Coronavirus: aid to erosion of democratic values ​​and western unity?

(To Maurizio Geri)
28/03/20

The Covid-19 crisis could be the first global crisis without American leadership. But the risk is that from this crisis challenges arise not only for the international order, but also for the democratic values ​​and the union of the West. Russia and China, willingly or unwillingly, are carrying out actions that can weaken the values ​​of transparency and unity of western democracies. Even the COPASIR has just spoken of "external state entities" that are carrying out "an infodemic campaign that sees its target in the countries of the European Union, and in Italy as a non-secondary objective".

We start from an assumption now accepted by the international community, namely that the modern challenges have all become global, there are no longer only national or regional threats, in addition to the nuclear one also all the other threats to security have become planetary in the current era from terrorism to climate disasters, from mass migration to pandemics to the risks from AI development.

However, there is still no world government, the international system was born and remains "anarchist", with the nation states, in particular the great powers, trying to defend their power on the international chessboard.

When the threats are global but the answers are not common, the game of alliances opens, which for centuries has characterized the Balance of power, first with the European Concert, and then with the world divided into two blocks during the Cold War and the Pax Americana. World relations, however, since the end of Bipolarism, have begun to become competitive, as well as cooperative, and the two new political narratives of the Trump presidency, Great Power Competition e America Firstactually only confirmed this trend.

After thirty years, with the current global crisis unprecedented in the history of the periods of peace, perhaps the end of the eternal international transition towards a new world order has come after the post-World War II liberal one: as the Latins said we could be at Redde Rationem.

But as the new international order will be, one will follow Pax Sinica, founded on Chinese hegemony with its model of state capitalism, will be a Pax Chimerica, formed by an economic symbiosis between China and the USA, or will it be based on integrated continental macro regions (Europe, America, Africa) and an Asia with giant but divided actors (China, India, Russia and the Muslim world)? For now it seems that the competition is mainly between the USA and China, with Russia seeking its role in Europe and the Middle East in order not to lose both its strategic power and its economic survival. While the European Union is struggling to become the United States of Europe, the only chance to count for something on par with other powers.

That China is trying to wrest world leadership from the United States has been evident for some time, with the great plan of the Belt and Road Initiative, the huge increase in military spending and today with the virus also with the attempt to manage a crisis caused by China itself. The problem is that this competition and climbing maneuver is not evident for everyone, on the contrary, above all because it is not realized with an open conflict and a hegemonic war, as happened in the past with the passage of power between world leaders. In fact, the powers used by China, in addition to Hard Power (i.e. economic and military power) are the Soft Power, the power of attraction, and it Sharp Power, that of penetration. The latter two are very evident in the current crisis and above all are mixed in such a way as to make the former stand out and hide the latter. In fact, the aids to Italy and their propaganda that seem to be made only to show benevolence to a country in difficulty, in reality exploit a latent anti-Europeanism, and to some extent also anti-Americanism (at least a part of the population and the current political representation ) of a crucial NATO ally and EU founder to gradually bring it into its sphere of influence.

But the Sharp Power it was already evident when China not only starts building ports and railways with Italy the first signatory of the Silk Road in Europe a year ago, but decides to bring Huawei to the continent for 5G, with a huge strategic power and risks over the control of our information.

The problem is, it is Sharp Power it is stealthy, discreet, hidden and therefore it is not understood by the populations, a bit because they are poorly informed by social networks fake news various, and a bit because Western democracies are slow to discuss everything, unlike authoritarian regimes, which in the globalized world are more efficient because obviously faster, just like those of the two hegemonic Asian powers.

But above all it sharp power it can only be used against democracies, not the other way around, i.e. the western world is fragile precisely because it is free, and therefore must be known to protect, while it could never penetrate the Asian dictatorships to attempt the same game of undermining the autocratic institutions of those systems, precisely because these do not allow the free flow of information or a democratic debate.

So the advantage of authoritarian systems over democratic ones is obvious. Not only that but it Sharp Power and autocracies grew because of a miscalculation of western democracies, which thought at the end of the Cold War that democracy would expand on the globe simply with the integration of repressive regimes in the western international system, which would make them more open and therefore more democratic. Instead the opposite has happened, dictatorships have strengthened and democracies weakened.

Who has made China grow in the past 40 years? The WTO, the United States and Europe, which have opened their markets to Chinese products on favorable terms.

It is also true that the Silk Road certainly does not represent a global collaboration on equal terms, but on the contrary, a Chinese economic guide, and then of course also a political one, towards the rest of the super continent EurAsiaticAfricano, that is, the Eastern Hemisphere.

So again the western openings are used for attempts of hegemonic domination. Yet while people on social networks are divided between for and against this Pivot towards Asia (as Obama tried to do, but in a completely different way) COPASIR begins to worry for the risk of climbing hostile to Italian strategic assets.

Will the West manage to wake up in time to defend itself from resurgent authoritarianism and to survive its values ​​which are the values ​​not only of freedom and dignity but for scientific progress and integration between free states? The only way to defeat this evident democratic erosion is to strengthen your institutions, to make them efficient in the modern world, first of all by fighting the battle of ideas, with confidence in your principles and means and greater integration between democratic countries.

The problem is that the European Union is in crisis, demographic, economic, political and even cultural, and European institutions are felt as oppressive by the nation states, especially in Southern Europe, which are in chronic economic crisis. The Coronavirus crisis could help to have an EU reform and transformation, but it is not sure: it could also disintegrate it if the European institutions do not meet the needs of the weakest countries, as they do not tire of repeating dragons, Sassoli e Tale.

We do not know how the arduous sentence will end for posterity but as the Latins said: mala tempora currunt.

Photo: Twitter / web / Ministry of National Defense of the People's Republic of China