An infinitesimal pathogen has wreck havoc on human societies, blitzkrieged all manmade territorial demarcations, ravaged economies across the board and arguably threatens our understanding of the organization of human lives in post WWII global world order. The magnanimity of this situation can be understood from the fact that the worst crisis this living generation has seen and lived before the sudden appearance of SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps the World Financial Crisis of 2007-08. Nation-states and the international community have not yet completely recovered from the impact of the crisis, which was primarily financial in nature. As per the most generally quoted statistics, the global economy went a downturn of just 10 percent of its whole economic activity previously as compared to the WTO and IMF estimation that in the post COVID scenario it will dip down to 32 percent of total global economic activity. The Novel Corona virus pandemic has thoroughly shaken the foundations of our conceptions of national security and national strategic interest in multiple ways. On a broader front we stand today forced to rethink the sustainability of capitalism itself.
If raw, hard military power is to be the paradigmatic yardstick of a nation state’s preparedness for it’s national security then USA spent three times the military budget of it’s nearest rival- People’s Republic of China in 2018. Long ago, even on that eventful day of September 9/11 too- when China was no comparison to America, USA was prepared for defense against all kind of existent nuclear, biological and other security threats. But what it was not prepared for that day was a simple breach of airport security regulations. This time it is a speck-small organism, but unfortunately this time along with America the whole structure and edifice of a global scheme of systems and its aligned order that America had vowed to protect for last half a century has also crumbled along with it. This is not to say that ‘bio-security’ has emerged as a ‘new’ threat against national security because neither this pandemic, nor the ones that came before it has recognised the manmade boundaries of manmade sovereign territories. It is a known fact that a number of great cross-national empires have fallen to vicious pandemic outbreaks in the past; but the reality of today is that capitalism in its unscrupulous avarice to accumulate more profit have declared war upon a force which is unimaginably beyond its reckoning capacity. Therefore, we are in dire necessity of accepting the fact that ‘human security’ is the idea that needs to be conceptualized rather than redefining notions of national security.
It seems like free market, open borders, international cooperation, global community were all simple catchwords of capital for it’s imperialist agendas of self-aggrandizement and exploitation. This crisis has revealed to us that there is no real global cooperation existing between a non-existent ‘global community’. Barring the humanitarian actions of a few small individual countries like Cuba or Vietnam, international human solidarity never existed unless we are talking about the parasitic alliance of world industrial and finance capital. China with its Belt & Road initiative (BRI)- lauded by many as a possible game-changer in the orient in general and the plan for the prophetic rise of Asia in particular, wanted to give the toughest political and economic challenge USA has faced after 1991. Chinese economy survives on manufacturing and now factories are shuttered around the world and we don’t have the slightest clue to when these factories will be able to function with their full capacities again. To fund the BRI along with its 70+ member partners China needs revenue; which China will see a hard time generating, considering the crisis capitalism has fallen into. The unity of European Union- the largest post national regional arrangement, is also evidently in shambles. Nations are scratching every bit of resources available to ensure the survival of their own populations. Indian prime minister briefly tried engender a rejuvenated cooperation among the South Asian nations via the not-so-successful platform of SAARC, which too didn’t bore any significant reliefs.
The agency of globalized market system activates itself through the complexities of a world-over spread, closely knit network of supply chains which in turn work via multiple processes of compartmentalization of production and highly specialized division of labor. The inability of the labourer (due to world over strict sequesterization measures) to pull the lever has engendered a situation where the supply ‘chain’ has been immobilized and its locomotion halted (here the Marxian idea of exchange-value, wealth creation must be mentioned, at least in brackets!).
The Aftermath of Doom
The discussions on what the aftermath of the pandemic will possibly look like starts with predictions about the changed nature and roles nation-states are going to play. Apart from heightened vigilante-rhetoric of toxic nationalisms against poor immigrants and allied stricter border regulations; we can expect a more pervasive influence of surveillance machineries with nation states turning autarkic to varying degrees. (‘Autarkic’ here need not narrowly be understood as 20th century model of economic ‘self reliance’, but should rather be broadly referred to as ‘self regulation’ or an increased ‘operational autonomy’ – which implicates an intensified attempt at entrenching state’s surveillance capabilities in citizen’s life; especially given the fact that we inhibit a far more technocratized world than it was some 50 years ago.) ‘International order’ has come a long way down and going back to the era of English Corn laws or to the era of Alexander Hamilton’s American system may not be either possible or feasible, yet we will find, at least for the time being the coming back of heightened attempts of protectionism and localism on the part of nation-states on the one hand and the struggles of a highly developed meshy circuit of international finance capital against it on the other hand. Capital, for the time being, may show some sympathy towards human sufferings, may engage in activities aimed at ensuring mechanisms for multilateral cash swaps and liquidation programmes to avoid a similar situation as during 1930s when ‘bank runs’ were becoming so ferocious so as to sink multiple national banking systems altogether. As is evident from IMF chief economist’s briefing of post pandemic economic situations around the globe, IMF certainly knows its limits and will encourage nation-state oriented and orchestrated overhaul to make conditions ready for ‘business as usual’ (here the Marxian concept of ‘creative destruction’ needs to be theoretically elaborated- but for the considerations of restrictions at hand, let’s leave it aside to political economy to delve into greater detail). Therefore, to the question of whether “Is this the return of the nation-state?” – We must, as of now, answer it that “it depends on how international finance capital; which was/is the locomotive force behind globalization, behaves to the exigencies of the newly arisen set of situations.”
I wish here not to restrict myself to a narrow US-China debate because there will be aggressive new attempts by Western Europe to venture out the possibilities of relocating and diversifying global supply chains into more favorable geopolitical locations thereby putting China into a more unfavorable position. Therefore, it seems unlikely that a ‘retreating US’ will organically ensure a Chinese ascendancy; what possibly be more probable is a recklessly ambitious yet ambivalent multi-polar world order. A scenario where every possible contender will be bolstering up its all possible arsenal and giving a neck to neck competition; one dominating here, the other dominating there- yet not achieving a roughly stable balance of power will be possibly the sight for decades to come.