The Legacy of WWII in a Post COVID World

Post WW II, the decisions by leaders lead to a golden period as compared to the current period, where there is a lack of any inspirational leadership.

On 8th May, a world again under seize this time by an invisible virus commemorated the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (V.E. Day), a day on which the Allies finally vanquished Nazi Germany. In many quarters, the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic is being compared to the upheavals, disruptions and losses caused by the world war.  

World War II was the costliest conflict inflicted in the history of mankind with over 70 -80 million deaths amounting to 3 percent of the global population in 1940. India lost between 2,200,000 to 3,087,000 citizens, including approximately 300,000 who died in famines triggered by the global conflagration. The developing CONVID 19 pandemic has already infected over 3.5 million people worldwide with more than 300,000 dead, and counting. Many parts of the developing world, the virus has just made an appearance and is yet to reap its deadly harvest as it stealthily poisons its unsuspecting victims.

A webinar was jointly organised by Foundation Perspective & Innovations (FPI) and the Dialogue of Civilisations Institute (DOC) in which Synergia Foundation was an invitee. The webinar discussed the leadership exhibited after World War II to lead to a golden period of human existence as compared to the current lack of any inspirational leadership to present a united front to the existential crisis now confronting planet earth. 

The Coming Together after the Slaughter

Stunned and humbled by the slaughter of the global war, as erstwhile colonial powers of Europe witnessed their empires slipping away, global leaders sought to bring some sense to the madness inflicting mankind. Flushed with the intoxicating sense of total victory, yet acutely aware of the painful cost paid, the leaders of victorious allied nations came together at Yalta and Potsdam to hammer together the architecture of a new world eschewing another global conflict. The UN-based multilateral framework was cobbled together to guarantee peaceful cooperation and prosperity.  

The key conditions the allowed the allies to move on was a willingness to put aside substantial intractable political, ideological and economic differences for a higher purpose, as opposed to the high ideologue approach that we see today. Together they were able to create a nucleus of a new architecture of international relations based on the principle of equal cooperation among sovereign states. (Quote) "The famous handshake on the Elbe (between the Red Army and the U.S. Army), it was an example of how our countries can put aside difference, build trust and cooperate in pursuit of a greater cause. Fortunately, we don't have to make such enormous sacrifice as our predecessors; politicians and diplomats have already built a mechanism unique in its sustainability and reliability," was the opinion expressed by the Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov, Permanent Representative of Russia to the E.U. and Former Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Recently on the battle site of Sailo Heights, east of Berlin, where the last large scale battle against Nazi Germany was waged, legislatures from Russia, Germany and the U.S. gathered together. They reflected on those who sacrificed everything to usher in a new world and those who died in the war. "No wars did not end with World War ii," reflected Dan Hamilton, Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European Affairs and Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Stiftung. Wars in Korea, Vietnam, India, Pakistan and the Middle East continued to rage around the world. "Real peace actually dawned, not 75 years ago but 30 years back; it came at the end of the Cold War and the legacies that it brought with the peaceful unification of Germany and the end of the Iron Curtain, "said Dan Hamilton.

The Road Map for Post COVID International Cooperation 

"Today we're in a different kind of fight, but it's no less profound because we are all on the front line now of a different kind of conflict about also a killer of humanity, "said Dan Hamiliton. The most significant outcome of international cooperation has been the WHO whose creation was also triggered by the spread of smallpox which had killed more people than World War 1, and World War 2 put together. Humankind may not think about pandemics in the same way as a war but the casualties can be equally horrendous. It is only through extensive international cooperation that smallpox could be exterminated from the face of the earth.   

The best example of how erstwhile foes can come together to create a new future is illustrated by the 1950 Schuman Declaration -- presented by French foreign minister Robert Schuman on 9th May 1950 creating a European Coal and Steel Community-- whose members are France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Together, they laid the foundation of what would ultimately become today's "European Union".

A similar vision of shared destiny is needed today to combat the virus and prepare for the devastating economic landscape that is visible to all. As we step into this new period of uncertainty and looming geopolitical instability, we can only pray for better sense to prevail in the face of large-scale misery worldwide. 

Seventy-five years ago, the leaders of the governments of the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom in the framework of the Yalta and Potsdam conferences defined a new world order for the post-war period, including the creation of the United Nations as an international peacekeeping organisation. To this day, the U.N. remains the only organisation of its kind. Today, the world faces instability and increasing global threats, stemming from information warfare, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, and above all, the failure to combat climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world's system and marks a new milestone in the history of humanity.

"75 years after the end of WW2, we see a lack of trust and inability to cooperate effectively, which gives rise to the question of whether current international relations protocols remain fit for purpose. Or does the world need to consider new models to be better equipped to address the challenges of tomorrow?" questioned Dr. Vladimir Yakunin, Co-founder & Supervisory Board Chairman of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute and Head of the Department of State Governance of the Faculty of Political Science, MSU. The Trump administration has indicated its priorities along these lines, and the same sentiments were the contributing force towards Brexit. In the modern interconnected world, can or should the process of globalisation be stopped? Can or should it be adapted? Despite these strong nationalistic narratives, the current crisis can be seen as an opportunity (or more of an imperative) for the world to sit down and look at how globalisation can be made to work for everyone with a shared commitment for overcoming death, diseases, poverty and inequality.

Today we see a new generation of nationalistic leaders expounding ideology of exclusivity. This raised the question of what kind of leadership the world actually needs if it has to confront successfully, and expeditiously, pandemics which are bound to strike again and again. We also have to re-work upon a new roadmap where multilateral institutions can chart a new model of socio-economic development.

Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov outlined his perspectives on the economic landscape that the world faces as a consequence of the pandemic. The U.S. is expected to see its GDP drop by as much as 15-20 percent. E.U. losses are expected to be as high as 9% for Spain and 6% for Germany, Europe's strongest economy. Defending the recent international condemnation against the dispute between OPEC and Russia, he said, "It would be wrong to blame Russia for the fall in oil prices as the prices would have plunged anyway with or without the agreement on output cuts."

COVID 19 has starkly exposed the total lack of preparedness of even rich countries in so far as pandemics are concerned. Even the U.S. healthcare system, which spends 17% of GDP that is more than the E.U. countries and four times higher than in Russia, has turned out to have feet of clay. WHO budget for 2019 had only 60 million dollars as compared to trillions now being expended to control COVID 19.

Geopolitics of COVID 19

A commonly held view, especially those with greater optimism, is the belief that global pressures like the present one will help bridge existing differences between international actors and facilitate the union in the face of a common enemy. Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov disputed this saying, "[…] the tensions between the U.S. and China and the U.S. and the E.U. won't disappear, whoever comes to White House this autumn, the problems in Brussels –Washington relations will remain as they are as they are much deeper [and] tougher. "The role of the main adversary of the west has been reassigned from Russia to China or its communist party," he explained. He further accused that the world's largest economy was desperately searching for external forces responsible for the present crisis instead of seeing it as an opportunity to remain united.

Dan Hamilton was more optimistic, and he supported it by quoting the past. In November 1990 Paris Charter was signed followed by the Helsinki Accords, amidst the Cold War. The world was able to manage and regulate the competition whether it was in arms control or confidence-building and create rules of the road, which kept the peace, however uneasy it may have been. Sadly, all those guardrails no longer exist, and the world is again in a period of redefinition and change. It is not merely the nation-state reasserting itself but goes much beyond that, more of a period of redefinition of human connections. While the nation-state is part of it is not the entire answer. The world of digitalisation is creating networks that bind us in ways that transcend nations. Human-centric security is becoming just as crucial as nation-centric or network-centric. We fail to fully comprehend this phenomenon as the vocabulary to define it is still not there.

Another worry besetting the world is the growing Sino-U.S. rivalry. HE, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, former Prime Minister of France was of the view that it may be time for the U.S. to stay away from the ambition of collective global governance. There needs to be a way found between China and the U.S. It could be through a non-aligned party like the U.N. The Russian view was that in this rivalry, China was more of the victim than the perpetrator as being painted. The pandemic provides an opportunity to promote political solutions, divert money that is spent on arms on political goals and the medical systems, focus on the possible ways of using an economic stimulus to help those who need it most.

The so-called rivalry is but one of the symptoms of all the disruptions that are shaking the world. Dan Hamilton explained how the world is living in a time of radical uncertainty that is beyond the virus - the virus only amplifies and accelerates other trends that have to do more with human innovation and our ability or inability to cope with them.

There are three world defining innovations. First is the atomic world, which as Albert Einstein put, changed everything other than the way we thought. This was managed successfully for decades, but now we are witnessing a "nuclear disorder" where the Russian-American part is no longer as central as the diffusion of nuclear knowledge and the ability of others to access this technology. The second is the digital revolution which is changing fundamentally many of the ways we communicate. The virus is only accelerating all of these trends in terms of digital networks, and that is going to bypass nation-state systems. The third is the genomic revolution. If you put revolutionary advances and biology together with digitisation, we create something that we have no understanding of at this stage; it is way beyond politics. The challenges we will have to face are beyond the state-to-state arrangement. 

Assessment

  • The multilateral world consists of different civilisations. These should be equal, in terms of equitability to engage in global dialogue. The practice of dialogue is a way of building a global community. Only by working together, we can correct the existing global disorder. 
  • Leadership- the new leaders, should have the ability to see the big picture of the world without limiting their view to electoral cycles and should unite people in the face of global threats.
  • The current crisis shows that the world needs a new protocol possibly, but not everyone agrees. We must offer a new paradigm for global powers to cooperate. 

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