David Frum: The coronavirus is demonstrating the value of globalization
In the short term, COVID-19 has shut down most of the planet, interrupting billions of lives. It has already produced an every-country-for-itself approach, with border closures, export controls, competition for medical resources, and other restrictions. Supply chains and trade relationships have been rattled, relations with allies have been strained, and even liberal countries have welcomed intrusive technological surveillance measures to fight the virus. Autocrats have seized more power at home, and China has launched a major charm offensive abroad. Current government intervention to prop up economies is unprecedented in speed and magnitude.
Long-term, the pandemic will likely affect population movements, work and travel patterns, trade and finance restrictions, the scope or lack of international cooperation, the role of public health in the pantheon of global threats, the trend toward nationalism and autocracy—and that's just a short list. Some of these effects will revert after the pandemic ebbs, while others won’t.
At a minimum, however, the pandemic will accelerate geopolitical changes already in progress. At a maximum, it will usher in a new global era, with as-yet-undefined characteristics. American leaders should be not bystanders as this new world unfolds, but its visionaries.
Donald Trump conjuring an especially expansive vision of a post-pandemic world is difficult to imagine, based on how he’s handled the crisis so far. But the mindset the Atlantic Charter represents is one needed today. American leaders—the Trump administration, even if its vision may be limited; certainly Joe Biden; and members of Congress—should each begin planning now for the institutions, initiatives, relationships, and movements that should rise in the trauma’s aftermath. This forward-thinking effort must begin at home, and ultimately include like-minded partners—the countries that can play a constructive role after 2020, akin to Britain’s after 1941.
Read: How the pandemic will end
How should leaders get started? Again, the Atlantic Charter offers a guide. In 1941, the principles addressed deeper issues that had led to war. Now the systemic problems America faces that demand solutions include a decline in globalization and international cooperation, creeping illiberalism, and the shifting U.S.-China balance of power. Leaders should not simply accept that those problems will be the same after the pandemic. The crisis presents an opportunity to catalyze new approaches to governance and geopolitics. While policy makers focus on the current crisis, they should start asking the bigger questions.
The pandemic, for instance, has prompted strikingly little international cooperation. Governments have made decisions about borders, entry protocols, export bans, and population-control measures largely on their own. Key multilateral groupings, such as the UN Security Council, the G7, and the G20, haven’t accomplished much. Instead, nations have thrown up walls to travelers and trade. Even if many coronavirus-era barriers eventually fall, the world passed peak globalization roughly a decade ago, and key populations around the world have grown skeptical of international engagement. Are more effective responses to transnational threats possible, and how can countries generate the will to implement them? Is a new social contract needed for countries to more broadly share the benefits of globalization?