of the crisis and thrive again, thanks to its technological progress and the human capacities it has. This will serve the best interests of the international economy as a whole.
Despite the lack of information, Russia does not seem to be worrying case, whether we like it or not. Each country deals with the problem in its own distinct manner.
The solution will come from strong and independent nation states. International institutions, such as the World Health organization and the United Nations, have proved incapable of dealing with these crises. The U.S., the world's superpower, sustains major economic losses as a result of its initial denial of the crisis and then its slow response to it. Around 20 million Americans are without work at present. This is a record unemployment rate. This will of course have an effect on the next presidential elections.
Until January of this year, incumbent U.S. President Donald Trump had a major reelection chance. Now, however, the situation seems to be different. Nonetheless, Trump and his country have the resources to get out of the crisis, even if this will take some time.
The European Union is a different case. The pandemic will increase rifts within the union. China and Russia send the largest amounts of aid to Italy. Europe has whatever it takes to meet the challenges posed by the crisis. This is clear in the way Germany is dealing with it. However, countries like France, Italy, Spain and the UK pay for their neglect of the health system for years. The elites of these countries cared more about globalization and individual freedoms than about the measures their countries should take to confront the coronavirus crisis. We cannot expect anything more from those who act in total submission to international finance. These people just wanted to avoid a financial crisis, but they ended up having two. French politicians are a case in point. They acted very flamboyantly and carelessly.
On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron offered an advice to "careless" French citizens. Did not French authorities take the pandemic lightly at the beginning?
Since February and until today, we have seen an enormous amount of contradictions and confusion. The statements of the minister of health have nothing to do with reality. The French government has banned street marches. It, however, continues to allow soccer matches with Italian teams to be held. Flights continue to be operated to France from China. France has not closed off its borders, even as Angela Merkel, a role model for many European leaders, closed off her country's borders with other countries early on in the crisis.
French officials asked citizens to socially distance themselves. However, the municipal elections were held on March 15 as scheduled.
There was not any health alert at the airports. For example, when I returned to Paris on March 12 – which happened to be during an address by Macron about France moving on to Phase III of the disease – from Syria through Beirut, nobody took my body temperature. I was not asked to fill a medical form either. When I was on the Lebanese-Syrian border on March 5, the authorities applied strict measures .
We are in a hurry once more. Everything is being delayed and we keep going back (mass tests, wearing facemasks, even as they are unavailable, and waiting for a vaccine). The emergency and intensive care services have suddenly discovered their impotence as far as the growing number of patients is concerned. Our health system cannot stand the shock.
History and dramatic events throughout the years taught us that plagues have real dangers. It is ridiculous that we continue to believe that our progress will protect us. State management makes it necessary for us to expect the worst to happen. The coronavirus death rate is low so far (1 – 3%). Nevertheless, the infection rate is still high, even higher than seasonal flu. There is also a high probability that those who recover from the disease will prove positive for it again.
The sure thing is that the international order will not be the same after this crisis. The social and economic crisis caused by the restrictions induced by the virus outbreak can revive popular anger around the world, especially in the countries that face problems in the southern Mediterranean.
There will be an economic recovery after the crisis. Nonetheless, the states that will manage this crisis well will emerge victorious at the end.