Geopolitics after the Coronavirus: one year on

Dr Ernesto Gallo, lecturer in politics, casts another critical eye over the shape of international relations one year post-pandemic and argues that it’s time to be bolder. 

This article is part of our Regent's Review series: thoughts, research and academic discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic. 



  • In his first Regent’s Review, Dr Gallo argued that – despite sombre economic predictions and authoritarian fears – there were significant windows of opportunity 
  • One year later he reveals that, although there’s evidence economic recovery began for some regions in 2020, we still have a long way to go. In fact, we are far from a solution to the pandemic and its social, economic and political effects 
  • After decades in which international organisations have been deemed useless, Dr Gallo believes we should rethink them, make them more equitable and call for some form of global pact or world government to steer us in the right direction. 


The new president of the United States, Joe Biden, has been bold. The sum of his US$1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan and his US$2 trillion jobs and infrastructures plan already corresponds to an economy as large as Germany. It’s the biggest economic plan ever adopted by a US administration – bigger even than Roosevelt’s New Deal. Large parts of it will be spent on climate, infrastructure, poverty, inequality and job creation.  

The EU has been less audacious but is nonetheless adopting a large plan, Next Generation EU, which is worth €750 billion. Italy, led by the former ECB central banker, Mario Draghi, is going to be its main beneficiary, receiving a total of almost €200 billion. 40% of the investments will be in the green economy and 27% in the digital. Women, the youth and Southern Italy, hit hard by the pandemic, will receive special funds. These are significant steps, although addressing issues of race, gender, class and territorial inequalities will require far bigger efforts and will likely come from citizens, rather than governments or planners. It looks as though the Western world could adopt a new paradigm, different from previously dominant neoliberalism. Are we approaching the end of the age of slogans such as ‘privatise, deregulate, liberalise’? 

In some regions, there’s evidence that economic recovery was already underway in 2020. This is true for China and other East Asian countries (for example, Vietnam) as well as for some fast-growing African economies such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast. At the same time, we’ve been assisting at the economic and public health tragedy of two emerging powerhouses, Brazil and India, whose political/economic paradigm combines neoliberalism with populist, nationalist tones (often overlapping with authoritarianism, according to some scholars).  

We are in fact very far from any solution to both the pandemic and its social, economic and political effects. At the time of writing, India, Iran and Japan are in the middle of a third wave, Brazil and Argentina keep experiencing high infection rates, and some EU countries are struggling, too. I know I am missing many countries and territories, yet one point seems to be clear: other than the world wars, never has the whole world suffered at the same time like this. Globally, there would have been about 150 million reported cases and more than three million reported fatalities.  

’Massive recovery plans will never work if they’re not global’

What we have seen so far in the world of states and power politics has been neither morally acceptable nor effective. There have been endless disputes within and between states, let alone cases of what some commentators have called ‘vaccine nationalism’. Massive recovery plans will never work if they’re not global. I believe international organisations and – even better – engaged citizens should call for some form of global pact or world government, at least on health issues.

Of course, these solutions cannot be built overnight. They require reflection, negotiation, attention to detail – but that’s precisely why they deserve our attention now. Authors such as Arvind Ashta and Leigh Phillips have made the case and suggested bold, radical solutions, in a democratic, not technocratic sense.  

Others have highlighted the strong potential of a federalist proposal. These ideas were in fact popular after the First and Second World Wars, which ended with the setup of global organisations such as the League of Nations and the United Nations. Such organisations, however, have constantly privileged developed economies. Now we need to prioritise equality. The distribution of medicines and vaccines cannot privilege more affluent and powerful states. 

In addition, while the COVID-19 pandemic will at some point come to an end, new challenges will likely emerge, including other pandemics. I believe, as global citizens, we should forget national and nationalist impulses and adopt institutions which, while respecting and promoting cultural diversity, will help humankind act as one when needed.  

After decades in which international organisations have been deemed useless, have been denigrated, have been derided, we should return to them, rethink them, democratise them and, of course, make them more equitable and effective in a changed world.