Our latest ‘Critical Conversation’ podcast features an exclusive interview with Bill Emmott on geopolitics and the continued fallout from the pandemic, arguing that companies need to develop their own ‘foreign policies’ in order to navigate the increasingly fractious and hostile geopolitical context.
Bill Emmott is a leading expert on international affairs. He is co-director of the new non-profit Global Commission for Post-Pandemic Policy, chairman of the trustees of the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) and formerly editor-in-chief of The Economist. Bill is also a member of Critical Resource’s Senior Advisory Panel.
In this 30-minute conversation, recorded on 15 November 2021, Bill shares thoughts on the four intersecting crises that are shaping the global political landscape, the systemic rivalry triggered by the pandemic, failures in international diplomacy, the challenges of global governance and the implications of growing US-China geopolitical rivalry for companies.
The discussion was moderated by Daniel Litvin, Founder and Senior Partner of Critical Resource.
Among the key points raised by Bill:
- The pandemic should be seen within the context of four intersecting crises: health, ecology & climate change, trust & legitimacy, and geopolitics. We are in an almost ‘perpetual pandemic’ and government policies are still playing catch up.
- Vaccine inequality is a major failure of global diplomacy. This is no longer because of shortage of supply, but due to nationalism, selfishness and lack of capacity to implement vaccine rollouts. While 80% of the population could be vaccinated in North America and large parts of Europe within months, it would take 3.5 years to achieve this in Africa based on the current pace of vaccinations.
- Despite being a global crisis that could have united the world, the pandemic instead became a tool of systemic rivalry and inspired ‘us first’ policies. This has meant that the crisis is lasting longer than it needed to.
- The economic and social legacy of the pandemic will be more severe in low-income countries. In the developed world, governments had more capacity to bring in emergency measures. But in large parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia, there will be a combination of deep ‘economic scarring’, social fragility and a risk of sovereign debt crises.
- Geopolitics has caused systems of global governance to wither on the vine. The mutual suspicion between the US and China around their respective attempts to dominate global institutions has resulted in ‘coalitions of the willing’ emerging on specific issues to achieve more limited goals.
- The US and China see each other as clear rivals – neither of them trusts that any agreements made will hold beyond the next US election cycle or next domestic crisis in China. This creates a recipe for fragility – but I don’t think that we’re in a countdown to conflict. Both sides hope for a separate but equal arrangement around the world.
- The friction between the US and China has made it harder to reach a global climate agreement. It gives other countries excuses not to act. COP26 has seen some resumption of US-China dialogue. This is a straw in the wind that might mean we see some progress in the next couple of years.
- Companies need to think like governments – developing their own ‘foreign policies’ and engaging in creative and broad-based diplomacy. The biggest danger to any company in this fractious world would be to find itself trapped between two competing sides.