How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected global perceptions about the transformation of the liberal international order? Over the past year, we have seen a number of analytical pieces by researchers and policymakers declaring the current pandemic a critical turning point in international relations, one which marks the end of the US-led liberal international order and the ushering in of a more multipolar and decentered world, where states struggle to cope with the transnational changes, face rising nationalism, and must manage the economic shocks of sudden economic de-globalization.
As always when analyzing current events, it is important to be cautious and to place events into an analytical and historical perspective. As I have argued with my co-author Daniel Nexon (here, here), the US-led liberal international order has been unravelling for some time, prior to the pandemic and well before the presidency of Donald Trump. Global governance is becoming more contested and multipolar, small states are increasingly hedging their bets by seeking public and private goods from patrons other than the United States and its allies, and new transitional movements are contesting the liberal values and norms associated with US-led global leadership. COVID-19 has served to accelerate many of these trends, but also underscored some important global perceptions about shortcomings of US leadership.
The Trump Administration’s public response to the pandemic has insisted the Chinese origins of the virus in an effort to deflect blame onto Beijing for the outbreak, while withdrawing US funding from the WHO and maintaining that the US response compares favorably with other part of the world in areas like testing, national mobilization or fatality rates. In fact, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers, as of November 30th the United States had suffered the most COVID-related deaths (266,873) and was ranked 13th for most deaths at 81.57 per 100,000 people (a case fatality of 2.0%).
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