August 11, 2020
By an Election 2020 Academy Working Group including fellows: Michael Brintnall, Joyce Barr, Patria de Lancer Julnes, Larry Cooley, Marcelo Giugale, Chris Mihm, Steve Redburn, and Robert Taub.
The United States in an Interconnected World: An Agenda for 2021
Although the United States remains the world’s most powerful nation, the unipolar moment of the early post-Cold War years has been replaced with a much more diffuse international system and a wider array of complex issues. This in turn is unsettled in unparalleled ways by the COVID-19 pandemic. Global issues requiring sustained attention are manifold, including:
- Many vulnerable nations are experiencing state breakdown, terrorism, natural disasters, and environmental degradation, accentuated and exacerbated by the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic;
- The world has the largest population flows and total number of refugees since the 1940s;
- Russia has aggressively challenged other countries’ borders and political systems;
- China’s rise has fueled tensions in East Asia and beyond; and
- Nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and Asia could destabilize the regional and global order.
Against this backdrop, there are important opportunities to reassert and advance America’s global interests, values and leadership.
- In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of effective governments and robust civil society, at all levels, to lead out of crises - whether as lenders-, givers-, or doctors-of-last-resort – becomes more clear than ever.
- The clamor for democratic and accountable governance will grow louder, reaching nations that seem cemented in autocracy today—like China or Russia.
- Globalization and supply chains will be reconfigured in a collision between the drive for cost efficiencies and a renewed impetus to protect markets.
- Technological progress will connect societies ever more tightly across geography—just think of the upcoming impact of 5G. Instant access to information, even imperfect information, will raise people’s aspirations and change social norms. Cultural convergence will accelerate.
- A growing array of mega risks will materialize. Climate-related disasters, global pandemic out-breaks, cross-border financial meltdowns, conflict-driven human migration, refugee crises, other humanitarian catastrophes, and geo-conflicts capable of mass destruction are not just possible but probable.
- A new, vivid recognition will be cemented that global crises cannot be resolved through national action alone, whether the crisis at hand is a virulent pandemic, an environmental disaster, or a cyber-attack, though new models of global collaboration will be needed.
Should the United States choose to retreat from leadership on these issues, we face the prospect of a more uncertain, less free, and less prosperous world, with the many repercussions that would have for our welfare and way of life.
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