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The World According to Haass

Guest: Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations

The coronavirus has exposed the weaknesses of today’s world order – what will global trade, politics and policy look like after COVID-19?  

After months of quarantines, some countries are beginning to shift out of confinement. But the world we knew is already a thing of the past. The health pandemic has laid bare global disparities and the vacuum of international leadership while, at the same time, it has accelerated nationalist and authoritarian trends. The ripple effects of COVID-19 will blur the world as we knew it and change global trade, politics, and economics.

Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, joins Altamar to discuss the features of a post-coronavirus world. His new book, The World: A Brief Introduction, provides a window into foreign relations of the present and future. Haass is a veteran diplomat and global policy expert. He has served as the key U.S. player in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, and South Asia. One of America’s truly global voices, Haass is the author or editor of fourteen books on U.S. foreign policy.

Haass’ new book makes the case effectively for the need for international solutions to global problems. But as we navigate the coronavirus, countries seem to be moving in the exact, opposite direction. “There is going to be very uneven responses within countries, for all I know within states, and obviously across industries…it’s probably an irony wrapped in tragedy that here you have a quintessential global problem and the global response is woefully inadequate,” says Haass.

The coronavirus has put a spotlight on the lack of superpower leadership from both the U.S. and China. According to Haass, America’s retreat started well before COVID-19: “I think elements of it were to some extent beginning with the end of the Cold War.” In a post-COVID-19 world, “It’s quite possible that neither the United States nor China will come out of this in an enhanced position, and we’ll move into a world where the distribution of power…is even greater…where it’s even harder to forge leadership. And the world just doesn’t self-organize. So, my guess is we’re moving into a dangerous phase of international relations.”

As nationalism and fears over economic security calcify, COVID-19 could further result in limiting free markets. “There’s strategic and economic downsides to a world of less trade…we were already moving in that direction, and I think that the combination of the ‘lessons’ of this pandemic, the desire to reduce vulnerabilities to foreign supply chains, plus the need to get people at home back at work…we’re going to see a movement towards a much larger role in the economy for government, and trade is going to be much more managed,” explains Haass.

The twin forces of increasingly international problems and reflexive isolationism could worsen in Europe, too. According to Haass, “Several years ago, the big debate in Europe was…whether Europe would become ever more integrated…Now it’s the opposite debate. It’s how much less integrated does Europe become?…This is potentially the most dangerous moment for the European project going back to when it began in the aftermath of World War II… If I were European, I would be saying…’How do we build a floor under Europe?’ and then let’s recalibrate in the aftermath of the pandemic about what a new era of the European Union would look like.”

Amid waning global cooperation, Haass suggests new approaches to international relations for urgent issues like climate change, cyber-space, global health, and migration: “In some cases, it could mean shoring up existing institutions or modernizing them, or maybe creating new ones…in some cases, it may make more sense to say, ‘Hey we’re just going to create a new grouping to deal with these issues.’ It’s clear that not everybody will want to play nice and collaborate. But if we can get 60% or 80% of the relevant players in the room, and they’re prepared to do something, that is certainly better than getting 100% of the players in the room and accomplishing nothing.”

Learn more about what a post-COVID world might look like, available for download here.

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Episode 73