The entire world is in the throes of COVID-19. All countries are fighting off the effects of this deadly virus as it spins its vicious web of incapacitation and death around the human race. Man’s haughtiness has clearly met its match; a single, invisible to the human eye virus has paralysed him into a bewildering stupor and brought his bloated ego crashing down to earth!

A great equaliser, indeed!

Is this contagious abomination really an act of Providence, a biological experiment gone awry or is it the macabre end state of biological warfare being fought surreptitiously for global ascendancy? Time alone will tell. Regardless, this contagion potentially carries within itself the seeds of a veritable paradigm shift in global hierarchy in the foreseeable future.

COVID-19 will have a very profound impact on the geopolitical environment at the global and regional levels. The US, the sole global power in this decreasingly unipolar world, is perhaps Ground Zero at the moment with the deadly virus increasingly taking its ghastly toll there. It might have already forced a change of strategic direction, even imposed a strategic pause of sorts on the US and its international commitments. President Trump is quite understandably focussed on the immediate threat to the US and its pre-eminence at the global level. Election 2020 may not be too far from his thoughts either. The longer this strategic pause lasts the more will it circumscribe the US’ sphere of influence and provide further leeway for other global players to seamlessly fill the emerging vacuum. The US can ill-afford to withdraw West of the Atlantic, become isolationist and be restricted to Continental USA for any length of time!

There are a number of compulsions on the US which will limit its global outreach. It faces a multi-dimensional threat to its way of life. It must of necessity obviate a crippling economic meltdown as it simultaneously battles to save millions of Americans from agonising unemployment, painful illnesses and possible death. Horrifyingly, its medical capacity and facilities are falling woefully short of meeting the challenge. Its manufacturing capacity has had to be re-directed to produce medical and personal protective equipment (PPE) to not only meet its own requirements but also support the world at large. It is running a USD22.7 trillion national debt and has already announced a stimulus of USD2.2 trillion to save its economy from irretrievable damage. The economic burden grows exponentially as does the virus. If the US’ economic engine seizes up, its impact on the global economy will be of mammoth proportions. Its ability to provide economic, technical and medical assistance to other countries is limited, for the moment. China, on the other hand, is providing sorely needed medical and technical support to the hardest hit countries like Italy, Spain, France and Iran. It is helping out Pakistan and other countries too. Presently, the US and China are apparently operating at different levels altogether.

The US is bound to feel constrained to limit its international obligations due to its economic challenges. Of its overseas commitments Europe, the Greater Middle East Region including Iran and the Pacific Ocean Region are likely to retain their pre-eminent status; however, given the internal squabbles of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan may be dumped quite unceremoniously and sooner than expected. It will hasten the Afghan Taliban’s ascent to power and may even precipitate a civil war. Either way, it leaves the critical Afghanistan-Pakistan Region (APR) open for China and Russia to exploit. The China-Russia-Iran-Pakistan (CRIP), grouping is likely to acquire ascendancy in the South-Central Asian Region (SCAR), much to India’s exclusion and dismay. The US will find it extremely hard to find a footprint in mainland Asia thereafter and will be hard pressed to uproot CRIP’s influence from SCAR and Afghanistan, in particular.

In the geo-economic dimension, the US’ mantle of being the sole economic power of the world may also be under threat. The Chinese have apparently contained and weathered the COVID-19 onslaught quite well. Wuhan and Hubei are fast returning to normalcy. Russia appears to have escaped the worst of this global scourge, so far. China’s economic juggernaut in the form of the Belt-Road Initiative (BRI) continues unabated and largely unscathed by the devastating COVID-19. The US-China trade war will stand largely nullified and may even be replaced by a cold war eventually. Trade relations between the two behemoths may have to be negotiated anew. However, the resurgence of the US (and Chinese) economy is crucial for the revival of the global economy. A balance will therefore have to be achieved. The time factor for US’ economic recovery will be critical; will it be short enough to allow the US to retain its singular position atop the global economic pyramid or will it be long enough for China to make a serious attempt to replace it. Or will both the US and China agree to co-exist at the summit or thereabouts?

The downturn in the US economy might adversely affect its sphere of influence. Its military might will remain unparalleled and unmatched. Its strategic reach will continue to be global in extent and effectiveness. However, it might not have the economic stamina to back up its military ambitions for some time to come. It might not have the political will to get stuck in costly unending, unrewarding wars, any more. It might not want to use its military as the most potent arm of its diplomacy, for a while. Will it cause a sobering effect on US hubris? Is this the end of US exceptionalism or something approaching its demise?

As the US gathers its resources and concentrates on serious damage control, a subtle but inevitable change in global leadership might be under way. Will the US be able to retain its leadership status of the world post COVID-19? Or will the virus precipitate the emergence of a new leader/grouping to lead the world? It might even result in a very profound multipolar configuration with the onus of global leadership being shared by the US and the Sino-Russia Combine!

Interesting times ahead!