With global risks on the increase, democracies must help build a new world order compatible with freedom.
The Delta variant had arrived in South-East Asia, South Africa and Europe, and the Covid pandemic was continuing to outwit scientists and governments. This fourth wave is jeopardizing global recovery and worsening the crises that emerging nations are going through: only 20% of the world’s population have been vaccinated – only 1% in poor countries.
The devastating floods in Germany, Belgium and central China, as well as the fires in Canada and the American West underline the reality of climate change. Despite the increasing numbers of extreme phenomena that confirm the IPCC’s pessimistic forecasts, the upturn in economic activity that will occur when the epidemic ends will bring emissions in 2022 and 2023 up to record levels, thereby compromising the Paris agreement’s objective of limiting temperature rise to 2°C by the end of the century.
There have also been revelations about authoritarian regimes using the Pegasus software (produced by the Israeli company NSO) to spy on democracies, and there has been an increase in cyber-attacks and in the manipulation of public opinion (fostered by the Covid epidemic). These factors highlight the new digital battleground that enables authoritarian states and criminals to take advantage of the total inability of the major powers to define principles and common standards, at a time when technology is at the heart of the new Cold War between the USA and China.
Furthermore, immigration will undoubtedly increase because of the humanitarian crisis triggered by the Covid crisis in Southern countries, the effects of global warming and, above all, a recrudescence of extreme violence – in Afghanistan with the return of the Taliban, in Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti, and in the chaos reigning in the Middle East and which is spreading to Africa from Eritrea to Mozambique and from Libya to northern Nigeria.
These events interest and affect 7.8 billion people, who are no longer willing to have them dealt with by 800 million Westerners. In the past, mal-development, indebtedness and lack of freedom only really affected Southern countries. However, it is the Northern countries that are now in the front line in face of the Covid epidemic, climate change, cyber-attacks and renewed immigration. They are showing little ability to keep these threats at bay because of the chronic lack of investment – priority has been given to maximizing profit and the distribution of income financed by debt – and by increased inequality, divisions within nations, and the collapse of citizenship. At the same time, the cyber world – as illustrated by Pegasus – contains a levelling factor and gives poor countries an unprecedented ability to take action, to deter and to manipulate.
In short, risks are increasing and taking on global proportions at a time when the global system is breaking up and becoming polarized.
Democracies not only have to reinvent themselves in order to face the rise of global risks, they also have to help in building a new world order compatible with freedom. It is imperative that we do not miss the historic chance offered by the Covid epidemic and the the wake-up call it has sent out.
Two positive signals have already been given: Joe Biden’s commitment to reintegrate the USA into the international system, and China’s announcement of its new policy on carbon neutrality. And significant advances have been made: the G7 decision to give a billion doses of anti-Covid vaccine to poor countries, the G20 agreement to introduce a minimum corporate tax rate and to make an SDR allocation from the IMF – prioritizing emerging nations – of the equivalent of $650 billion.
But, whether these moves concern vaccination against Covid – the aim should be to vaccinate over 60% of all people by the end of 2022 – or the fight against climate change, they are not wide-reaching enough or, above all, fast enough.
The only way we can continue along the path to recovery, achieve sustainable development and curb violence, is by reviving cooperation between nations.
In 1960, in a lecture entitled “The Dawn of Universal History”, Raymond Aron described the dilemma of that century as follows: “Never before have people had so many reasons for not killing each other. Never before have they had so many reasons for feeling that they are joined in the same, single enterprise. I do not conclude from this that the age of universal history will be peaceful. We know that we are beings capable of reason, but are we reasonable?” People in the 21st century must choose: either be reasonable or face extinction.
(Column published in Le Figaro, 26th July 2021)