Event ReportsPublished on May 07, 2020
This discussion drew heavily from Shashi Tharoor and Samir Saran’s new book — ‘The New World Disorder and the Indian Imperative.’
COVID-19 and ‘The New World Disorder’: An opportunity in disguise?
The COVID-19 crisis has created confusion, panic and chaos across the world. The crisis has also served as a test of institutional and governmental strength, as several systems have been created to ensure that the nations which are affected by the crisis can pull through. The adjustment of the existing mechanisms and institutions of governance across the globe have given rise to questions on suitability and adaptability of the present system of global governance. Given the importance of this topic, ORF’s Mumbai Chapter hosted its inaugural webinar on “COVID-19 and the New World Disorder.” The webinar panellists were Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament and Dr. C. Raja Mohan, Director of ISAS, National University of Singapore. It was chaired by Maya Mirchandani, ORF’s Senior Fellow. The webinar discussed a wide range of topics, including but not limited to the legitimacy of international cooperation in the face of rising national sovereignty, the shifts in the global balance of power and the reflection of the same in international institutions, increasing Chinese power and influence in the world, the need for change in the methods of global governance, etc. Discussion during the event centred on the radical shift in global governance structures accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic and India’s imperative to push for new law reforms and coalitions between like-minded nations for global sustenance. The discussion also drew heavily from Dr. Shashi Tharoor and ORF President Dr. Samir Saran’s new book — The New World Disorder and the Indian Imperative. The book attempts to look at global governance systems since 1945, the rise of China and the challenges it can pose as a potential superpower and new approaches to governance with enhanced roles for India. The book also covers the distribution of agency in the international community, which Dr. Tharoor was quick to describe as “inequitable, and no longer representative of the reality of today.” He cited instances of global governance being misrepresentative of the reality of today’s geopolitics, such as the permanent membership to the United Nations Security Council. However, disorder in other forms was also described, such as 10 percent of the global population controlling 84 percent of the global wealth, the rise of intra-country inequality even as inter-country inequality is falling, the availability of digital technology to all — which serves as both a liberating tool and “an instrument to subdue, control and surveil the people using them.” This is not limited to national governments — international regimes were also described as “arguably gridlocked” and the 20th-century rules relating to trade, connectivity, innovation, peace and security to have been “undermined by the perverse unilateral state behaviour.” Instead of shared interests that can make these systems fit for purpose in the 21st century, the systems have been challenged and undermined, Dr. Tharoor pointed out. This is supplemented by the rise in populist rhetoric and leadership, the origins of which, were a point of contention between the two panellists. Dr. Tharoor drew upon David Goodhart’s conceptualisation of “somewheres” and “anywheres” whereas Dr. Raja Mohan put forth the belief that “populism is a manifestation of economic loss for most working people in the west, and the populist leaders are channelling it.” Rising concerns of global disorder have also manifested in supply chain management — a topic which has been greatly debated both before and after the COVID-19 crisis struck. Given that a large number of supply chains originate from China and most countries have some link to the same, what was formerly a topic of debate has now become a true cause for concern among the international community. For India, this is even more crucial due to our desire to establish ourselves as a significant player and not simply, as Dr. Raja Mohan described, a “moral commentator.” When contrasted with the idea put forth by Dr. Tharoor that India may gain global leadership by becoming a “developmental power by providing solutions of governance when problems arise,” India’s actions during the current pandemic are of great import. Furthermore, in the light of the “Indian imperative,” the question then arises — is India in a position to pick a side at the international table, if it comes to that. In response to this query, Dr. Raja Mohan remarked that India must now take a more active role than its former position of moral berating, and “actively join the effort to shape the rules that work for India and the world — see how to secure our interests first,” and then take part in the formulation of the rules within which we must work. Dr. Tharoor agreed with this assessment, stating that “in global geopolitics, it is important to be at the high table, as if you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.” The COVID-19 crisis has been described as a way to reboot the system, to fix all the previous problems of global governance and cooperation that existed before. Though the time is therefore ripe for change, the possibility of the wrong kind of change being implemented are also high. For example, the institution of further barriers of trade, commerce and foreign investment, where a freer system would be more beneficial, protectionist retrenchment or retreat-based measures instead of measured responses, etc. To overcome this problem, Dr. Raja Mohan believed that the “like-minded nations forming issue-based coalitions based on their shared interests” would work better than using alignment as a basis for cooperative efforts. The idea of disorder in the global system was prevalent before the COVID-19 crisis came to be, but the crisis brought the problems to the surface and has made them critical issues that must be addressed at the earliest. Where the cards fall after the pandemic remains to be seen, but the pandemic has provided a golden opportunity to resolve existing problems that — in the opinion of the panellists — must not be wasted.
This report has been compiled by Abhimanini Sawhney, Research Intern at ORF Mumbai.
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