The Covid-19 pandemic has been dominating the global news for months now. Almost half of the world’s population is under social or economic corona lockdown. People are afraid. In the background, an unprecedented global crisis could lead to a dramatic international systematic transition from a Pax Americana to a Pax China. This could institute a new world order where China dominates the world instead of the US.
By Arthur Blok & Marco Mattiussi
“If today, thinking it over calmly, we wonder why Europe went to war in 1914; there is no sensible reason to be found; there is never any real occasion for the war. There were no ideas involved; it was not merely about drawing minor borderlines. I can explain it only, thinking of that excess of power, by seeing it as a tragic consequence of the internal dynamism built during those forty years of peace and now has demanded release.”
From the book The World of Yesterday (1943) by the Jewish Austrian viewwriterview writer Stefan Zweig, this quotation is considered the most famous book on the Habsburg Monarchy. Zweig sent the manuscript to his publisher before he committed suicide in 1942 in Brazil.
Zweig’s philosophical book provides an exciting backdrop to the question: “Are we in the midst of a new global war.” This war would be one war against the West that many of us do not even realize is upon us. We are all so focussed on the latest figures of Covid-19 deaths and infection statistics that we do not d yet understand what might be happening in the background; this would not be a conventional war where tanks and soldiers are on the frontline but a war of information and psychological control.
In 2016, the Dutch political scientist, Ingo Piepers (Ph.D.), published his thesis ‘2020: WARning’, in which he elaborates on the phenomenon of wars. In his thesis, he asserts that the global system produced, and still produces, two types of battles: systemic and non-systemic. He qualifies the latter as small wars, for example, between two nations with limited effects. On the other hand, systemic wars could be limited to ‘world wars’ and have a ‘rebalance’ of the global system.
In short, Piepers states that systemic wars are periodically necessary in anarchistic systems to rebalance relationships among states and to implement upgraded international orders that provide, at least temporarily, relative stability to the world system.
Piepers has studied all the major wars and global conflicts from 1495 until now. He elaborated on the Cold War period after the last systematic war (the Second World War: 1940 – 1945) up until present-day, a chaotic time in which the number of unresolved issues grew and tensions accumulated in our global system. After data analysis and new insights into the workings of complex global systems and networks, his study has come to a troublesome forecast: the system we live in will produce the next systemic war – a World War – around 2020. Eerily, that forecast was made in 2016.
Just four months ago, this conclusion probably would have been dismissed as a grand and, frankly speaking, quite delirious theory of some mad scientist. But today, April 2020, the world is unquestionably not what it was just four months ago. Perhaps today, we should look at Piepers’ worrisome conclusion with different eyes. Has the Third World War started already, but we haven't realized it yet?
The unprecedented crisis
It is no exaggeration to say that we have suddenly plunged into a social and economic situation that makes the financial crisis of 2008 look like a quiet Sunday afternoon in the park. The brightest minds in the economic field all agree on this.
More than 40 high-profile economists, including IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath and a former president Barack Obama’s top economic adviser, published alarming recommendations via the Centre for Economic Policy Research. They urge governments to act quickly and do whatever it takes to keep the lights on in the COVID-19 crisis. There are many drastic measures proposed. Some include: ‘helicopter money,’ giving - everyone - a no-strings-attached handout; Eurozone countries using Eurobonds to issue debt together rather than individually; and state investment banks providing unlimited emergency lending to firms. These are unorthodox measures to avoid a complete economic collapse of the current global system.
In addition, American Economist Nouriel Roubini, Professor of Economics at New York University Stern School of Business, - recently stated that it took two years in 2008 to achieve the losses that have been made in less than a month in the current crisis. In his own words, “This is just something we have not seen before.” Roubini contends, “It is like an asteroid hit the Earth.”
People will not soon forget the sight of hundreds of planes carrying all possible flags of the world, motionless, grounded at national airports, lined up in perfect order, close to each other as they wouldn’t be moving anytime soon. Unforgettable will be the sight of empty highways, deserted city centers, and shopping malls in Europe and the US. Could anyone have ever imagined such dramatic scenes only a few months ago? How would we have reacted if somebody had depicted these scenes? We would have probably dismissed him as a lunatic. Yet, here we are, in a global lockdown situation that has never happened before on this scale in modern history.
Green and Sustainable Economy
The feeling that we are now at a turning point where the current world order is due to change is getting increasing attention from environmental activists and green lobby groups. Many argue this is the perfect moment to shift the current dynamic capitalist system into a more globally green economy for sustainable development. This would be an economy that protects the environment and supports the economy's growth: low carbon, resource-efficient, and socially inclusive.
Data about a sharp reduction in air pollution levels between February and March 2020 have been released, citing drops of more than 50% of CO2 in regions worldwide hit hardest by the virus. Activists have suggested that the corona lockdowns should remain for months to come. Semi-scientific studies have even stated that the ozone layer is healing itself because of the dramatic reduction of productive processes, although this is still to be proved. Pictures of never-seen-before blue skies and nature episodes already taking over have been widely circulating, from clear skies over the Chinese capital Beijing to wild animals in the streets of London.
Clean skies, clean air, and the green dream are matters that all idealists have dreamt and speculated about for decennia. Still, for these radical changes to come into effect, it would need all significant economic powers of the world to be on the same page. This is unlikely to happen at the current global crisis stage, where economies are collapsing, and worldwide panic and distrust prevail.
All eyes on China
Besides the captivating and optimistic hopes of the Green activists, some more alarming thoughts are developing worldwide. Extreme circumstances give room for radical conjectures. Unsurprisingly, most of the circulating theories point their finger toward China. Some have already translated into official actions, such as the case of American lawyer Larry Klayman and his advocacy group Freedom Watch already filed in March a $20 trillion lawsuit against the Chinese government, the Chinese army, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Klayman has claimed that the US intelligence agencies have been clinching evidence to prove that China has prepared COVID-19 as a biological weapon against the West. According to the lawyer and his followers, the virus was concocted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and then released.
Although quite difficult to prove, the trend has been set. Numerous anti-China petitions have popped-up online, calling for a boycott of Chinese goods. The wildest theories accusing China of deliberately attacking the West are circulating everywhere. Fueled by ongoing China–United States’States trade war, these theories have escalated during the Trump presidency.
In 2019, China was accused of installing spying software in popular China-made applications like TikTok. This recalls the row with Huawei a few months earlier. The phone-maker faced bold accusations that it has engaged in corporate espionage to steal competitors' intellectual property. Last year, it was restricted from engaging in commerce with U.S. companies and was banned from installing the 5G network in the US and parts of the EU. On top of that, there were US allegations that it willfully exported technology of US origin to Iran, all in violation of US sanctions. These are just the most widely known cases of a long sequence of incidents mainly revolving around advanced technology trade to and from China.
Undoubtedly, this is a very fertile background that helps feed the theory that Covid-19 could be China’s way of counterattack, somehow validating Dr. Pieper's studies’ albeit in an unexpected way. Could it be true that the western countries and their Middle Eastern allies are under an attack coordinated by China?
Let’s be clear: this would not be a traditional war attack. As said in the introduction, this is not a war involving tanks, soldiers, and conventional weaponry. Nevertheless, it would be a war that would change the world equilibrium as we know it today. An indeed ‘systemic war,’ as per Pieper's words. A war that has also seen the other world powers acting to find their place in the arena, taking sides with one of the two giants, although not always in the most expected ways.
From this perspective, the unique, unexpected, and sudden situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic should raise some grave concerns. For an outsider, it almost looks like China launched the corona crisis as a perfectly orchestrated media campaign, first leaking little news about a new virus, arresting whistle-blowers, then progressively exposing the scale of the problem until reaching the devastating numbers of casualties. The Chinese then demonstrated to the whole world how to react and keep it under control through the strict lockdown. They returned a few weeks later with surprising regularity to a business as a usual situation that will be executed this week.
According to Chinese official data, how plausible is it that significant megacities like Beijing and Shanghai barely had any victims while the rest of the world is in chaos? These are, most certainly, questions that are deemed to remain without answer, for now, of course.
Whether we are inclined or not to follow this theory, we cannot deny that this situation of an unprecedented ‘perfect storm’ on a world scale, without a precise timing for its recovery, constitutes the best possible ground for a complete shift of power at a global level. This shift of power is ripe for the taking of whoever will be able to seize the occasion.
Time will tell.
Arthur Blok is the Executive editor-in-chief of the Levant News, and Marco Mattiussi is an Italian political analyst.