The keys to global power in the aftermath of the Great Epidemic

Joseph S. Nye and Álvaro Renedo

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is organising, on 14 May 2020 at 18.30, a live dialogue via the Internet on entitled "The keys to world power after the Great Epidemic" in which Joseph S. Nye and Álvaro Renedo will participate.

Joseph Nye is a professor of government at Harvard University's Kennedy School, where he was formerly dean. In Washington, he has served as Chairman of the National Security Council, Deputy Secretary of State and Assistant Secretary of Defence. All three US government agencies have recognised his work by awarding him Distinguished Service Awards. He also publishes opinion articles on a regular basis in Spanish media such as El País.

Álvaro Renedo Zalba eis Rafael del Pino-Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Fellow, Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School. He is a career diplomat and was Associate Professor at the Complutense University of Madrid. He has been Director of the Department of European Affairs and G20 in the Cabinet of the Presidency of the Government, after having held various positions in the Secretariat of State for the European Union. He has participated in academic programmes at Harvard and Georgetown Universities.


On 14 May 2020, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised a dialogue with Joseph Nye, Professor of Government at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, on "The Keys to World Power in the Aftermath of the Great Epidemic". Professor Nye spoke about the world order and the impact that the Great Pandemic may have on it. He said that we are in the first part of a play that has many other acts, so any estimates we might make at this stage may be incorrect. In this regard, it is worth remembering that in 1918, when we had that great flu that killed more people than the First World War, it was a second wave that killed more people than the first. So we cannot yet know what the final outcome will be. The other historical point that is interesting to remember is that, despite the terrible damage caused by the 1918 flu epidemic, it did not have a major effect on societies, nor on the global balance of power. The First World War did have a major effect, but the flu pandemic did not. So we run the risk of trying to think that because something is as big as the current coronavirus crisis, it is going to be an event that is going to have a big effect. There are times in history when small events trigger big effects and other times when big events generate effects that are not as big as we expected them to be. So he does not believe that this is going to be a geopolitical event whereby China will overtake the United States. Nor do I think it will be the end of democracy, as some people have proclaimed. The European Union worries him a little, although he does not think it will be the end of the European Union. However, the recent case of the German Constitutional Court is worrying. There are many questions about which we cannot be sure. But it is too early to start thinking that the world is going to change from top to bottom, because it seems to be doing so now. As far as the European Union is concerned, Nye pointed out that we have seen in the past many situations where it looked like the EU was going to fail, but there is still a very strong commitment to the European project as a whole. This leads him to believe that there is indeed going to be a stronger second half of the game, in which the EU will go out and win. To achieve this, some difficult steps have to be taken. A European recovery fund should be set up. The European Commission has talked about three trillion euros. That is necessary, but perhaps not enough. There should also be Eurobonds, in the form of perpetual bonds, rather than adding to debt. This would be a step in the right direction. This could be done, but the response has not yet been as strong as it should be. Given its history, the EU will be able to do something, but hard decisions have yet to be made that can justify such faith in the EU. For Nye, nationalism is an ongoing problem. How leaders deal with nationalism can transform it from a negative to a positive force. Jean Monnet's extraordinary decisions after the end of the Second World War facilitated Germany's integration, even though it had been invaded by France for the third time. Monnet had the intelligence to realise that this situation of Germany's occupation could rekindle German nationalist sentiment if they did not share the resources of coal and steel. Then they would not have that kind of nationalism, and indeed that is what happened. That German nationalism that developed after the Cold War identified itself with Europe. One politician said that a strong Germany would have to be European. In this sense, what we should be seeing now are leaders who do not deny nationalism. All countries have national sentiments. Leaders must channel that nationalism in positive directions. Nye has analysed this question in his latest book "Do morals matter? In it he raises the question of what can be said about Donald Trump's idea of America First. The answer is that every country has to say that its interests come first. Macron has to say France first. The difference is not whether a leader elected by the people puts his country's interests first. The question is how he defines those interests. That is where the moral component comes in and where great leaders say that they can defend their nation's interests, but that they have to put them in a broader context that includes the interests of others. In the case of the United States after the Second World War, that meant the Marshall Plan, which was good for the Americans, but also for Europeans. Going back to the example of Jean Monnet, this means that you have to realise that Monnet, De Gasperi, Schuman, were defending national interests, but they saw a broader European interest. They saw that these antithetical interests could be combined. What we need now are leaders who say yes, this is a great crisis and we have to defend the interests of those who elected us, but the best way to defend them is not by opposing Europe, but by strengthening it, by defining national interests in that broader European context. Nye does not believe that the nation-state will be replaced in the 21st century. People's strong national sentiment is not going to evaporate, nor is it going to diminish much. But this is probably the wrong way of thinking. Rather than talking about replacing the nation-state, we should be thinking about how to incorporate it into a broader global framework that does not have the limits of the past. There have been times when nationalism has supported democracy when nationalism is a positive force. But there have also been other times when nationalism has been negative and undermined democracy. The key role of leaders is to frame national interests within broader institutions, so that it is not one or the other, but both. Steve Bannon, one of Trump's advisers, in 2016 spoke of the difference between what he called real American nationalists and relentless cosmopolitans. In fact, however, those real Americans are capable of holding multiple loyalties at the same time. We feel part of our families, our regions, our nations, our professional or religious groups, and that is because we are able to hold multiple loyalties simultaneously. In that sense, the key issue for leaders is to define strong national allegiances, but as part of Europe, bearing in mind that Europe is part of a much wider world. The problem with Trump's attitude during this crisis is that he is taking a very narrow view of American interests, withdrawing the United States from the World Health Organisation, or ceasing to fund it. That is a disaster of a response. Trying to blame China for the fact that the US had worse numbers at the beginning of the crisis is not conducive to anything. The question is which leaders will adopt the Monnet style, rather than the one we see today from Trump. What we are seeing in the COVID-19 crisis is a great fear of people, which makes societies become inward-looking. That's natural, but they don't have to remain inward-looking. Trump denied the crisis from the beginning and tried to blame the Chinese. Xi Jiping also did the same: first he denied reality and then tried to shift the blame to others. But imagine if these two leaders had approached Europe, Japan, Australia and other countries and jointly advocated the creation of a hedge fund under the United Nations, a massive fund that would have been available to all poor countries. Then one might wonder why anyone from these big countries would agree to this. Because it would be in the country's interest and, at the same time, it would be a humanitarian issue. If the coronavirus is not managed properly in the poor southern half of the world, that part of the world becomes a reservoir of virus that will spread seasonally northwards year after year: But this is neither in our interest nor theirs. If instead of leaders blaming others, they had met in the Security Council, or in the G20, and pledged large funds for poor countries to deal with the coronavirus, we would all be much better off. This is an example of defining national interest with a moral content. That is, it is about telling people that there is a broader vision of the national interest. Henry Kissinger said, in an article in the Wall Street Journal, that we need a Marshall Plan. This is an example of how leaders can make a change in international politics. We have missed that opportunity, but if new waves of coronaviruses occur, that opportunity could return. On transatlantic relations, Nye noted that there were already difficulties in the US-European relationship before Trump's election. But it is true that Trump is the first president since 1945 to be sceptical of alliances and multilateral institutions. If he is replaced in November, that could be the beginning of repairing those relations. In other chaos, we will have to navigate troubled waters. Nye likes the idea of high-level personal relationships between the US and Europe, people who are not tied to a particular bureaucracy. There are very capable people in the European diplomatic service, but it's a little different when you go down to the level of government bureaucracy as opposed to personal relationships at the highest level. A prime minister, a chancellor, can convey messages that are not necessarily crafted by a bureaucracy. In that sense, one could think of complementing the diplomatic service with high-level representatives. In that sense, it was very interesting how Javier Solana did it, but that was because of his personal stature and it was before there was a full apparatus of a European diplomatic service. These are not antithetical things. You can have both, but you need to complement one with the other. If you look at the world at large, China is a rising power. It is the second largest economy in the world, not counting the EU as a bloc because it is not a national economy. On the other hand, no two parts of the world share more values than the United States and Europe. China deserves credit for what it has achieved, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. But it still has an authoritarian vision when it comes to using technology to control people. The United States and Europe have a different view. From time to time, they may have differences, but their basic values have much in common. The danger is that China will divide, or try to divide, Europe and the United States through economic incentives. Europeans realise that there are very important values at stake and that is why it is so important to maintain an alliance between Europe and the United States. China is unlikely to overtake the United States. If the United States and Europe stand together, authoritarianism will not win out over democracy. Europeans must therefore work closely with the Americans. What is worrying is fragmentation or divisions within Europe, such as, for example, the case of the German Constitutional versus the European Court of Justice. That is more worrying than the rise of China. If Europeans and Americans stick together, one can be optimistic about the future.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.