Dr. Akkan Suver
President of the Marmara Group Foundation
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the pre-existing hurdles at the national, regional, and global levels: geopolitical conflicts, the deterioration of the global economy, a crisis of democracy, climate change, the displacement of vulnerable people and their marginalization. The pandemic has deepened the feelings of uncertainty, fear, anxiety and anger in all areas and scales of social life, thus transforming our world into a “society of risk”, as felt by many.
Despite the emergence of vaccines against COVID-19 giving the world a hope of returning to normality, there is still a long road ahead; and the “anxiety-fear-anger” period will continue for quite a while. While still fighting the pandemic and in transition to a “post-pandemic” world, there are seven important elements, in our view, that should be taken into consideration.
The first element is the world of security, where the competition for hegemony based on the US-China conflict will become more obvious with the shift of global power to Asia. There are fears that the ‘trade wars” between the USA and China will spread into the geopolitical arena and will mark the aftermath of the pandemic, overriding economy and democracy. After the pandemic, BRICS will be replaced by India, China, Southeast Asia, and Africa, called ICASA. In the next two decades, these countries will come to the fore and will play a defining role in the growth of GDP and the economic growth of the world at large.
The second element to be considered is the “World of Institutions”. International and regional organizations such as the UN, NATO, EU, IMF, World Trade Organization and World Health Organization will increase their influence in the new decade, and will play a vital role in finding solutions to security, economic, environmental, and humanitarian problems. The view expressed is that the multilateral "World of Rules and Institutions" will more effectively enable a return to "stability and normalization" in the 2020s than the nation-states ever could, set against the global-regional turmoil.
Unequal access to welfare, massive unemployment (especially among the youth), overwhelming poverty (where 47% of the world population, almost 3.5 billion people, are trying to survive on less than 1.5 USD a day) constitute our third element: “the Unequal World”. The pandemic has triggered a deepening of the gap in income and welfare between the rich and the poor, and drastically escalated the problem of unemployment.
"Identity problems" experienced in countries on the basis of ethnic, religious and tribal differences on the one hand, and on the other the "polarization problem", predicated on the fear of Islam, the fear of refugees and immigrants and the fear of foreigners, has transformed the world into a "Tribal World". The coming years will be a decade in which the politics of identity and polarization override democracy and the rule of law, and where introversion and nationalism will be strengthened, thereby constructing our fourth element: the “World of Introversion”.
The fifth element is the ever-warming world. "Global climate change and global warming" is a problem that threatens all people, all countries, and all living things. It is a problem that is experienced in every field, from food to water and land, from unemployment to economic stability, from democracy to security; but especially in the field of health, and a problem that can only be solved with "global cooperation and a new understanding of politics and society".
The sixth element is the digital world. Revolutionary changes in technology, digitalization, and automation collectively known as the 4th Industrial Revolution – in other words, the emergence of the “Digital World” – affect all areas of life. While the coronavirus pandemic has made digitalization the most important aspect of working life, our continued evolution into this "Digital World" will become increasingly apparent.
The seventh element is the pandemic world: COVID-19 irreversibly shaped the year 2020 all over the world and in all areas of life. This situation will continue in 2021 and beyond. The fight against COVID-19 has affected every area of life so strongly that the concepts of "post-pandemic world" or "a new normal" have frequently been used. The outbreak has had a great impact on social life and relations ranging from the local to the global level, from daily life to world politics. Moreover, it has also exacerbated the risks in the fields of security, economy, democracy, and climate change, to the extent that it has now become impossible to consider 2021 and the next decade independently of healthcare and the risk of pandemics.
What kind of a world is to be expected?
The answers to the question of, if given a choice of two out of six options (excluding Element 7, the Pandemic World) which ones one would prefer, were as follows: 70-75% of respondents chose between the "Unequal World" and the "Warming World". The next choice was between "Digital World" and "Tribal World", both at a rate of 50-55%. Sometimes one, sometimes the other, was chosen as the third possibility. More interestingly, the "World of Security", predicated on the ongoing the US-China conflict, which was initially the choice expected to come first, came in only fifth in order of preference, while the "World of Rules and Institutions", on the basis of democracy and law, constituted the last choice. Therefore, we can suggest that 2021 and the next decade will be experienced on the basis of the "Pandemic-Unequal-Warming World” with addition of an introverted world shaped by the problems of identity and polarization and of a “digital world” whose importance and prevalence are increasing as a result of the pandemic.
This also gives us important clues about society and world governance:
First, in the security-economy-democracy equation, the emphasis on health-economy and security takes precedence over democracy.
Second, what is understood as “the economy” is not growth, investment, or finance; on the contrary, it is sustainable and resilient human development; more practically, the demands to find solutions to the problems of “unemployment and lack of basic needs such as health, food, water, and climate”. In other words, the understanding of "human development" precedes the "neo-liberal economic growth" approach.
Third, the problems of the Pandemic, Unequal and Warming world raise the question of individual-centered "state capacity" as opposed to that of state sovereignty, and, in the field of security, the question of "human security" rather than state security.
Fourth, even within our preferential debate which portrayed a future world focused on health, inequality and global warming, the concepts and principles of "dignity", "fairness", "justice" and "freedom of rights" were given preference. For example, the problem of unemployment and poverty is to be seen not only as an economic problem but also as an attack on people's dignity and rights.
2021 and the next decade, with the demands for "fight against epidemic-inequality and global warming" allows us to foresee that the tensions between politics and governance, which move from top to bottom and bring state security and economic growth to the forefront, will escalate and deepen.
Within this framework, we believe it appropriate to highlight, in 2021, the recent development of a new factor on the world stage, that being the new presidential administration of the United States. It is no coincidence that the Biden-Harris administration is focused on combating this very Pandemic, Unequal and Warming World the majority has envisioned for the future. In this context, the decisions, and the course of action of the Biden administration will play a vital role in shaping the world to come.