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Coronavirus and International Relations: ‘Globalization of Mask’ and ‘Unmasking World of Politics’

During more than six months after a tiny actor, called COVID-۱۹, has rattled the structure of personal and social life massively and inclusively at all levels of national, regional, and international interaction, various questions, concepts, notions, and claims have been raised about the impacts of the coronavirus disease.
October 2020
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Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour

During more than six months after a tiny actor, called COVID-19, has rattled the structure of personal and social life massively and inclusively at all levels of national, regional, and international interaction, various questions, concepts, notions, and claims have been raised about the impacts of the coronavirus disease. While the pandemic has affected the lives of ordinary people across the world and has upset the normal life of the public, it has turned into an exciting and controversial topic among the foreign policy and international relations theoreticians and practitioners. Tens of ideas have been developed about the relationship between the coronavirus and foreign relations, but it is still necessary to look into the serious question that “how can one analyze the relationship between the coronavirus and the international relations?” In response, three partly enlightening concepts could be raised and discussed, namely “analytical turmoil”, “globalization of mask”, and “unmasking the world of politics”.

   A) Analytical Turmoil

 Various discussions have been raised over the past couple of months, sometimes revealing the deep conflicts and intellectual differences regarding the analysis of international relations. At least three categories of analyses have been conducted lately. The first group of analysts considers the impacts of coronavirus on international relations to be so massive that they talk about issues like “the post-coronavirus world”, “modern world order after the coronavirus”, and “termination of the previous order and the birth of modern order”. The second group has highlighted the insignificant impact of the coronavirus on the power structure in the world, arguing that the small virus that has plagued millions of people across the world would not have a serious effect as an actor. The third category of analysts has adopted a moderate stance in the middle of those two groups. Irrespective of the nature of each of the abovementioned analytical notions, one can say that the coronavirus has brought about an analytical turmoil in the world considering the international relations. Such turmoil is rooted in the normative, value, and ideological battles, in the political analyses, the tendency towards “momentary analyses”, and disregard for the “macro perspectives and extensive processes” in the international relations. From this viewpoint, the coronavirus is a very significant phenomenon in the international social life, and its consequences could be assessed with the symbol of the fight against it, namely “mask”.

   B) Globalization of Mask

 Contrary to the theories that describe the outbreak of coronavirus as an end to globalization, aka deglobalization, the coronavirus has made human life more globalized. The “globalization of everyday life” is undoubtedly affected by the coronavirus, which in turn requires attention to several realities. The first fact is that people in the four corners of the world are wearing masks at present. It is not hyperbole to say that mask has turned into the most global tool for preventing and tackling the coronavirus pandemic. The globalization of the mask is itself affected by the globalization of fear of the coronavirus and the globalization of the ways to fight against the disease. The second fact is the globalization of feelings across the globe for the fate of individuals, families, and humans considering the pandemic. The third fact, which would have a profound impact on the international relations, is the transformation of economic, social, cultural, and political interactions at the “low level of all communities” in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, which would in turn transform the economy, society, culture, and politics from inside the countries. This would undoubtedly result in a “gradual” and “qualitative” change in international relations from within the society. In other terms, the coronavirus-related changes in international relations have been and will be formed from the base of pyramids and human communities, not from the apex of the pyramids of global powers. A change from the bottom, not from above, and the impact of the change from the bottom on the changes at the top in the international relations in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic is a subject worth pondering.

    C) Unmasking International Politics

 In addition to bringing about such qualitative change, the coronavirus has unmasked the international politics and the “power-oriented global politics”. Firstly, the coronavirus outbreak illustrated that the situation in which the big powers like to be at the center of all international arrangements and decide the fate of the world bears no relation to reality. The coronavirus shattered the splendor of big powers, above all the United States. Secondly, the coronavirus proved that the non-hardware dimensions of power, above all the health and medical capacity and power of countries, are also highly significant for ensuring security and must be taken into account on a par with the hardware dimensions. Thirdly, the coronavirus indicated that remote power projection would not create security. It also revealed that geographical proximity and common border are extremely important. When the outbreak of coronavirus cancelled the air freight, the neighborly interactions based on road transportation for the fulfillment of needs came under the spotlight.

 In summary, what should be mentioned in relation to the coronavirus and international relations in discussions about the analytical turmoil in the evaluation of impacts of coronavirus on international relations is that the coronavirus made the nature of ordinary life more international and globalized. Wearing masks became global as the power-oriented politics and the big powers were unmasked. Under the outbreak of coronavirus, the world is transforming politics from inside the societies and low levels. The coronavirus, as a tiny actor that is influential in life, has changed and continues to change international politics at an arena as wide as the whole countries. It is possible to analyze the relationship between the coronavirus and the international relations with a horizontal, not vertical view.

(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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