COVID-19 has dominated conversations about in International Relations this year, and with good reason. But now that many countries are moving from lockdowns and starting to think about the post-COVID-19 recovery process, we need to seriously consider if we want to go back to the ways things were, or if we want to start investing in a more sustainable future for us and our societies.
Here are our suggestions for what we could be talking about in International Relations now:
The Future of Democracies
The completely inadequate response to the pandemic by authoritarian politicians was a warning that strongmen figures cannot tackle global problems. Furthermore, the need for countries to cooperate in order to adequately respond to the pandemic was also an illustration that we cannot go back to insular and protectionist policies.
Throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, protests started to emerge against long-standing regimes. But in other countries, the pandemic was also used to further restrict civil liberties and scapegoats such as migrants were put in the spotlight. The far-right threat is still strong in many countries in the Global North and the refugee crisis in countries like Greece only got worse.
Care and Green Economics
The global financial crisis that began in 2007 seemed to shake the capitalist world to its core. However, business soon went back to normal. Despite repeated warnings that our current economic system is threatening life on the planet and leading to increased social unrest, it seemed like change was impossible.
Until COVID-19, that is. Suddenly, “wild” ideas such as universal basic income became something to consider. When all of society was threatened, policymakers had to consider innovative solutions to persistent problems. However, the enormous profits made by multinational corporations while most of the population was struggling highlighted the scandalous inequality in our societies.
For years, forward-thinking feminists and environmentalists have been devising economic plans focused on sustainability and gender equality. From the European Green Deal to feminist Care Economics, a radical rethinking of economic growth is necessary. The pandemic demonstrated how essential community-based organizations and care work really are, and it also showed us how pollution could shrink if we all slowed down as well. The key is to do it in a balanced way and invest strategically in sectors that can benefit our future long-term and not just answer to present greed.
Transition to a Digital World
Transitioning to a digital world is not only about everyone having smartphones. Today, tech companies wield an enormous amount of power – and have very little oversight. The pandemic exposed the harms of the digital world, with record reports of online abuse. These developments demonstrate that technology and its overwhelming usage must be held accountable so as to not trample on our rights as citizens, workers, and human beings.
The remote work revolution is upon us, but how we choose to deal with it will determine our future. Will it be an opportunity for people to regain work-life balance and leisure time? Or will it mean endless hours of work without fixed schedules? Will it encourage workers to spend more time with people they love, or will it lead to social isolation and depression?
We must also consider how essential technology is still not accessible to all. Should access to the internet be considered a human right? How can we fight inequality if the technology divide continues to deepen it?
None of these questions can be answered without a global perspective. International Relations graduates should be thinking about what the post-COVID-19 world will look like. Which paradigms have failed us? Which institutions are worth investing in more?