Think Tank
The Modern State and the Effects of the Pandemic on International Stability

The Modern State is an organisation that is always busy, either with war or with preparations for war. Therefore, there is nothing surprising in the fact that the return of this Leviathan (more precisely, the actualisation of this image) arouses expectations that conflicts in international affairs will grow, writes Valdai Club expert Nikolai Silaev. The publication of this article continues online collaboration between Valdai Club as part of its Think Tank project and Argentine Council on International Relations (CARI).

The pandemic is a new and unusual phenomenon from the point of view of the contemporary observer, but completely natural and commonplace from a macro-historical perspective. The history of mankind is, among other things, a history of epidemics and the way they are handled. The victory over epidemics is one of the many side effects of the birth and activity of the modern state, that is, the modern nation-state. This victory was ensured not only by the successes of science (although in the 20th century they became the most important factor), but also by the sharply increased organisational capabilities of the state: regular armies could ensure the observance of quarantines, a widespread, rational bureaucracy could develop and implement sanitation measures, as well as organise the work of scientists. (William H. McNeill, Plague and Peoples). And now this is clearly visible: the key measures to combat the pandemic are organisational ones.

A well-organised entity copes well with a pandemic. The Modern State is again in demand, no matter how many times it was buried.

Kissinger wrote back in the spring that the image of the state as a city behind a high fortress wall is returning, and noted that this is not good, because international cooperation is undermined.

The Modern State is an organisation that is always busy, either with war or with preparations for war. Therefore, there is nothing surprising in the fact that the return of this Leviathan (more precisely, the actualisation of this image) arouses expectations that conflicts in international affairs will grow. There are also expectations that, as different countries deal with the pandemic with different degrees of efficiency, there will be a shift in existing international hierarchies and a redistribution of power and influence in the world.

These expectations lead us to see the impact of the coronavirus in any international or internal conflict. It would be wrong to deny this influence, but it is necessary to clarify in which directions this influence is going. In fact, under the influence of current news, we can overestimate the level of conflict — to notice the conflicts that have arisen and not to notice situations where conflicts could arise, but did not arise or began to decline (Libya, Ukraine, Iran).

Security and Stability in the 21st Century: Avoiding the Inevitability of ‘Traps’
Ricardo Ernesto Lagorio
For the vast majority of the world’s population, there is a need for the provision of critical global public goods, such as public health, climate action, and sustainable development, beyond the classic “hard power” themes more related to issues of military scope. This is so since multilateralism is the only framework that can guarantee common solutions for all countries and peoples to challenges that, like the pandemic, are quite different in nature from those of the past, writes Ambassador Ricardo E. Lagorio.
Expert Opinions

Since the world economy has reached a high level of interconnection, everyone is suffering economically from the pandemic: both those nations which coped well with it and those which did it poorly. This slows down the pace of the restructuring of international hierarchies. Leviathan has not fully returned: he does not yet have economic autarchy (a very important property for the Modern State) and, it seems, has not imparted us with the desire to give up the benefits of international trade. There is a contradiction here: on the one hand, protectionism is a security issue (you need to have the production of key medical goods on your territory), on the other hand, exports are necessary for economic growth. Even if the choice is made in favour of greater protectionism, it will take several years to restructure national economies (and, most likely, this will not be the protectionism of nation states, but the protectionism of techno-economic blocs). If these blocs take shape, things will get worse, but not at once.

The international dynamics of European Modernity presupposed the most severe natural selection among states — if you are not strong enough, you will be destroyed. The post-World War II prohibition of conquest continues to be effective. Great powers are afraid to use force in relations with each other, and have willingly shifted to instigating provocations, especially in third countries, but refrain from war. The value of human life has greatly increased, and this applies even to those who like to demonstrate their readiness to die (because this is not a question of belief, but a question of demography).

From the point of view of a possible increase of a conflict, the main threat is the precariat. The service sector, where it is concentrated, has suffered the most severe losses. Previously, globalisation killed jobs in many countries, especially the comparatively underdeveloped ones, where such jobs seem not to be created anymore.

From this point of view, it would be more appropriate to call international terrorism a riot of the precariat.

It is the fuel of civil wars and proxy wars, and the source of crises in stable political systems. The strong powers will invent mechanisms for ensuring basic guaranteed income and develop an online entertainment industry (and perhaps something more useful — environmental volunteering, for example), the weak ones will look for ways to push their internal crises onto others.

Stability and Security in the Western and Eastern Hemispheres: Views from Russia and Argentina. An Online Discussion
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.