Global governance after COVID-19: Survey report
Source: Brookings
Date: August 9, 2021
Global governance after COVID-19: Survey report
The Global Economy and Development Program at Brookings conducted a survey on multilateralism in the Spring of 2021 as part of a project on the future of global governance. This report summarizes and analyzes the results. It comes at a time when the new Biden administration has re-committed the United States to multilateral cooperation and multiple initiatives—notably on international taxation, the issuance of $650 billion of new Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), and ramped up efforts to cut emissions to combat climate change—are underway. At the same time, the rivalry between the United States and China is growing, threatening a new form of Cold War, and new technologies are emerging, promising enhanced human welfare while introducing the risk of misuse. The COVID-19 pandemic is still far from under control in most developing countries due to a lag in vaccination rates and the uneven recovery from the pandemic-induced economic recession.
However, multilateralism has been in crisis long before the pandemic. Growing political discontent with globalization has been associated with the failure of the multilateral system to stem the tide of rising inequality, social fragmentation, and job insecurity heightened by technological change. Moreover, calls to reform global governance to better reflect the shift in economic, demographic, and political weight of developing countries have gone largely unheeded. Political rigidities in multilateral organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, United Nations (U.N.), and World Trade Organization (WTO) have prevented adequate reform.
Disillusionment with the existing multilateral system has prompted various alternative visions, such as replacing multilateral agreements and rules with bilateral deals or groupings of like-minded or geographically proximate countries. We believe that these alternative approaches cannot adequately replace true multilateralism since a world facing inherently global challenges—as evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic—requires globally concerted actions and responses. For the Global South, the consequences of weak multilateralism—on climate change, trade, conflict prevention, and countless other issues—are particularly high.
COVID-19 has laid bare key vulnerabilities of an economic system designed to maximize short-term efficiency at the expense of robustness and resilience. As governments struggled to procure vital medical goods and mount an effective response to COVID-19, international cooperation broke down, sparking export bans and political recriminations. This followed recent trends of nationalist leaders calling for inwardlooking policies. The irony, of course, is that just as the world was turning away from multilateralism, COVID-19 underlined its necessity: given that the virus spreads seamlessly across borders, the threat of further spikes in infections will persist unless countries collaborate on expanding access to vaccines and ending the pandemic. And epidemiologists warn that an even worse pandemic could hit the world at any time, further highlighting the need for global cooperation.