Coronavirus G20
Issue briefs and reports July 7, 2020

What world post-COVID-19? Three scenarios

By Mathew Burrows and Peter Engelke


The COVID-19 pandemic presents a substantial shock to the postwar order, established by the United States and its allies. For the past 75 years, the United States and its partners have led a rules-based system predicated on liberal democratic values, an open and thriving global economy, and formal institutional bodies backed by powerful democratic states. But this order has not gone unchallenged, and the current pandemic threatens the future of the system at large. A downturn in Western economies could boost a rising China, while a global depression could breed support for protectionism. International bodies designed to safeguard public health appear weak and unable to contain the crisis, and alliances with transatlantic partners are fraying as nations turn inward and close borders. Sustaining and revitalizing the rules-based order that has guaranteed freedom, prosperity, and peace for decades requires a decisive global and US-led response to the pandemic.

This paper is a preliminary look at the geopolitical implications of a crisis that is still unfolding. Three scenarios are sketched out for the possible direction of the global system post-COVID-19. The Scowcroft Center’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative will continue to follow the course of the coronavirus, paying close attention to its geopolitical, economic, and social implications. In a situation of intense crisis, scenarios help to reduce the scope of possibilities, decrease uncertainty, and make the different options more visible. In using scenarios as a tool to manage deep uncertainty in a complex, volatile environment, the United States and its allies and partners can be more strategically agile and make better long-term decisions that protect and advance common interests. 

The full text of the paper is split across the various articles linked below. Readers can browse in any order. To download a PDF version, use the button below.

Empty shelves in a grocery store

Atlantic Council Strategy Paper Series

Jul 7, 2020

Prospects for the COVID-19 pandemic

By Mathew Burrows, Peter Engelke

The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a global health crisis. It could spark global recession, while undermining globalism, cooperation and multilateralism, ushering in a renewed era of authoritarianism, isolation and open conflict between global powers.

Coronavirus Economy & Business
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

Atlantic Council Strategy Paper Series

Jul 7, 2020

US global leadership at risk

By Mathew Burrows, Peter Engelke

The post-COVID world represent a step-change in world order, pushing countries toward isolation and setting the stage for open conflict. The US could still change that outcome.

Americas Coronavirus

See where US leadership is most vulnerable

Scenarios for a post-COVID world

About the authors

Photo credit: South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear sanitize Daegu railway station in Daegu, South Korea, February 29, 2020. Yonhap via REUTERS