So That Happened
So That Happened
Fractures between nations leave a vacuum of leadership to deal with the virus’s aftershocks
Amanda Kolson Hurley

While the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc around much of the globe, political and business leaders are already starting to think about what the world might look like once the worst of the outbreak passes.

The forecasts aren’t good.

Collapsing governments, famine, crushed economies, and emboldened extremists are all among the darkest post-pandemic scenarios. Yet even less dramatic outlooks have a gloomy tinge, with political alliances crumbling and economies unlikely to rebound fast enough to blunt the impact of hundreds of millions of lost jobs.

Seams that were opening before the virus emerged are tearing apart faster. Bickering between the U.S. and China about the origins of and response to Covid-19 now threaten a trade deal that could help the world recover. A fight over distribution of an eventual vaccine is dividing allies. And the United Nations has been sidelined while autocratic governments have stepped up attacks on civil liberties.

Hopes that nations might momentarily set aside their differences to combat the coronavirus have largely evaporated. “This pandemic is about as close to an asteroid hitting the Earth as you can imagine in terms of a common threat,” says Richard Fontaine, chief executive officer at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank. “But not only has there been no meaningful cooperation, it’s become just another vector for competition.”

One of the first fights will be over access to any lasting treatment or vaccine. French officials erupted in early May when the CEO of Paris-based pharmaceutical giant Sanofisaid the U.S. may get the company’s potential vaccine first, since America helped fund the research. Many global leaders argue that any vaccine should be viewed as a public good, though inevitably some populations will have delayed access.

Other post-virus fractures are also emerging. The U.S. shunned a Europe-led virtual meeting on May 4 to raise billions of dollars for a vaccine, and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council haven’t been able to agree on a resolution declaring a global cease-fire—in part because the U.S. objected to a reference to the World Health Organization, which President Trump says is too close to China.

On a deeper level, there’s widespread unease about the Trump administration’s repeated refusal to relent in its maximum pressure campaign of economic sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, despite the privations suffered by those countries’ people as the virus rages.

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May 25 - June 01, 2020