Ohio Wesleyan faculty share their thoughts on lessons they've learned from 2020 and how they hope we can move forward to a better world in 2021.

By Ji Young Choi, Ph.D.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has revealed the vulnerabilities of many nations in this era of globalization. Globalization is a set of processes that facilitate the flow of goods, services, finance, information, ideas, people, and even infectious diseases across national borders, and it involves the increasing integration and interconnectedness of nations and societies on a global basis.

Globalization has produced many positive results including easier and cheaper access to information, goods, and services and more global cultural exchanges across political borders. On the other hand, globalization has its downsides, as the current global pandemic demonstrates. They include increasing or continued economic inequalities, global environmental degradation, the increasing vulnerabilities to financial instabilities or crises, and the expansion of global terrorist groups and criminal organizations as well as the spread of infectious diseases.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when optimistic views on globalization were dominant, many people believed globalization was a nearly irreversible phenomenon. Since the late 1990s, however, critical views on globalization have grown, and massive and violent anti-globalization movements across many nations have emerged.

Historical patterns clearly show that globalization is not an irreversible phenomenon. Effective global leadership is a necessary condition for the smooth operation of globalization, and the lack of leadership at the global level is closely related to deglobalization, a significant reduction of global flows or even the collapse of globalization.

Another historical lesson is that globalization cannot be separated from states and state policies. Globalization can be accelerated when states, particularly great powers, push pro-globalization policies, but normally they have capacities to modulate the speed of globalization and restrict some of global flows when they perceive those measures are needed for their national interests.

Even long before the outbreak of COVID-19, many symptoms of the decline or crisis of globalization were detected and America’s declining global leadership was one of those major symptoms. A hegemonic competition, which was triggered by the rise of China and the United States’ perceived threat, started before the pandemic, but it has become much more intense in this pandemic situation.

Obviously, it is not a good sign for the future of globalization.

The combination of the coronavirus crisis and a heightened hegemonic competition between the two great powers could have a more enduring impact on globalization than many people think.  It may mean that we are entering into a (long) period of a much less globalized world or a fragmented form of our global system, which is characterized by relatively closed national systems and regional blocs without effective global leadership.

Although a hegemonic war between the two major powers is not inevitable, recent developments suggest that its possibility has increased rather than decreased. Definitely, the occurrence of this hegemonic or global war would be devastating to globalization, and it could mean the nail in the coffin for the whole process of globalization.

Even if there is no hegemonic war, a prolonged rivalry between the two great powers would increase instability, uncertainty, unpredictability, and volatility in fragmented global relations.

The speed and volume of globalization may have to be modulated depending upon sectors and issue areas, but it may not mean that nations, including major powers, have to return to the isolationism, protectionism, and ultra-nationalism in the early 20th century that caused WWII. Certain structural factors in the international or global system cannot be fully controlled by human actions, but despite this fact, we should do our utmost to prevent the worst-case scenario in global politics as long as there is a glimmer of hope.

Who knows? We may be able to enter a new period of long peace among great powers and global economic prosperity if we can pass this dangerous transitional period in global politics without a hot or cold war between a system leader and a rising power.

Ji Young Choi is an Associate Professor of Politics & Government and Director of East Asian Studies. His research interests include the politics of economic and financial globalization.