The full extent of COVID-19’s impact on global geopolitical balances cannot yet be assessed. Nevertheless, a number of trends are clearly emerging and these have already upset a number of balances which previously seemed unchangeable. COVID-19 is evidently not the cause of such changes, which had been well underway before the outbreak, but the pandemic has become a litmus test that has further thrust these developments under the political spotlight.
The first visible consequence is the establishment of a global system on a multipolar basis, where each “pole” pursues its policies by using traditional instruments of power in very different ways. In this system, where Russia, China, the United States and, potentially, the European Union tend to emerge as key global players, other countries, such as India or Brazil, do not yet seem to have reached the status of “global competitors”. This proves that a booming economy is not enough to have a global role. Other material and immaterial factors, which these countries do not currently possess, are required.
In terms of areas of competition, the European region seems to have lost its historical centrality to the benefit of the Pacific area, where numerous new regional actors are now capable of exercising important roles. The Pacific area could potentially evolve and develop a system similar to the European “Balance of Power” of the 18th and 19th century. Currently, however, only China and the United States are arguably willing and able to act as main players in this area, with Russia a more marginal actor.
The Middle East seems to have lost the centrality acquired in the 1970s following the oil shock. Many of the states which aspired to reach the status of “competitors” vis-à-vis the major powers have already or will soon face the reality that their geopolitical relevance is, at most, regional. Africa seems destined to remain an area of competition among major powers, thus having only limited possibilities of developing real centres of power which would eventually be able to take on such roles, even if only regional ones. South and Central America will continue to be peripheral regions, while remaining at the same time subject to competition from main actors on the global stage.
At a systemic level, the cultural and economic processes of integration will advance, but on the global scale these will presumably be much slower, albeit faster within those groups of nations which share similar values, rules and socio-political structures. The major international organizations, meanwhile, will likely lose credibility and capacity to take action, making room for new regional bodies, which will be more homogeneous, more responsive and probably “supervised” by a major power acting as the country of reference.
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This blog first appeared on the IAI site.
Author: Stefano Cont, IAI.
Image courtesy of Michael Pardo via Flickr.
The views are those of the author and not necessarily those of ETTG.