Covid 19: What Ails Global Governance?

Netajee Abhinandan
May 10, 2020


Today no part of the world is untouched by the scourge of the Covid-19 pandemic. While millions have been affected across the world, hundreds of thousands have lost their lives. Never in history, any disease touched the lives of the people of the entire world, the way the Corona virus epidemic has done. In a way, Corona has emerged as the most egalitarian and yet the most atrocious imperialist of the 21st century that is yet to encounter any credible challenge to its burgeoning dominance. Even the US and the rich and developed countries of Europe are at a loss to respond to this unfolding catastrophe despite having access to the best of resources, technology, scientific knowledge, and expertise. The disease is spreading its tentacles rapidly to claim more territories and lives each passing day. 

It is clear that the enormity of this crisis is far greater than other crises the world has faced in the last two decades, like terrorism, climate change, or poverty. However, most ironically, while the entire world is facing this unprecedented situation without any exception, there is yet to emerge a cohesive, concerted, and unanimous global response to tackle it. In place of collective decision-making or action, a bitter duel is going on between countries, especially the US and China, as to who is responsible for the outbreak and spread of the pandemic. While some are calling it the ‘communist virus’, others are calling it ‘fascist virus’, and China would like all to believe it is ‘capitalist virus’ started by the US. Unfortunately, instead of uniting the world, the pandemic has divided the world, again, into ‘nation-states’, each jealously guarding its territory, people, and interests, propounding the maxims of globalization that entailed establishing a ‘Global Village’. It seems as if the crisis has paved the way for resurfacing of ‘ideological warfare’ and the beginning of a new phase of the Cold War. This scenario questions the efficacy of global institutions and regimes- starting from the UN and a host of other organizations both working under its auspices and outside- in managing the situation and putting in place a credible response to the unfolding crisis. Apparently, the hallowed concept of ‘global governance’ that-emerged in the context of acceptance of globalization as the inevitable and inescapable reality of international life-called for close cooperation among states, non-state actors, institutions for negotiating responses to global problems of this nature, has gone for a toss.

In the 1980s, liberal theorists tried to shift the focus away from a state-centric analysis of international relations to the study of transnationalism and international organizations in an attempt to establish a liberal and cooperative framework that would help in fostering greater understanding among countries and thereby repudiated the realist notions of power and conflict. Theorists like Stephen Krasner advanced the concept of ‘international regime’ focussing upon state-to-state negotiations for maximization of cooperation on different issue-areas like health, trade, and environment that would be beneficial for all stakeholders. The contention was some regulations of the regimes might seem unreasonable or exacting, but the benefits of cooperation through regimes would necessarily be far greater than the costs of countering the problems without any collective or institutional mechanism. Regime theory was a turning point in the IR discourse as following its prescriptions, different regimes were created, rather successfully, to collectively deal with various problems. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) was perhaps the best example. Subsequently, theorists like James Rosenau and Ernst-Otto Czempiel put forward the concept of ‘global governance’ to argue that governance cannot be the exclusive domain of the state; the state has to share both power and responsibility with the market, transnational and non-governmental/civil society organizations. 

The way the world is dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, it is quite evident that the concepts of the ‘global regime’ and ‘global governance’ have been obliterated. The (global) regimes and institutions that should have been at the forefront of negotiating the probable solutions to the worst crisis are either invisible or facing flak for their inept handling of the situation. The UN has termed “Covid-19 as the greatest test it has faced since inception” and called for “coordinated, decisive, inclusive and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies – and maximum financial and technical support for the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries.” However, the UN has neither convened the Security Council meeting to discuss the situation nor issued any concrete policy roadmap. The World Health Organisation (WHO), which should have been leading the war against Covid-19, is in the dock for suppressing facts and not taking early adequate measures to contain it. The Trump administration has accused the WHO of acting at the behest of China and stopped the grant to the organization. Even the European countries are not happy with the functioning of the WHO. There is no policy prescription from either IMF or WTO for the revival of the global economy and trade transactions yet. The world looks more divided than ever as if it reverts back to pre-globalization days when rules, policies, and norms were framed and implemented by the states, purely based upon their own perceptions and reading of their interests. 

One of the primary goals of the global governance mechanism was global risk management that entailed putting in place necessary measures to maximally reduce the likelihood and impact of any event that could put human lives at risk across the world. Just when it seemed that the time for intensification of global governance has arrived, the institutional-carriers of the process have chosen to stay dormant, miserably failing to rise to the occasion. It may prove to be the costliest slip for all those who believe that peace and security could be achieved through collective action and cooperation. 

*** The author is Director of Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies and currently working as assistant professor of political science at Ravenshaw University ***