Other than Bill Gates and a handful of others who are always on the watch for the next pandemic, one year ago, most people probably wouldn’t have listed a global viral outbreak as one of the top geopolitical risks of 2020. But with so much seemingly out of the individual’s control due to the coronavirus, many are hoping that the world will return to something more closely approximating normalcy next year.
Assuming vaccines do start to become widely available next spring, what’s next for the world as it begins the healing process, and starts to move on from a collective trauma unseen since the close of World War II.
Few would deny that COVID-19 has destabilized the world, and as economies embark on uneven recoveries, the global competition for power, resources and influence will likely intensify as well.
So as we turn our attention toward the geopolitical risks that might lay in wait for Americans post-COVID-19, the Economist has published a helpful summary penned by the editor of the Economists’ annual “The World In…” feature (for the coming year, it’s “the World in 2021”).
* * *
1. Fights over vaccines. As the first vaccines become available in quantity, the focus will shift from the heroic effort of developing them to the equally daunting task of distributing them. Vaccine diplomacy will accompany fights within and between countries over who should get them and when. A wild card: how many people will refuse a vaccine when offered?
2. A mixed economic recovery. As economies bounce back from the pandemic the recovery will be patchy, as local outbreaks and clampdowns come and go—and governments pivot from keeping companies on life-support to helping workers who have lost their jobs. The gap between strong and weak firms will widen.
3. Patching up the new world disorder. How much will Joe Biden, newly installed in the White House, be able to patch up a crumbling rules-based international order? The Paris climate treaty and the Iran nuclear deal are obvious places to start. But the crumbling predates Donald Trump, and will outlast his presidency.
4. More US-China tensions. Don’t expect Mr Biden to call off the trade war with China. Instead, he will want to mend relationships with allies to wage it more effectively. Many countries from Africa to South-East Asia are doing their best to avoiding picking sides as the tension rises.
5. Companies on the front line. Another front for the US-China conflict is companies, and not just the obvious examples of Huawei and TikTok, as business becomes even more of a geopolitical battlefield. As well as pressure from above, bosses also face pressure from below, as employees and customers demand that they take stands on climate change and social justice, where politicians have done too little.
6. After the tech-celeration. In 2020 the pandemic accelerated the adoption of many technological behaviours, from video-conferencing and online shopping to remote working and distance learning. In 2021 the extent to which these changes will stick, or snap back, will become clearer.
7. A less footloose world. Tourism will shrink and change shape, with more emphasis on domestic travel. Airlines, hotel chains and aircraft manufacturers will struggle, as will universities that rely heavily on foreign students. Cultural exchange will suffer, too.
8. An opportunity on climate change. One silver lining amid the crisis is the chance to take action on climate change, as governments invest in green recovery plans to create jobs and cut emissions. How ambitious will countries’ reduction pledges be at the UN climate conference, delayed from 2020?
9. The year of déjà vu. That is just one example of how the coming year may feel, in many respects, like a second take on 2020, as events including the Olympics, the Dubai Expo and many other political, sporting and commercial gatherings do their best to open a year later than planned. Not all will succeed.
10. A wake-up call for other risks. Academics and analysts, many of whom have warned of the danger of a pandemic for years, will try to exploit a narrow window of opportunity to get policymakers to take other neglected risks, such as antibiotic resistance and nuclear terrorism, more seriously. Wish them luck.
* * *
Source: The Economist