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The Pandemic Must End Our Complacency

With an economic downturn as severe as the Great Depression and political conditions similar to those in the run-up to World War I, an international system built on globalization now hangs in the balance. The world desperately needs effective collective leadership – and not just to contain COVID-19.

PARIS – A sudden shock upends routine decision-making and forces leaders to take urgent action. A combination of mistrust, misperception, and fear dissolves the bonds that sustain modern civilization.

The year is 1914, when Europe spent its summer mobilizing for war. But the description could just as well apply to the summer of 2020. The worst pandemic since the 1918-20 influenza outbreak is rapidly morphing into a systemic crisis of globalization, potentially setting the stage for the most dangerous geopolitical confrontation since the end of the Cold War.

In the space of just weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down one-third of the global economy and triggered the largest economic shock since the Great Depression. Looking ahead, the most important factor that will shape how this crisis evolves is collective leadership. But that crucial component remains absent. With the United States and China at each other’s throats, global leadership will have to emerge from somewhere other than Washington, DC, or Beijing.