In terms of International relations theory, realism emphasizes several issues, including reasons for competition between great powers, conflictive obstacles for international cooperation, national interests, and consequences of anarchy. These issues, when combined, result in international relations, becoming an arena of interest and power. What happens when a global pandemic such as COVID-19 plagues the world? Will states cooperate or compete? The answer can be found upon observation of the pattern of behavioral responses of different states to COVID-19. This paper aims to use the realism theory to explain the response taken by the United States of America in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. It also discusses the overall effects of the pandemic on international cooperation.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, different states have taken different actions, some being driven by realistic thought, such as the US. A majority of the US response actions can be explained as they correspond with the four main tenets of realism. First, one of the primary basics of realism is the sovereignty of nation-states as the main actors in response to a global crisis and the absence of a central authority above the state, in other words, international anarchy. “The first assumption of realism is that the nation-state (usually abbreviated to ‘state’) is the principal actor in international relations” (McGlinchey, 2020, p.15). The US citizens look directly toward their national government to provide authoritative directives on what needs to be done and what comes next. The US government has, in turn, responded by taking several measures to ensure the safety of its population, which the main interest. Some of these responses include travel and entry bans, the militarization of borders, lockdown directives, and pharmaceutical protectionism. Therefore, it is evident that realism is the driving force for the US citizens’ natural dependence on their national government during the crisis. (If you need a similar assignment contact Psychology Homework Help)
Secondly, the realism theory best explains the US government’s move to put their interests above all other states during the pandemic. With an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases daily and a tremendous shortage of pharmaceutical supplies, how has the US responded? As expected, the response taken reinforces the realism theory in terms of international relations and national interests. “Realism suggests that states should and do look out for their own interests first, realism presumes that states are out for themselves first and foremost” (Sell, 2012, P.272). The actions taken by the US government, reflect the ‘us first’ mentality that goes hand in hand with the above quote, reinforcing the notion that national self-interest is the true hallowed currency of realism, disguised as moral concerns. For instance, the US has faced heated criticism for actions aimed at obtaining medical supplies intended for other countries. According to an article by Willsher et al. (2020), a mask shipment intended for dispatch from China to France and offered three times the money being paid by France. The US put their national interest first, just as predicted by the realism theory, which assumes states put their interests above all others with the primary concern being survival.
Realism is the best theory in rationalizing behavioral response in a global crisis. In a situation where the crisis at hand is an existential threat to the survival, for instance, of a great power country such as the US, then the predictive power of realism becomes the most suitable choice. Realism assumes that the primary concern of states is their survival. Despite highlighting the unfortunate lack of international cooperation, the realism theory offers a hopeful prospect in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. We live in a competitive world where states often keep a close eye on what other states are doing. This competitive drive, in addition to the realistic thought needed for survival and fear of being left behind, it can be a positive incentive to imitate success. Instead of competing to gain an advantage, success shown by countries in the fight against the pandemic can be emulated by other countries resulting in a trend of best global practices.
The US is ranked as the world’s most powerful and influential nation. Therefore, it is no surprise that other countries look to the US and its actions during international crises. Although the world’s most powerful nations’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic supports the realistic theory, does this mean that realism is right? No. Several limitations render realism an imperfect solution in a global pandemic. First, since realism emphasizes the protection of a country’s interests, international cooperation may be jeopardized. In an attempt to protect their interests, countries end up struggling and competing for advantage resulting in strained relations. For instance, rather than cooperating to mitigate COVID-19, China and the US have been competing to outdo each other and gain supremacy. According to Korab-Karpowicz (2010), when the realistic theory stagnates in a state-centric notion, power politics are emphasized, meaning that aggression can be justified in the name of national interests. China and the US have, countless times, engaged in power politics manifested through rhetoric blames against each other for the creation of the virus. The US has also accused China of presenting misleading numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths and other actions that have undermined any opportunities for international cooperation between the two countries. “Cutting back people-to-people and exchange closing down Confucius Institutes, imposing immigration and visa restrictions, limiting technology transfers, and putting Chinese nationals and Americans of Chinese heritage who work in US laboratories and universities automatically under suspicion is nothing less than a new Red Scare” (Gurtov, 2020, p.3).
The Effect of the Pandemic on International Cooperation
With the devastating impacts on societies, economies, and politics, the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly tested global structures of cooperation. Several events including, China-US competition manifested through blame games and suspicion, increased competition between Russia, China and the US, Beijing devious means of trying to make allies by offering aid and the US acts of stirring international resentment through criticism of the European Union are some of the catalysts of weakened international cooperation. It is also evident that international economic cooperation is falling short as nations put their interests first. “An emergency meeting of G-7 finance ministers on March 3, 2020, fell short of the aggressive and concrete coordinated action that investors and economists had been hoping for, and US and European stock markets fell sharply after the meeting” (Jackson et al., 2020, p.39). As a world power, the US has considerably failed to bring countries together to cooperate to mitigate the pandemic. The US has made the already weakened global structures of cooperation, worse through criticism of the policies enacted by other states. These events beg the question: Why are countries not working together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic regardless of whether international cooperation is the best chance the world has to overcome the crisis?
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Jackson, J.K., Schwarzenberg, A.B., Weiss, M.A, and Nelson, R.M., 2020, ‘Global Economic Effects of COVID-19’ Congressional Research Service., p.39. Retrieved from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R46270.pdf
Jerusalem, Kim Willsher Oliver Holmes in; Istanbul, Bethan McKernan in; Palermo, Lorenzo Tondo in (April 3, 2020). ‘US hijacking mask shipments in a rush for coronavirus protection’ The Guardian. Archived from the original on April 13, 2020.
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