Pundits everywhere are forecasting that Covid-19 will reshuffle the global pecking order. It won’t. The same four power centers have been ruling and influencing the world for over five hundred years. It’s been China, Russia, and groups of Islamic and western powers. The latter includes much of Europe, and beginning in the 20th century the United States. During these centuries, from time to time, the relative power quotients have changed, but there has been no change in the four centers of power. This won’t change, and neither will the relative power quotients as a result of Covid-19.
Thus far, Russia has been impacted the least. This encouraged President Putin to leverage the opportunity to foment chaos in the oil industry in an attempt to debilitate the American and Saudi oil industries, and to promote Russian superiority and largesse. In time, Russian Covid-19 cases began climbing, and plummeting oil prices began lowering Russia’s bank balance. It’s safe to say that Russia’s position in the world won’t materially change.
Outside of Iran, most of Islam’s greatest powers fared relatively well from a public health perspective, but not economically. Saudi Arabia figured prominently in the oil price war that was later eclipsed by falling demand. Economically it’s been hit hard, like all oil producing countries. Among the unofficial Islamic powers, stateless militants have been capitalizing on the western world’s preoccupation with Covid-19 to increase power. However, funding cuts and concerns about negative PR from terrorizing nations during a pandemic, limit ambitions. Any gains won’t be durable. The position of Islamic powers before and after the crisis, won’t materially change.
China, home to the Covid-19 crisis, and credited with unreliable figures and assessments, was also portrayed as a hero for helping other nations hit harder than China. It’s called Coronavirus diplomacy. China won’t be a winner here. Propaganda campaigns portraying China as a model for how to manage a national and global crisis, and joint campaigns from China, Iran and Russia to finger the United States as the source of the coronavirus won’t resonate beyond people that want to believe and those poorly informed. The latter group is incredibly large but censorship that limits what information is available makes it hard for anyone to be well informed. Among those that live in uncensored lands, propaganda campaigns and China’s handling of this crisis have portrayed it as an irresponsible global power, rather than the self-proclaimed benevolent power and a model of excellence in leadership. Supply chains are being retooled all over the world, and in time this will have an impact on China, but it was already becoming less export dependent. China’s quotient of power won’t materially change, but momentum toward increasing power is likely to slow.
According to data that is viewed as reliable, the western powers were hit very hard by Covid-19 from economic and public health perspectives. All the western powers are developed nations, which implies mature and resilient political and economic institutions. These nations can stumble from time to time and in this case the stumble was huge, but they will recover. This includes political institutions that protect civil liberties. Economic power in western nations is tied to its many protected personal freedoms. Uncharacteristically, freedoms were severely curtailed. Some have forecast the permanent loss of freedoms. This won’t happen. The masses won’t permit it. Politicians that abuse emergency powers will be challenged in court and won’t be re-elected. The American response, in particular, has been vilified by enemies without and within. In part its politics, in part Trump, and in part the ageless sport of bashing the USA. There will be no loss of the power quotient for western nations, including the United States.
When it comes to the curtailment of freedoms, it is more likely that autocratic governments, like those in Russia and China will keep restrictions, like those on free speech, but people in these nations know freedoms aren’t protected. Still, the impact on global power quotients won’t be materially affected by this, unless this results in another out-of-control pathogen.
All of the global power centers loomed large during the Covid-19 crisis. Some like China, Russia, and stateless actors have tried to leverage the crisis to accrue power, but the global pecking order will remain much as it was before the crisis.