Pavel K Baev
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
This solid volume has been produced remarkably fast as the complex and tragic phenomenon of the COVID-19 pandemic keeps mutating, but the research shows no signs of rush, and 88 pages of endnotes testify to its thoroughness. The authors have extensive experience in US academia and government, but steer their analysis clear of the party-political fray, while trying also to avoid the all-too-common US-centrism. A key proposition in their assessment of damage to the international system is that 'the era of unquestioned US primacy has passed' (p. 321). At the end of 2021 this point may seem less certain than it did at the start, yet there are many good reasons – scrutinized methodically in the book – to conclude that the world order, as it emerged at the end of the Cold War and evolved over three decades, 'is now gone' (p, 17). A major cause of the failure of the international community to join forces and provide a collective answer to the initially under-estimated and then over-politicized threat of the pandemic is the escalating geopolitical competition between the USA and China. The authors argue that this is set to expand and intensify. Given the growing arrogance of Xi Jinping's autocratic regime, it is indeed hard to expect a cooperative stance from China, even in such an obvious area of common interest as climate change. Where there is hope for rebuilding the foundation for collective action is in the trans-Atlantic relations and – more broadly – in the closer ties between democracies, who can regain confidence in confronting populism and dictators. The book tells how tall this order is, but every alternative is worse.