The 9/11 attacks redefined the global security context on terrorism and targeted violence. Similarly, COVID- 19 causes us to reconsider what composes a security threat. In the evolving security environment, it is essential to look beyond current realities and timely evaluate strategic implications and effects on individuals, states and the international system regarding pandemics. COVID-19 tests our system we live in and is a transformative reflection point that guides us through what we had as a normal before and what will be a ‘new normal’ after. Given its broad-reaching and global effects, COVID-19 is a game-changer that has impacted our ways of living. This pandemic is forcing us to adapt rapidly and to explore different strategies and realities.
Reflecting upon strategic implications and critical effects of COVID-19 on individuals and societies, the pandemic forces us to reevaluate patterns of life. Individuals and societies around the world have been exposed to this new unknown and invisible threat that has put into lockdown millions of people and caused over a hundred thousand deaths. Global norms will be fundamentally changed, a process we are already witnessing and that places more demands on state governments. At the same time, our way of life having been transformed by social distancing will shift people’s private and professional focus to the modern opportunities offered by our high technology world. Individualism and virtual connectivity coupled with e-responsibility and data protection will mostly take hold and shape the social and cultural paradigms of our societies as a shifting power towards technological acceleration. Socially flattened and intelligent livelihood, enabled by emerging technologies, offers flexibility, connectivity and economic transformation that challenge our traditional mindset and working practices. Benefits of digital adaptation and societal inclusiveness through technological tools will lead to a forward-looking future of e-health, e-governance and e-education. Technological opportunities and digital transformation will provide a platform for social inclusiveness, creativity and innovation that can make societies function more smoothly in times of social tensions. However, such an individual and societal interconnectivity will require a traceable measurement of risks and vulnerabilities in the digital and technological domains, complemented by a new societal culture of information literacy and digital learning.
Analysing immediate strategic implications and critical effects of COVID-19 on states, the pandemic became a wakeup call for every government to enhance resiliency and capacity mechanisms of their health systems. COVID-19 increases states’ and international organization’s demands to update their risk assessment coming from human threats that should be supported by responsibility actions and reflected in national crisis response plans, political guidelines and national strategies. While those national response plans or national strategies highlight priorities and imperatives of state’s or international organizations’ actions towards a specific set of objectives, they also identify the ways strategic actions can be taken and realized in a short and long term. Since a process to determine a favourable outcome can be long-lasting and should be timely exercised and implemented, immediate actions are needed to stabilize economies hit by a pandemic. Nowadays strategic actions of states require a massive mobilization of resources and capabilities to reassure companies and populations in the face of such a crisis. The future of a state’s economic system will rely on governance’s ability to find a new set of economic tools that will enable economies to gradually reboot its functions in an era of digitalization, accelerated regionalism and deglobalization. Synchronization of state efforts with those of the private sector, international organizations and other financial institutions are essential. Such a combined effort can potentially lead to economic transformation and innovation, smart economy and sustainability. But this would imply state actions heading towards more inclusiveness of different stakeholders, flexibility and higher operational effectiveness in the decision-making process. States would need to capitalize on emergent opportunities in the technology field and provide more autonomy to the private sector to foster innovative solutions and create converging effects to achieve economic recovery. State adaptation to the changing situation will be part of the way ahead to advanced emerging realities of a security environment.
Finally, looking into strategic implications and effects of COVID- 19 on the international system, the pandemic challenges our current notions of power. This challenge to power may result in severe internal conflict and regional instability as traditional centres of power and influence are showing signs of weakness. Most great powers will experience slower economic growth as a result of COVID-19 lessons that could diminish their level of ambition and military footprint in zones of their interest as well as reduce their power projection to zones of their influence. Instead, there will be an intensification of actions towards political exploitation of post-COVID crisis that will be legitimized through military and non-military means and capitalized on societal polarization and public distrust to governments. Moreover, some of the restrictive measures and tools used to fight COVID-19 are also a challenge to the traditional values such as freedom, democracy and religious practice, which when added to strong populist movements can increase pre-existing fractures of states and if occurring in major powers could result in a redefinition of order.
In an era of strategic geopolitical competition, a redistribution of military and political means of power will affect both Europe and the USA, quite possibly leading to a review of the global supply chains currently dominated by China. Some moves to attribute the causes of this crisis to China may increase tensions between major powers and may create rivalry and confrontation between them.
Taking all of this mentioned above, COVID-19 has already had a tremendous impact on the security environment and its effects on individuals, states and the international order will continue to be assessed in the foreseeable future. Given these circumstances, the challenges to governance will be to remain effective and efficient with an ability to establish and implement coherent priority actions and to quickly react to this complex, uncertain and volatile international security environment while continuing to ensuring the trust of its respective citizens.
* Dr. Vira Ratsiborynska is an Adjunct Professor on NATO and transatlantic approaches to security and Global politics at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Brussels, Belgium.