People across Italy are burning the European Union flag while playing the Italian anthem loudly. Remember all the debates about being on the “right side of History” during Brexit? Log on to Twitter and check the hashtag #CiSalviamoDaSoli—“we save ourselves.” The slogan “Stop the CCP Virus” was trending alongside.
Meanwhile, a World Health Organization (WHO) director for Covid-19 response rudely cut off an interview when asked about Taiwan’s membership in WHO, which has been denied due to Chinese bullying, as China considers Taiwan its territory. Taiwan warned WHO about Chinese coronavirus in late December, only to be ignored. WHO’s corrupt head argued that WHO’s reputation was soiled by online Taiwanese mobs.
Yet Taiwan has been extraordinarily successful in stopping the virus, and is helping the United States with masks, compared to China profiteering by selling masks and test kits to Europe, which Spain, Czech Republic, and Netherlands have rejected for being faulty and fake. The European Union watched, helplessly.
There are many lessons to be drawn when this is all over, including the lack of nationalism among the ruling elite and corporate media, the failure of centralized healthcare in Italy and Spain, the supply chain issue of future strategic medical reserves, the hideously partisan rhetoric by a section of liberal Twitter activists and media-persons against Drs. Deborah Birx and Seema Verma for the sin of being non-partisan.
But the biggest lesson to be drawn from this is that the days of transnational institutional diktats are over. This crisis drove a stake through the hearts of liberal institutions and so-called global governance. The calls will only grow, with more arguments of disbanding and defunding institutions like WHO.
A Flawed Theory that Has Run Its Course
Internationalist liberal institutionalism is an idea opposed to the natural state of affairs between great powers, nation-states, and empires balancing each other. It has been the backbone of international politics for decades now. One needn’t go back to Woodrow Wilson to see the push for a Kantian Perpetual Peace among liberals. The means to achieve that global dream was through global institutions.
The logic was simple and twofold. One, institutions are egalitarian by definition. Theoretically, Gambia or Guatemala has an equal voice to Great Britain; Uganda and the United States have equal votes, regardless of their difference in aggregate power, soft power, culture, military, and gross domestic product. Liberal institutionalism is very similar to Marxist internationalism in this particular way: it strives to make the world an equal place, not by uplifting small powers or countries, but by effectively neutering the great powers though legalese, rules, and chains.
The second idea is related to the first, that greater trade and an evangelical promotion of democracy facilitates more peace. Again, this is a secondary issue. The primary issue is and remains the neutering of great powers and nation-states by supplanting the national elite with transnational bureaucratic institutions.
From the United Nations to WHO, to the International Court of Justice, to the EU, the logic remained the same. The reality was always the same as well. These institutions disproportionately and unnaturally gave too much power to small states, some of which were either bought off or had their corruption exploited by authoritarian powers, who never cared much for rules.
Conservatives and realists therefore opposed global institutions, not only because they alter the natural state of affairs, but that they are prone to corruption and exploitation, as well as perpetual war in search of the elusive perpetual peace.
In an earlier era, for example, under Westphalian sovereignty, no one cared about what went on within the spheres of influence of a great power and within the boundaries of a nation-state. Nowadays, however, large nations are pressured to intervene, under spurious human rights demands and a claimed responsibility to protect.
Who bears the cost of this relentless global policing? Why, we taxpayers, of course. Nevertheless, these global institutions trotted along, despite various setbacks, and got some extra wind behind their sails after the Cold War.
History Doesn’t Only Go in One Direction
Now the coronavirus crisis seems to be exacerbating the trend that started with one island nation in the Atlantic pulling up their drawbridges in 2016, followed by the island’s former colony in the West electing a president who promptly took his country out of a global climate accord. The world saw that history is not only not one-directional. It could actually be reversed.
In 2020, it is even more evident that global institutions are not to be trusted. During times of actual crisis, they are not just incompetent and negligent, but also downright indifferent to tragedy. A distant and detached transnational bureaucracy only cares about one thing: perpetuating their elite rule and survival. Human lives do not matter to them much, as Italians are now finding out the hard way. And the disbelief is now starting to boil into rage.
The BBC reports that as Spain and Italy were “ravaged by the effects of the virus on their populations and their limited public finances,” EU leaders met to discuss funding and kicked the can down the road: “What leaders did agree on was asking Eurogroup finance ministers to explore the subject further, reporting back in two weeks’ time. Two weeks. The EU is famous for kicking difficult decisions down the road, but in coronavirus terms, with spiraling infection and death rates, two weeks feels like an eternity.”
Northern European countries like the Netherlands and Germany flatly refused to institutionalize coronavirus bonds to bail out other European countries. Each country has hardened its border. In a crisis, people trust their own government more than others, and their nation-states realize it is always easier to safeguard your own citizens.
There have been photo ops of China delivering masks and test kits to the Netherlands, Czech Republic, and Spain. It was found out later that this was not “aid” but trade, profiteering from a crisis, and rank mercantilism. The products were flawed and fake as well.
Baffled Italians and Spaniards are right to question the benefit of being subservient to an ever-expanding bloc that cannot protect them from predatory authoritarian states or provide financial or material relief, while dictating rules about borders and sending their wealth to other states. Likewise, baffled Americans and British are right to question the entire purpose of the WHO, which not only lied and misled about the crisis from the start, but increasingly seems to be in the pocket of a totalitarian dictatorship.
The historic and rightful great powers and nation-states have kneecapped themselves since the Second World War in a theoretical egalitarian liberal order under global institutions controlled by corrupt and authoritarian groups of states that are neither liberal or egalitarian, nor rules-based, and definitely not orderly. All that global adjustment just to have an equal space within corrupt institutions alongside corrupt countries and their masters, the authoritarian great powers.
This coronavirus crisis will cause the death of many, which is tragic. What won’t be tragic is if it kills the idea of transnational intuitional rule by diktats, and brings back the concept of decent, independent nation-states, which won’t have to depend on these institutions for their survival.