The coronavirus pandemic and the Trump administration threaten to change a world order defined by cooperation.
By Kevin Drew, Assistant Managing Editor,
EACH YEAR IN mid-September, Manhattan takes on a heightened buzz as the United Nations’ General Assembly holds two weeks of debates and meetings, and motorcades carrying the likes of Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump crowd city streets teeming with representatives from international organizations and the private sector.
Not this year.
The U.N. had planned this year’s General Assembly, which began this week and lasts into early October, as an occasion to honor the 75 years since the Allied victors of World War II founded the organization in an effort to avoid the mass destruction of war and spread economic prosperity. But the global coronavirus pandemic has shuttered the U.N.’s midtown headquarters and reduced this year’s General Assembly to a series of online meetings.
The muted U.N. celebrations are a telling symbol of how the pandemic and inward-looking domestic politics are threatening to change a long-standing world order defined by increasing global cooperation – with the United States as its standard-bearer. Already, some see signs of regression: In just 25 weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has wiped out 25 years of progress in global development in areas ranging from health to the economy, according to a report released this week from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The report, which tracks regressions in lifting people out of poverty, improving conditions for children and women and overall vaccination coverage, is the latest sign of an unraveling of institutions and structures lacking orchestration from the U.S., analysts say.
“I don’t see a breakdown but a transformation of the postwar order,” says Steve Tsang, a professor and director of the SOAS China Institute at SOAS University of London. The prominence of the U.S. as the clear leader of a liberal world order is giving way as America faces near peer competition from China, Tsang says in an email. The current style of U.S. leadership – often seen as belligerent and prosaic as Trump is critical of international agreements and trade pacts – is hastening this global shift, he says.