Coronavirus presents challenges to international order and global trust

Coronavirus presents challenges to international order and global trust
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The coronavirus is exposing the fragility of the liberal international order that defines modern society. This is not a sudden development, but this pandemic and the global response are now shining the brightest light on cracks that have emerged through neglect, omission, and willful erosion.

What follows should concern us all, with creeping authoritarianism and the establishment of not just an alternative order, but perhaps the very absence of any order for the chaotic global system. Responding to and recovering from the pandemic must be our first and paramount priority. However, immediately after must come a reckoning of the impact of an abdication of American leadership and what it all means for the future.

Nearly every day in this crisis, we are seeing the authoritarian regimes of China and Russia push an alternative narrative where they, through their foreign assistance, are the guarantors of international stability instead of the United States. It is a troubling narrative in which Beijing and Moscow are the ones that countries can rely on in a crisis instead of Washington.

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Beijing went from playing defensive, willfully concealing the outbreak, to claiming to heroically conquer the disease and generously supplying aid to now afflicted countries. China acts like the arsonist who arrives at the scene of his own fire to claim credit for extinguishing it. The intelligence community recently concluded that the Chinese data on infections and deaths within the country was, unsurprisingly, intentionally incomplete.

We have also seen the extent that Beijing has influenced international institutions such as the World Health Organization, so much so that the organization refuses to acknowledge Taiwan and, according to reports, even acknowledge queries by health authorities from Taiwan. Moscow, although domestically slow to respond, was quick to capitalize on the media frenzy, dispatching a cargo aircraft with relief aid to New York.

These efforts represent a purposeful strategy to rebrand the authoritarian systems as more effective at handling the coronavirus crisis. That strategy masks the stifling of dissent and the lack of personal freedoms to the clear benefit of central authority. There is a better way reflected in the strongest moments of democratic systems that can move with resolve to coordinate effective responses while respecting their citizens. However, the moment requires the United States and its allies to rise to this challenge together.

The success of this narrative is based on the erosion of trust in the world order, trust in established alliances, and trust between governments and their citizens. This is perhaps the most significant and pressing challenge in this crisis. European and Asian capitals no longer look to Washington as a beacon of stability and key partner that can be relied on in a crisis. They instead see a chaotic and uncoordinated federal response, the success of which depends on state governors for action. For our American allies and partners, there is no longer a steady hand leading the international order.

While the present situation looks dire, it need not become the new norm. The aid from Beijing and Moscow comes with strings. China is reportedly using the aid to push the purchase of Huawei equipment and to advance the interests of the Communist Party. Russia desires to remove sanctions and reintegrate itself into the European order. Nothing from authoritarian regimes is given for free, yet there needs to be a better counter narrative.

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We need to reinforce our national commitment to traditional alliances and the international order that has long guaranteed global stability. We need to engage with multilateral institutions like the World Health Organization, the International Telecommunications Union, and more. These institutions have unfortunately been warped by Chinese influence and taken over by its financial largesse. We have ceded this space to Beijing by omission. It is time that we demand those necessary reforms to ensure these bodies reflect liberal Western values rather than Chinese authoritarian interests.

We need to confront aggressive expansionism by Beijing and Moscow by reasserting our commitment to the unimpeded freedom of navigation in places like the South China Sea. We must, while ensuring we are secured and well stocked at home, be among the earliest, if not the first, countries to support our allies during times of greatest need. The aid to Italy should read “from the United States with love” instead of “from Russia with love.”

We need to view the world as it is and recognize that the United States as a vital part of the international order. Our country is not separate or alone. If we abdicate American leadership, abandon our alliances, and betray the trust and admiration many once held for our country, what replaces it will almost certainly be worse, not just for ourselves, but the world as a whole.

Mike Rogers is a former Republican representative Congress who was a chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He is now the David Abshire chair at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. Glenn Nye is a former Democratic representative in Congress. He is now chief executive with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.