Different main actors have come to the forefront with the change of the international relations system many times since the Westphalian order (1648), which is considered as the beginning of the international relations system. With the system change, the basic actors of the system have changed and the existing concepts have started to have different meanings or new concepts have begun to emerge. For instance, while the important actor of the Westphalian system was the nation-state [Opello et al., 2004], international organizations such as the United Nations, World Health Organization (WHO), and NATO, which were established in the 1940s to solve the crisis, started to take place as actors in the international system together with the states, and cooperative relations were maintained between these actors.
We can see that the influence of actors such as international organizations and the state in the international relations system decreases from time to time and other actors come to the fore. For instance, in finding solutions to international crises such as the Israel-Palestinian, Syrian crisis, the fight against terrorism weakened the position of international organizations in the system, which mostly provided temporary solutions instead of permanent solutions. Nevertheless, while al-Qaeda, Daesh and similar terrorism-related religious organizations that emerged with the events of September 11th 2001 became the new actors of the international relations system along with nation states and international organizations. The events of September 11th in the international relations system made clear that non-state actors could also use force and the occurrence of this event began to be seen as the beginning of a new era. According to experts such as Steve Smith [Smith, 2003] the events of September 11th shook the entire system and caused its change. This situation then made us question the new system of international relations, and now that the whole world almost came to a standstill due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which began in China in December 2019 and then around the world, made us question the international relations system again.
COVID-19, which emerged in China’s Wuhan in December 2019 and then spread rapidly all over the world, continues to be a global problem. This global problem declared as a pandemic by the WHO on March 12, 2020 required each state to take care of itself (self-help) and solve the problem at the national level. Thus, the emergence of the nation-state again, the lack of international organizations in solving the problem, the weakening of international cooperation, the decrease of foreign dependency, and the gaining importance of fields such as science, health and informatics have been the signs of a new era in the international system. In the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 anarchic international system, where nation states act alone and there is no supreme authority, the concepts of “military power” and “economic power” as well as the phenomenon of “strong state” have gained new meaning with new concepts such as “health system”, “supply chain” and “emergency capacity”. The international system has been tried to be redefined in the light of these concepts [Ulutas, 2020]. Previously, the phenomenon of “strong state” had a narrower meaning by only referring to military and economic power, but with the COVID-19 period, it gained a broader definition. In the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19, the phenomenon of “strong state” has been expanded with new definitions such as strong economy, strong management, strong state institutions and infrastructure (especially aid organizations and funds working for health and public welfare), crisis management capacity, strong supply network and food security. On the contrary, states that are weak and inadequate in combating the pandemic have gained a new meaning with the concept of “failed states” put forward by realism. In this period when public health comes to the fore, the nation-states have given up globalization and international contact altogether in order to survive human life and protect individuals. The fact that international organizations such as WHO and the European Union do not operate at full scale within the scope of combating global problems such as the COVID-19 pandemic in the international relations system, once again emphasized the importance of a self-sufficient state, as in the Wesphalian system. We have given above as an example that international organizations also offered a temporary solution instead of a permanent solution in solving the problem in the period before COVID-19. So the role of international organizations in the fight against the virus also remained weak and without solving problems. According to the realist theory, international organizations fail because they are founded by states and they act for their own interests [Pirincci, 2020]. The state and human nature are selfish and egoistic conforming to the theory of realism. For instance, the European Union member states put aside the principles of unity, cooperation and solidarity, and with the explosion of the pandemic, they have even suspended the principle of free movement they have committed with the Schengen Agreement. Since such events are harbingers that the international system and its actors are changing with COVID-19, has led to the questioning of the system and the discussion of concepts.
In this case, the fact that states act on their own without being dependent on any higher institution reminds us of the zero-sum game, which is the other assumption of realism. Because the state, which is the main actor of the international system in the zero-sum game, is rational and self-governing. They avoid cooperating because there is a possibility of “deceptive” in possible cooperation [Newmann, Morgenstern, 1944]. This is why states choose individuality over cooperation, making it another reason to choose to be isolated. In addition, in the state-centered international relations system of COVID-19 and the post-period, revealed a perception of a “new threat” developing around the pandemic, instead of external threats such as migration and terrorism [Ulutas, 2020]. In this context, the content of many concepts such as threat and security has changed in this new period. For instance, the phenomenon of “security” has become a concept of “health” rather than military and political content. However, in the international system, the state acting on its own and fighting the global pandemic at the national level has created a concept of “new nationalism” [Woods, 2020]. With the change in the threat and danger dimension, we also witness that concepts such as “new protectionism” have started to take place in the literature. In addition, with the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis, many international problems such as the Syrian crisis, immigration problem, terrorism problem and oil price crisis have remained in the background and combating the pandemic at the national level has become the main crisis of the international agenda. With the COVID-19 pandemic started in December 2019, the anarchic international system took a clearer view, while international organizations staying in the background, nation states, which were at the forefront of the Westphalian system, have struggled with the global pandemic on their own, causing the globalization, international system and concepts to be questioned. The self-help principle in the theory of realism came to the fore again and the selfish and egoistic structure of the state and people started to be discussed.
According to the conclusion, the international relations system in the post-COVID-19 period is anarchic and although the main actor is the state, international organizations have lost their importance. However, while the content of the concepts of self-acting and security, power and successful state changed, cooperation and globalization remained in the background. However, while the meanings of the old concepts changed, new concepts such as new nationalism and new protectionism started to take place in the literature.
Newmann J., Morgenstern O. . Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Opello W.C., et al.. The Nation-State and Global Order: A Historical Introduction to Contemporary Politics, USA: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Pirincci F. . Coronalization in the International System, The Post-COVID-19 Global System: Old Issues, New Trends, ed. U. Ulutaş, Ankara: SAM Publications.
Smith S. . The End of the Unipolar Moment: September 11 and the Future of World Order. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0047117802016002001. Accessed on 05.12.2020.
Ulutas U. . Post-Coronavirus Global Trends, Post-COVID-19 Global System: Old Issues, New Trends, ed. U. Ulutaş, Ankara: SAM Publications.
Woods E.T. . COVID-19, Nationalism, and the Politics of Crisis: A Scholarly Exchange. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nana.12644. Accessed on 20.12.2020.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Kanapiyanova Zhuldyz was born on 26th of December, 1986. She graduated from high school in 2004 and the same year she admitted to International Relations faculty of Abay Kazakh National Pedagogical University. In the same year she admitted to Ege University (Turkey, Izmir) to make a master degree. She graduated from International Relations Department with knowledge of a foreign language in 2012. Her dissertation theme is “Globalization and International Nuclear Politics”. Now she was a research fellow in the Eurasian Research Institute at Khoca Akhmet Yassawi Kazakh-Turkish International Unive