Can Middle Powers Lead the World Out of the Pandemic?
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Possibly 50% chance that they will pull this off. Only if the US produces a sane and mature leadership.
A thought provoking read below.
By Bruce Jones
June 18, 2020
Kay Nietfeld / Reuters
In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, much of the world looked anxiously to Washington to see if it would provide the kind of leadership that was once expected of the United States during major crises. But instead of marshaling a unified global response, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump resisted international health cooperation and announced that the United States would withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO). Domestically, it orchestrated an astonishing display of denial, distraction, and delay that allowed the virus to overwhelm the country.
The question then became: Would China fill the leadership void? Beijing initially sought to cover up the outbreak, but it moved aggressively to lock down entire cities and provinces once the crisis could no longer be denied. By early March, China had mostly halted the spread of the virus within its borders, allowing it to turn to helping other countries overcome shortages of protective gear. China’s “mask diplomacy” has been more effective than is generally acknowledged in the West. In Italy, for instance, opinion polls reveal that more people trust China to contain the virus than trust the United States to do so. And in parts of Southeast Asia, Chinese medical and financial assistance has been similarly well received. But China has not lived down its initial missteps, and its aggressive use of propaganda—including conspiracy theories intended to sow doubt about the virus’s origins—have undercut its claims to global health leadership. When Australia called for an independent investigation into the source of the outbreak and the early response to the pandemic at the World Health Assembly, more than 100 countries supported the motion. Not even Russia stood with China in opposing the investigation.
In the absence of credible great-power leadership from the United States or China, middle powers—including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, among others—have led the way in coordinating health and economic responses. The concept of “middle powers” is imprecise and somewhat inchoate, but it generally refers to countries that are among the top 20 or so economies in the world, lack large-scale military power (or choose not to play a leading role in defense), and are energetic in diplomatic or multilateral affairs. These countries were seeking to fill part of the international leadership void even before the crisis, particularly when it came to buttressing the rickety multilateral system. But their influence on the world stage has increased markedly during the pandemic, which demands exactly the kind of multilateral coordination these powers have long championed. If they can translate their initial diplomatic efforts into sustained responses to the next phase of the pandemic, middle powers just might succeed in leading the world out of the crisis.
The coronavirus pandemic will require sustained international efforts in the health, economic, security, and social policy domains for at least the next 18 months and perhaps even longer. With the United States mired in inward-looking dysfunction and China currently incapable of the kind of diplomatic largesse that global public health leadership demands, middle powers will have to lead the way out of the crisis. Countries such as Canada, Germany, and Japan have been seeking to restore the credibility of the multilateral system for years. If they can work together to conquer COVID-19, they might succeed in doing so.
June 21, 2020 at 2:51 AM #328570
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