The Emirates Policy Center (EPC) has held a remote symposium entitled “Coronavirus Crisis and Potential Global Geo-Strategic Shifts”, on Tuesday 21 April 2020. The keynote speaker in the symposium was the renowned US intellectual Professor Joseph Nye, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs and former Chair of the National Intelligence Council. The symposium was moderated by Dr. Zeid Ayadat, professor of political science and expert on the Game Theory in international policy analysis.

Dr. Ebtesam al-Ketbi, EPC President, opened the symposium which was broadcast live via the Center’s accounts in different social media platforms. She referred to the preoccupation by experts today with predicting what the coronavirus pandemic will lead to in terms of shifts in world power and the nature of the international order, particularly in terms of the current rivalry between major powers, specifically the US and China.

Dr. al-Ketbi indicated that the coronavirus pandemic constitutes a “strategic shock” for the world, underlining that understanding the implications of the pandemic today will enable us to predict and foresee the geostrategic shifts that may result from it.

The coronavirus epidemic is the evidence of an international moral failure

Professor Nye referred to the challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic for the policies and strategic orientations of global powers and how it has renewed the debate on the principle/notion of national interests and the importance of defending them. Yet the real question lies in how we define those interests. Obviously, their definition today needs to transcend the narrow self-interested boundaries of countries to the common interests of countries or global interests. He underlined that the coronavirus epidemic confirms that the interests of countries today cannot be achieved in isolation from the interests of other countries since all countries of the world participate in countering the threats resulting from cross-border crises, such as epidemics and climate change.

Nye added that while it is normal for major powers to compete, what we need to learn is that these powers can simultaneously compete and cooperate. Within this framework, he expressed his disappointment at the response to the epidemic by both the US sand China. Such a response constituted an example of a moral failure in international politics. He explained that what the world should see from the US and China is working with others such as Europe to develop a plan such as the Marshall Plan directed towards poor countries to counter this new epidemic.

Speaking of the future of globalization as a result of the coronavirus crisis, Professor Nye expressed the view that economic globalization had reached its peak prior to the crisis. However, efforts were made by the US and other countries to limit economic integration, as was seen in what is referred to today as “trade wars”. Yet what he called “ecological globalization”, such as epidemics and climate change, obeys the laws of physics and biology rather than the laws of politics. Nye rejected the analyses that underline the death of globalization. He said that globalization has received a setback, as we witness a decline in economic globalization. However, a larger ecological globalization has emerged as a result of this crisis.

Assessment of the status of power at the global level

One of the topics of discussion with Professor Nye focused on the assessment of the current status of power and its distribution at the global level. After reviewing his definitions of power and its hard, soft, smart and sharp demonstrations, he underlined that the assessment of China’s power is much exaggerated as China is not a great power. While it has achieved a significant progress in the economic domain, it has not overtaken the US in terms of comprehensive power which includes both the military and soft power. Even in the economic domain, China’s high rates of economic growth are over.

With regard to his assessment of Russia’s position on the world power map, Nye indicated that Russia also attempts to compete with the US in the area of global power. However, Russia has a strangely unbalanced economy. Two thirds of its exports depend on oil and gas. According to Nye, if Russia wishes to be successful, the real secret lies in whether Moscow can transform itself into a global economy, which we do not see today. While President Putin has managed to assert Russia’s military role as we have seen in Syria, he has not developed a long-term plan to achieve economic growth. That is, the Russian president has been successful at the tactical level, but he has failed at the strategic level.

As for Europe, Professor Nye expressed his view that the European Union (EU) will manage to survive the current crisis, although countries in central and northern Europe have to assist European countries in the south, such as Italy, Spain and Greece.

In the regional context associated with the pandemic and containing its health and humanitarian implications, Nye drew attention to the importance of the UAE taking the initiative during this crisis by establishing a regional fund to assist poor countries in the region and those which cannot counter the pandemic alone.

Grand US strategy and President Trump

Referring once again to the US, Professor Nye expressed his fear that President Trump may use the coronavirus pandemic for more inward-orientation as he attempts to restrict trade and immigration as a result of the current crisis. Nye underlined the importance of developing a grand US strategy, indicating that any broader US strategy under any new US administration should focus on four main components: maintaining the alliance system, particularly with the EU and NATO and allies in southeast Asia who fear the Sino-Russian expansion; focusing more on transnational issues such as world health and climate change; developing global institutional frameworks; and, lastly, carrying out repairs at home. The US should make more effort to improve its own infrastructure and health care system while maintaining a high rate of investment in important areas such as research and development (R&D).

Professor Nye expressed doubt about the capability of the Trump administration to adhere to those principles in case Trump wins in the upcoming elections next November. However, Nye thinks that the coronavirus pandemic has greatly weakened the prospects of President Trump in getting re-elected. He underlined that when there is a crisis, the US people generally rally around the president. While we have seen a rise in Trump’s popularity in the early days of the crisis, his inept and fumbling way of managing the crisis has weakened his image in the eyes of Americans.  

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