US global leadership at risk

A person wearing protective face mask in an empty Departure Hall at the Terminal 2E of the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy, near Paris, France. United States President Donald Trump imposed a 30-day ban on travel from nearly all European countries. Photo by David Niviere/ABACAPRESS.COM


The coronavirus pandemic has put US global leadership at stake.

Countries are waiting to see how quickly the United States moves past the crisis, whether it takes on the mantle of global leadership in response to the pandemic, and if authoritarian powers, particularly China, more effectively weather the storm.

This article is part of a longer paper—What world post-COVID-19? Three scenarios. Download the full paper using the button below.

The global order could, therefore, be fundamentally reshaped by the virus, especially if the world’s major economic powers—the United States, the European Union (EU), and China—suffer an extended economic depression and limit engagement beyond their borders.

The United States also risks a severe decline in soft power if it is seen to be struggling to manage the virus or failing to provide help to partners abroad.

Unencouraging signs

The US record is not encouraging so far at the high political level.

  • Washington did not coordinate its decision to close its borders to most European nationals with their governments.
  • Unlike after the 2008 financial crisis, the G7 and G20 meetings have been perfunctory, with every country looking after itself and taking measures to stop the spread of the virus domestically.

At the institutional level, however, the Federal Reserve has been “unshackled,” working with its international counterparts to temper the dollar flight in the developing world and ensure there are enough dollars for foreign businesses.

If there were an international meltdown, such as happened in the 1930s, the US recovery would be that much harder.

The test of leadership will really come once the United States has started its recovery and others are still struggling. Will Washington turn back to “America First” or position itself to help those in the developing world who will be hard hit, too? Very little of the $2.2 trillion package is dedicated to the international recovery.

See where US leadership is most vulnerable

Scenarios for a post-COVID world

Great accelerator downwards

In the gloomiest of three post-COVID-19 scenarios, the United States, Europe, and China all struggle to recover despite major fiscal and monetary efforts. A global depression unlike anything seen since the 1930s grips the world as countries embrace isolationism and open conflict looms between the US and a China-Russia alliance.

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China first

The second of our preliminary post-COVID scenarios features an ascendant China, as it deploys its “Belts and Roads” assistance to own large portions of infrastructure in Asia, Africa and Latin America. A new cold war looms as the U.S. and Europe draw closer to counter a growing China-Russia alliance.

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New renaissance

The most hopeful of our three preliminary post-COVID scenarios sees the world drawing together in increased cooperation. A new commitment to better governance leads to the creation of international bodies to counter global threats such as disease, conflict, and climate. Improved international cooperation leads to a V-shaped recovery as as major economies resume growth.

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