Over the last few months the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has spread across more than 180 countries and territories and morphed into a global health pandemic with a tragic human toll and severe economic consequences. To combat the spread of the disease, a growing number of nations have moved away from multi-lateralism to pursue more protectionist and nationalist policies. Examples include border closures, travel bans and additional immigration-related restrictions, trade barriers, and other impediments to the global supply chain. All the while, world leaders have used emergency powers to increase the size and scope of their governments.
It is imperative that governments around the world heed the recommendations of the scientific community and enact appropriate quarantine and isolation-like measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. At the same time, as more nations turn inward and multi-lateral ties come under strain, we should not lose sight of the value of globalization and globalism. As more countries favor restrictions on the flow of people and the exchange of goods and services, we should not overlook the continuing importance of open markets and free trade. And as more people across the globe socially distance, we should not forget our common purpose.
For decades the world has become increasingly interconnected politically, economically, and culturally. In recent years in particular, members of the international community — institutions and individuals alike — have worked together to address a wide range of critical global issues including climate change, education, equality, hunger, justice, peace, poverty, public health, and a number of other global challenges outlined by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. International agreements have opened borders and transcended the confines of the nation-state. As political ties have strengthened, new ideas have spread across countries. Innovative products and technology have been made available in more parts of the world. Through bonds such as these, a new global identity continues to emerge.
International cooperation is rooted in the growing concept of ‘global citizenship’, which by definition encourages nations and citizens across the world to join in common causes. Global awareness and a shared commitment to act, coordinate, and mobilize others are the hallmarks of global citizenship. Other common traits include empathy, concern for the environment and for sustainability, respect for diversity, and redress of economic and social inequities.
Governments and citizens, united in common purpose and vision, have benefited from such cooperation. Over the past few decades, with the help of such organizations as the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the IMF, economic growth and foreign aid have increased, poverty rates have decreased, and more individuals have experienced a higher standard of living. Countries have also increasingly shared scientific knowledge and equipment and collaborated on vital medical research.
That being said, globalization has its flaws and limitations. While globalization has created more wealth, it too often benefits corporations and not those who work for them. And while globalization intends to open societies, democracy continues to be in retreat in too many areas of the world — including parts of Europe — and too often non-democratic leaders exploit globalization for their own personal gain.
As we grapple with the effects of Covid-19, multi-lateral institutions like the EU and the UN still have an integral role to play. Countries should indeed implement sensible mitigation strategies to address Covid-19, which may include temporary lockdowns to protect their citizens during a pandemic, but there is still a place for the very international cooperation that has come to define the world order in recent years.
Despite their shortcomings, a number of EU nations have provided valuable financial and medical assistance to other member states as the European Commission develops new strategies. The UN has sought billions in humanitarian aid and the UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution that calls for “intensified international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat the pandemic”. But aspiration must turn to results. Britain’s former prime minister Gordon Brown has stressed that “every single country acting individually or even bilaterally” is not enough, calling on the international community to take bold action. Brown, along with approximately 200 leaders, economists, and scientists, also signed an open letter urging the G20 nations to work together and create an executive task force.
The international community must work together on treatments and vaccines, improving healthcare, aiding economic recovery, and preparing for a next wave of the coronavirus. This is precisely the moment when the world needs to come together. Global challenges require global solutions. And yes, we need global citizenship now more than ever.