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Excerpted From: Liliana Lyra Jubilut and Angela Limongi Alvarenga Alves, The Covid-19 Pandemic in a Time of Deglobalization: Challenges and Perspectives for Global Governance and International Cooperation, 49 Denver Journal of International Law and Policy 1 (2021) (99 Footnotes) (Full Document)


JubilutandAlvesThe COVID-19 pandemic can be seen as an epiphenomenon that created a multilayered global crisis. Initially treated as a sanitary issue, the pandemic has gained political, economic, financial, social, cultural, environmental and legal dimensions impacting diverse actions and governmental decisions worldwide. In light of these characteristics, facing the COVID-19 pandemic inherently demands international cooperation.

However, the current international scenario imposes challenges upon international cooperation due to deglobalization, which is understood as an explanation of the present stage of globalization, and which has highlighted flaws and gaps in the cooperative architecture of the international scenario.

The global governance issues related to deglobalization in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic seem to concern the (i) legal nature of the World Health Organization (WHO) and of its norms, (ii) the growth of multipolarity, (iii) institutional inertia, (iv) the complexity of problems, and (v) fragmentation. It is a varied array of challenges that impose difficulties or obstacles upon effective international cooperation.

Cooperation is paramount in facing a global phenomenon such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which demands concerted actions. In this sense, this article aims to aid in understanding the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in light of deglobalization, to both assist in is preparedness to better face them as well as to look for new avenues to improve international cooperation and global governance.

Deglobalization: introductory notes and initial connections to the COVID-19 pandemicC

The term 'deglobalization’ was created by Walden Bello as an alternative proposal and counterbalance to the existing liberal capitalism that came with the intensification of globalization. The term aimed to mitigate social clefts stemming from the inequalities that globalization brought along. The term spread and has been used broadly to design the current stage of deceleration of globalization with the isolation of states and difficulties in international cooperation.

This movement of deglobalization is also presented under other terms and expressions and is assessed from different approaches and methodologies. When the focus is on negative aspects, expressions such as “crisis,” “backlash,” and “collapse” have been used. David Held, Thomas Hale, and Kevin Young, on the other hand use “gridlock,” to describe the current political blockage, meaning the political impasse stemming from the flaws in global governance's instruments, in a perspective of deglobalization under the standpoint of the political crisis.

Deglobalization can thus be understood as a manner of explaining globalization and is not inherently at odds with the concept of globalization. Deglobalization addressees the positive impacts of globalization (such as the internationalization of human rights and the ones deriving from its centripetal forces, which bring along states' cooperation and the realization of the existence of global issues that demand global action), while showcasing the challenges facing globalization as a way to enable new avenues to correct courses. Through this perspective, deglobalization is a diagnostic of the present stage of globalization which in turn highlights its flaws to allow for its betterment.

Understanding deglobalization and its impacts in the international scenario is paramount to international law generally and particularly to international cooperation, given that international norms and actions do not exist in a vacuum but rather are conditioned by exogenous elements in terms of their creation and effective cooperation.

From an economic standpoint, most scholars present the recent economic-financial crisis, which have financialization, income inequality, and wealth concentration as their main foundations, as the reasons for deglobalization. In broad strokes, financialization occurs from the imbalance between the financial market and the economy that generates the increase of stock markets' influence over the economic structure, as well as over institutions, including governmental ones. Financialization indicates a separation from real economy, a real pathology of capitalism. The disparity between the creation and release of value allows for speculation, economic bubbles, and lastly, economic-financial crises. Income inequality and wealth concentration, in their turn, converge as they represent a collateral effect of globalization. Globalization promotes the ultra-valorization of the market, trans-nationalization, and deregulation, and, therefore, tends to produce steep disparities and social-economic inequalities. From there stem new class divisions in the globalized societies.

In turn, from this separation between those who have thrived from globalization and the ones who have not, we derive the gaps between those who share the same values and those who do not, those who can diversify their risks and capital and those who cannot, and those who have access to rights and services and those who do not. This scenario is exacerbated by the increasing difficulty of states to maintain systems with minimum rights guarantees, especially social rights. Consequently, social gaps worsen, leading in turn to tensions, instability, and antagonisms.

From a political standpoint, scholars of deglobalization focus more on geopolitical issues and on the flaws deriving from the post-World War II instruments of global governance. This focus allows for the perception that deglobalization has deeper roots than purely economic ones. This notion is also supported through several examples, such as the financial crises in Asia in 1997, in Russia in 1998, and in Brazil from 2011. These were crises of capital but did not generate deglobalization, in contrast to the global financial crisis of 2008, which is inherently connected to deglobalization and started in the central states. Bearing this in mind, and broadening the understanding of deglobalization, the political changes in the recent phase of globalization are easier to perceive. The decrease in multilateral relations and the difficulties in and for international cooperation are prime examples of those political changes.

With globalization, transnational relations have exponentially increased in the global order. This has created vulnerabilities in the global structure. Firstly, actions that were previously localized have gained international contours, with local actions starting to affect and be affected by extraneous elements. Secondly, there has been an increase of multipolar forces in the global arena, with the most diverse matrices of interests being represented. Thirdly, international political and legal issues have permeated national contexts. Thus, a complex net of international cooperation has been created to deal with the new demands posed by these new relations. However, nowadays, there is a gap between the need for global solutions and the ability of multilateral institutions to find or provide them. Moreover, there has been a proliferation of organizations in the international arena, leading to political fragmentation; as well as an increase in interdependence (a key factor in deglobalization) that, in turn, has made cooperation more difficult. These indicate a weakening of global governance, more specifically, of international cooperation, and is proof of deglobalization. These political conundrums may be explained by the structure of global governance itself, as they suggest that global governance has successfully dealt with the problems it was initially vested with solving but was unable to deal with the issues that have been created by its own existence.

From all the above, one then sees that deglobalization has both economic and political foundations and implications, and has reflexes from and on global governance and international cooperation. These are relevant in a time of a global pandemic such as now, during COVID-19. The mentioned (i) social-economic gaps and disparities, (ii) lack of ability of states to guarantee rights, (iii) social and political antagonisms, (iv) increased interdependence, (v) proliferation of organizations in the international arena, and (vi) challenges in multilateral decisions - especially in a world with many polarized forces - directly impact the possibility of adequately facing the pandemic. Deglobalization is, thus, a framework within which the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic need to be thought about, designed, and assessed.

In light of this, it is relevant to showcase the challenges deglobalization brings to international cooperation and global governance in light of COVID-19. The pandemic has the power to potentialize deglobalization effects, both political and economic, that were already in play, and also create new ones. In this sense, it is relevant to assess both previously identified deglobalization routes, as well as any that are more specific to the pandemic, so as to be able to assess possible avenues to facing the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 in a deglobalization setting.

[. . .]

The COVID-19 pandemic is directly connected to issues of international cooperation, global governance, and globalization. If, on the one hand, globalization has favored the dissemination of the virus, on the other, the pandemic also highlights the current state of the phenomenon, one of deglobalization.

Deglobalization encompasses difficulties in international cooperation and the effective functioning of global governance tools, with a logic more prone to domestic interests and unilateral actions than to international engagement. This context, especially if left undiagnosed and not addressed, weakens the efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legal nature of the WHO and of its norms, multipolarity growth, institutional inertia, complexity of problems, and fragmentation impose challenges on international cooperation and global governance in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, diagnosing these challenges is a first step in addressing them. From this, and from a willingness to pursue beneficial outcomes, positive aspects of deglobalization in the pandemic might arise.

Considering a pandemic of global proportions such as the COVID-19, functioning international cooperation and global governance are essential, as acknowledged by the WHO itself. They can only be their best selves if the challenges of deglobalization are recognized as structural limitations to the international cooperative architecture, and from there, they are faced and reframed from their positive perspectives. As with globalization in general (and its current status of deglobalization), there are positive and negative aspects, and assessing them is the best manner to procure desirable outcomes.


Liliana Lyra Jubilut has a PhD and a Masters' in International Law from Universidade de São Paulo and an LLM in International Legal Studies from the New York University School of Law.

Angela Limongi Alvarenga Alves has a PhD in State Law from Universidade de São Paulo.

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