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World Order after COVID-19 Forum

June 30, 2020


See full agenda and participants' biographies

The Kissinger Center for Global Affairs convened 40 scholars from a diverse set of disciplines earlier this month to contribute expertise and insight on the future of the international system in a post-pandemic world in a virtual two-day conference.
Former chairman and CEO of Google and co-founder of Schmidt Futures, Eric Schmidt, opened the Kissinger Center’s two-day virtual forum with a powerful keynote statement calling for leaders, thinkers and scholars to recognize this time as one of great opportunity and change.  He called for a fundamental reset of the US-China relationship in which both states should recognize the other as a “rival partner” and understand their relationship as a dynamic one of “coopetition” instead of continuing towards a path of competition. He also warned of the dangers inherent in competing for developments in the use of artificial intelligence, especially in lethal autonomous weapons.
Schmidt concluded his comments with a focus on the future of US leadership in the world and the role of values in statecraft and policy, reminding listeners: “Immigrants give us our strength, alliances give us our scale, ideas and creativity give us our power; we need to fix our own inequalities and we need to compete to win on these platforms. If America leads, the rest of the world will follow.”
Schmidt’s comments were echoed throughout the conference but presenters also spoke to a range of challenges and questions that have not yet been debated in such a cross-disciplinary and academically diverse setting. The conference’s first panel engaged historians on the topic of applied history and how to use historical comparisons to orient and prepare policy for a variety of future scenarios.
Harvard Kennedy School’s Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Graham Allison, urged listeners to consider that the pandemic would not have the paradigm shifting implications other great historians and leaders believe it might, resurrecting Thucydides’ notion that the “future will resemble the past” and suggesting that on the other end of today’s challenges, we will still live in a world that depends on maintaining a balance of power more than anything else.
The first day of the conference also featured discussions on global politics, public health, governance, ethics, food security and transnational challenges. Several speakers spoke of this moment as an opportunity to plan for a better future.  Lainie Rutkow, a Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, urged leaders to “use this period to try to look beyond a high-profile response” and instead toward preparing for the next pandemic.
Professor Sridhar Venkatapuram of Kings College’s Global Health Institute also spoke on how this is a pivotal moment and an opportunity to increase the role of the scientific community in policymaking, claiming:
“The current world order is not good for health.  It’s good for the health of some people and some countries…but it not necessarily good for the vast majority of people. And…it’s not the virus that is harming people, it is the social responses as well as neglect that is causing vulnerabilities in people.  Clinical biomedical ethics has an important role to play in the future.  What kind of society is good for health and what kind of world order is good for health in the future?”
71st U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Lawrence H. Summers offered opening remarks to the forum’s second day of sessions in a moderated discussion with the Kissinger Center’s Peter G. Peterson Distinguished Scholar, John Lipsky.
Summers offered his perspective on the many economic outlooks that have emerged in recent weeks, suggesting that forecasts reflect a tug-of-war between the impacts of a larger-than-expected stimulus and worse-than-expected set of scenarios around the lack of control over the virus. He also commented on the disparity between domestic policies and global economic responses explaining, “what stands out for me at this moment is that we’ve had unprecedented boldness in national macroeconomic policies…and unprecedented timidity in the global response.”
The Forum’s second day continued with sessions on technology, economics and climate in a post-Covid world, how grand strategy and great-power relations might change after Covid-19 and American statecraft & the post-Covid world order. SAIS Dean, Eliot Cohen, chaired the final session with Jake Sullivan, James Steinberg, Kori Schake and Kathleen Hicks. 
Dr. Hicks, Donald Marron Scholar at the Kissinger Center and senior vice president, Henry A. Kissinger Chair and director of the International Security program at CSIS, concluded her panel’s session with some cautions for future American foreign policy planning, remarking, “One of the big dangers Americans can face is if we look backward…this is not an ‘as we were before moment.’ Our allies, partners and adversaries cannot ‘unsee’ what they have seen… This is about how we create a new future and that is going to take a lot of innovation in the domestic and international space.”
This forum was hosted by Johns Hopkins University President, Ron Daniels, the JHU School of Advanced International Studies, and the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs and was organized by Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and Kissinger Center Director Francis J. Gavin and Henry A. Kissinger Distinguished Professor, Hal Brands.
Building upon its existing America and the Future of World Order project, the Kissinger Center has commissioned research from the cross-cutting thinkers who appeared in this forum which it will publish in the upcoming book COVID-19 and World Order: The Future of Conflict, Competition and Cooperation to be published by Johns Hopkins University Press in the fall of 2020.
Proceeds from the book will be donated to the Maryland Food Bank. The donation will support the university’s food distribution efforts in East Baltimore in order to help combat food insecurity due to COVID-19 pandemic hardships.
Learn more about the book COVID-19 and World Order: The Future of Conflict, Competition and Cooperation.
Watch the full video recordings of each keynote, session and panel on the Forum's webpage.