Complex interdependence and corona

Today’s international relations are complex in the context of their outcomes for individual, societies and governments

Coronavirus has become a global issue within a couple of months. It has affected at least 175 countries across the world. This points to the need to refocus our attention on the importance of international cooperation to save the world population and global economy from the worst crisis after World War II.

The number of deaths from coronavirus is around 10,000 worldwide. Sadly, the number is likely to increase as hundreds of people have been tested positive for the disease, forcing the world to make unprecedented efforts to save humanity from colossal suffering.

Although no medication has so far been developed to cure coronavirus scientists and medical researchers across the globe are trying to make one.

What is more important is that scientists worldwide are engaged in extraordinary cooperation to find a cure for the virus. Moreover, most of the countries in the world are joining hands to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The need for international cooperation to fight coronavirus seems to be the dawn of a new age in the international relations as at this point in time there is no single inter-state war going on in the world. Whereas, the spread of coronavirus across the world has much to do with economic globalization, it becomes important to understand the nature of contemporary international relations to further global efforts to fight the deadly disease.

Human societies have been interacting. The direction and frequency of this interaction has varied, largely depending on the political organisation on the international level. With the emergence of modern nation-state system after the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) international interaction and consequent inter-dependence became more organised, bound by legal procedures and quite complex.

As the state system kept on strengthening and evolving in the process becoming more rigid, international interdependence assumed a somewhat unidirectional nature. Since World War II (1939-45) and particularly after the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the world has been getting engaged in multidimensional relations of complicated nature. This has been termed as a “complex interdependence”.

The concept of “complex interdependence” was first brought to the fore by Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye as a neoliberal critique of the realist view or explanation of the world. Complex interdependence is the idea that states and their fortunes are inextricably tied together.

The theorists recognised that the various and complex transnational connections and interdependencies between states and societies were increasing, while the use of military force and power balancing are decreasing but remain important. In making use of the concept of interdependence, Keohane and Nye also importantly differentiated between interdependence and dependence in analysing the role of power in politics and the relations between international actors.

Nye and Keohane, thus, argue that the decline of military force as a policy tool and the increase in economic and other forms of interdependence should increase the probability of cooperation among states. The work of the theorists surfaced in the 1970s to become a significant challenge to political realist theory in international politics and became foundational to current theories.

The theorists argue that in the post-World War II era countries have become increasingly intertwined. The monumental growth in transnational corporations has blurred state boundaries, putting on the traditional realist assumptions about the centrality of state in the international affairs on an intellectual defensive.

The concept of complex interdependence can be explained but most appropriately in the backdrop of the realist worldview. Realists contend that the state is the dominant actor in world politics and that violence and military force are the fundamental means by which states try to achieve their goals and further their interests. The diametrically opposed complex interdependence stresses cooperation rather than conflict in international relations.

Nevertheless, Keohane and Nye recognise that violence and conflict have not vanished altogether. Still, they think that issues other than security have gained more significance. These include international monetary relations and global environment concerns. The theorists contend that day-to-day affairs of states have more to do with promoting cooperative economic interaction than with military and security matters.

The rise of coronavirus is the most important global issue recently. It has implications for the economic health and security of the states. It reinforces the concept of complex interdependence in international politics.

Contemporary international relations, as explained by “complex interdependence” have certain salient features. Firstly, there are multiple channels of international interaction. The theory contends that national societies are connected by multiple channels, including informal ties between government elites as well as formal foreign office arrangements; informal ties among non-governmental elites (face-to-face and through telecommunications) and transnational organizations, such as multinational bands or corporations). These channels can be summarised as interstate, trans-governmental and transnational relations.

The agenda of interstate relations, unlike realist security focus of international interaction, consists of multiple issues. However, these multiple issues are not arranged in a hierarchy in a clear and consistent manner as is the case with realist assumptions. Today, the rise of coronavirus as the number one global threat has sent the international economy reeling.

Thirdly, military force is not a usable option against other governments when conditions of complex interdependence prevail. Against this backdrop, global cooperation becomes more important to deal with issues like a coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, putting conflicts and wars at the backburner becomes equally significant.

Global relations have experienced significant transformation in the post-World War period, especially after the Cold War era these relationships have attained a new direction. Indubitably, the interstate relationship have changed into international relations with individuals, groups, organisations and governmental bureaucracies interacting with their counterparts in other countries directly and with decreasing governmental control to channelise these interactions.

Today’s international relations are really complex in the context of their outcomes for the individual, societies and governments. The complexity of international interactions has brought huge benefits to all and sundry but has simultaneously given birth to novel problems for people and governments. These problems are at times hard to negotiate having large-scale implications. Again, coronavirus can be cited as an example.

The writer is a researcher and political, security, public policy and governance expert. [email protected]

Complex interdependence and coronavirus