Henry Kissinger is known for a lot, but not for too much freedom of movement in dealing with his feelings. Now, at the age of 96, the strategist of the century and a string-puller has spoken again for everything global with a powerful warning about the Corona crisis – and with an emotional commitment.
So how does Corona feel for a man from the high-risk group who has analyzed, described, created and resolved risks and threats throughout his life? 76 years ago, Private Kissinger was a soldier in the 84th Infantry Division of the US Army and was surprised by the Ardennes offensive by the Wehrmacht. This last attempt by the Germans to rearing up will be in English Battle of the Bulge called – bulge because the advance of the Wehrmacht drove a deep dent in the front of the Allies. Kissinger was in a key location of this dent, the town of Marche. After his unit’s hasty withdrawal, he voluntarily stayed behind to watch the enemy.
As a German-born Jew, Kissinger knew what threatened Jewish exiles should they fall into the hands of the German units. Today he writes of an “undefined danger” that he felt at the time, a danger “that does not apply to anyone who strikes indiscriminately and destructively”. Like COVID-19 these days. Unbelievable, scary.
Kissinger sees the war in front of him and he knows the consequences: “””When the COVID 19 pandemic is over, the institutions of many countries will have failed in people’s perceptions. It is irrelevant whether this judgment is objectively fair. The truth is: The world will not be the same after the coronavirus. “
Nothing will be as it was, everything will change after Corona – no judgment is currently more popular than the apocalyptic prognosis of a completely changed world operation in the post-Corona period. Foreign politicians and analysts outbid each other with predictions – however, Kissinger’s “undefined danger” is not getting any better. Corona, that much is certain, releases strength and fantasies. But what will come of it?
So far, the predictions have been: the end of globalization, multilateralism, American dominance, and the European Union. Armed conflicts of all kinds are expected, even a veritable Sino-American war, the cementing of illiberal and authoritarian structures such as in Hungary or Poland, the decline in freedom rights and a global wave of poverty and destruction, which would particularly hit the less developed countries. And of course Beijing’s dominance in the world.
Does the world learn from collective shock? There is a little hope
On the optimistic side, on the other hand, the program includes hope for the end of current wars such as in Yemen or Libya, hope for a positive effect on the climate, the expectation that Donald Trump will be voted out, reflection on a slowed globalization and a victory for the Democracies overall bad forms of government in the world.
What is neglected in the many clever and less clever analyzes is the realization that hardly any political player in the world can currently spend time making plans for world order or disorder.
A few statements can, of course, already be made: What is certain is that global institutions such as the United Nations and their specialized agencies such as the World Health Organization are among the losers in the crisis. The Security Council (even under the chairmanship of China in March) did not say a word about Corona, and the WHO is not wholly at fault with politics through no fault of its own. Her guardian role over the health of all human beings has been damaged after she has taken over too bluntly China’s reading of the pandemic.
The large multilateral alliances such as the G 7 or the G 20 have also remained passive. The United States, which currently holds the G7 presidency, canceled the group’s meetings – nothing more happened. There is no attempt to channel aid flows, coordinate the return of stranded people, let alone advise on the catastrophic effects on the global economy with growing debts and rising unemployment, or even make virus research a common task for mankind.
Yes to the EU internal market. But at what price?
Experience has shown that global politics is only possible if large states demand it. When international institutions fail, the major powers also fail. Here is the next message of the crisis: The US is withdrawing from the world stage even faster than before, and President Donald Trump is not claiming leadership. Corona also promotes political isolationism. China, on the other hand, shows great power ambitions but is unable to build the necessary trust. The lack of transparency and cover-up about the outbreak of the crisis, and unselfish but in reality deeply divisive policy with aid deliveries and propaganda bordering on the falsification of history fuel the mistrust of the world.
The European Union is struggling with its very special leadership problem, the members of which have been holed up for many days before they can reassess the benefits of their community. As the beneficiaries of the internal market, they know best of all that globalization will of course not be dead. The internal market has to live – but at what price? Dealing with the economic consequences will shape the work of the EU for years and determine its character.
In his Corona brand letter, Henry Kissinger wrote about the big difference between the Battle of the Bulge and the Viral Age: it’s about trust. In 1944 the Americans knew what they were fighting for; their government had conveyed a kind of “national destiny”. “Now, in a divided country, an effective and far-sighted government is needed to overcome unimagined obstacles.”
What Kissinger only suggests: This effective and far-sighted government does not exist in the United States under Donald Trump. Trust in the state is not a renewable resource in America. “The state” is drained, saved, an enemy for many. And at the very top is a president who understands immense narcissism Corona as a reality soap. “President Trump is a quota hit,” the man said on Twitter as he recommended malaria drugs for treatment and undertakers excavated mass graves for the poorest in New York’s parks. The American model will appear even less worth copying after the crisis.
Today, a glance around the world is enough to distinguish good governments from bad ones. Good governance, a favorite term in modern politics for good governance, suddenly takes off. So who does a government protect, can you be trusted?
Corona acts as a growth accelerator for the good and bad properties of a state. Those who have a functioning bureaucracy, where the health system is well-financed, who listens to advice from experts, where the state enjoys trust as a service provider for its citizens – the crisis can be dealt with there. Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore are dealing with the medical meltdown in an exemplary, enlightened and scientifically sound manner.
Chaos, mismanagement, rivalry – a ramshackle state becomes defenseless in the crisis
In the USA or Great Britain, on the other hand, it shows how institutional chaos, political mismanagement or a radical austerity policy can endanger the system. In Britain, the government hesitated and was then fickle about its strategy – so valuable weeks were lost. The desperate state of the National Health Service further undermines trust in the government. The situation is even worse in the United States, where the rivalry between authorities and incompetence, coupled with ignorance in the White House, has fueled the world’s worst pandemic herds.
Both countries also show that centralized systems, at best still with a head of government with great power, are more susceptible to the crisis. They are waiting for a signal from the top. On the other hand, the swarm intelligence of federal structures guarantees better results, even if the decision-making process seems chaotic from the outside.
If there are also autocratic or populist types at the top, this further exacerbates the crisis. The handling of the virus is then measured by the behavior of a single person – who then talks about the head and collar (like Donald Trump), reacts harshly and authoritatively (like Xi Jinping in China) or builds up scapegoats (like Vladimir Putin, who has now imposed crisis management on Russia’s provincial governors).
Corona will therefore initially reinforce the trends in world politics: Autocratic states are becoming even more autocratic, anarchic states are more anarchic, poorly managed countries are falling deeper into chaos. The USA’s farewell to the world is accelerating; the rest of the order could quickly collapse, and a geopolitical crisis would also arise on the horizon after the pandemic. In any case, very few have made arrangements for bad times. The economies are now down and alliances are weakened.
A small hope remains, formulated by the director of the Australian Lowy Institute, Michael Fullilove: Maybe the role models in crisis management could come together, maybe they could set an example for good politics and good structures in difficult times. There is already a name for it: the coalition of the competent.