A new global order is likely on the cards, although it is not clear who stands to gain
Predictions have been part of life throughout human history, including mythological times. Even gods and goddesses were beneficiaries and victims of prophecies.
Stories of self-fulfilling prophecies are legion in history. Most people show interest in knowing about the future through a cursory glance at the horoscope columns or by hiring full time astrologers.
Most politicians, old and new, plan their activities after studying the configuration of stars and planets. Many significant events in history, including timing of wars and elections were taken on the advice of astrologers.
Shakespeare, even after asserting that “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings,” has shown in some of his plays how black magic and predictions determine the behaviour of men and women. It is a lesson to see how wicked predictions of the three witches turned Macbeth from a hero to a villain.
It is at the time of crises that predictions become important. With the advent of the Coronavirus, with so many uncertainties around us, medical, geopolitical and economic predictions have become extremely important.
In fact, it has become an industry for scientists, strategists, futurologists and others to speculate as to when the pandemic will end and what the post-Corona world will be like. Predictions are hazardous, but everyone engages in it even in the absence of the necessary data.
Nostradamus was notoriously vague in many of the predictions he made in his 1555 book, Les Prophéties. But even after nearly five centuries, humans still find themselves turning to his writings in times of woe as many events appeared to have been anticipated by him. Most often it is a matter of someone reading his predictions and interpreting them to describe later events. When it was found that Nostradamus had written about two metal birds crashing into two towers, it was believed that he had predicted 9/11.
Nostradamus is supposed to have predicted air travel ("People will travel safely through the sky"), the year of the great fire of London ("The blood of the just will be demanded of London burnt by fire in three times twenty plus six") and the rise of Hitler (though Nostradamus referred to him as "Hister.") Many believe that Nostradamus had also predicted the COVID-19 pandemic.
When we are very much in the middle of the storm, the priority should be to reduce the number of deaths by finding an effective medicine or a vaccine. It is evident that great damage will be done to the economic and political life, but that damage is too unpredictable to worry too much about when human life is at stake more imminently.
What is being done, however, is to identify what sort of trends we will need to watch for during the coming months and years in order to assess and plan for the political impact of a pandemic. Most countries have made mistakes in handling the pandemic by doing too little too late. Once the situation stabilises, these governments will be made accountable for their omissions and commissions, whether they are democratic or authoritarian.
Predictions began to be made within weeks of the spread of the pandemic beyond China. One thing common about all the predictions is that an era has ended at the end of 2019 and that a new era will be in the making in 2020 and beyond.
No one is clear about the contours of the new era without a clear picture of the extent of damage that it will cause to the existing institutions. The speed with which the changes will take place is also quite uncertain.
“The reality is the world will never be the same after the Coronavirus,” said Henry Kissinger. But writers like Richard Haas have suggested that the new dispensation will only be an accentuation of the trends which were already visible since 2014. In other words, the world order may not take a dramatic turn, but move in the same direction as before, but at much greater speed.
One of these trends has been the shift of global power from the west to the east. Here, the most significant development was the rise of China. China, however, is at a turning point at present.
Having kept the gravity of the Coronavirus confidential, China is now claiming that it has grappled the pandemic and is now ready to help and support the world. The deep suspicion that China may have created the virus still remains and if there is any truth in it, China will not be able to recover from its ignominy.
Its efforts to grab foreign companies and banks have caused quite a stir in the international market and several countries, including India, have begun to spurn Chinese investment. The early prediction made by a Singaporean scholar that it will be a China-centric world after the pandemic is most unlikely.
Predictions about the US have also been difficult. The US has completely failed to control the virus and the number of deaths has been increasing even today. In these circumstances, it is unthinkable that the US can hold on to its preeminent position in this world. Much will depend on the November elections at which President Trump will be held accountable for all his omissions and commissions.
His priority seems to be to win the elections, not to end the misery of his people. If he learns to develop an era of global cooperation through his current experience, it may do the US and the world some good. But this is too much to expect from him.
Most predictions anticipate that globalisation and multilateralism are in their last days on the basis that there has been little international or regional cooperation in combating the pandemic and the United Nations has been paralysed in the face of the greatest existential challenge humanity has faced.
A former Australian Prime Minister has suggested that some countries, (India not included) who have faith in multilateralism, should provide an alternative to the UN. There are also suggestions that G-20 should take the lead in building an alternative. But the more likely scenario is for the UN to continue as before at the mercy of the permanent members. It will be too much to expect that the restructuring of the UN will take place.
A question being dealt with by the analysts is whether the experience of the pandemic has enhanced the value of democracy as a form of Government or whether majoritarianism or authoritarianism have gained the upper hand. Since China’s behaviour has been dubious, the success of democracies like Taiwan, South Korea and India has been noted. Some have predicted that there will be more failed states after the pandemic as international assistance may not be forthcoming.
India has a window of opportunity in the new dispensation as it has not only dealt with the crisis well so far but also because we have kept our relations with China, the US and Russia stable.
India’s quick decision to lift the ban on export of some vital medicines and sending them to more than fifty countries has been a major diplomatic success. At the same time, we have to depend on China for medicines and equipment.
India can also take credit for initiating international cooperation through SAARC and G-20. If the Coronavirus can be controlled and shortages and poverty are avoided at this particular time, India will be poised for a rise on the international firmament.