Sönmez Köksal

Retired Ambassador, former head of Turkish Intelligence Organization, MIT

Former Turkish intelligence (MIT) chief Ret. Ambassador Köksal writes in his strategic assesment for YetkinReport that certain fundamental directions are emerging for the post-Covid-19 world, despite the ongoing pandemic. (Photo: Health Ministry)

With the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic, we are facing a complex, versatile, case with a number of questions and answers. It may be useful to deal with the problem in two separate stages, as temporal and geographical.
We are still in the process of experiencing the pandemic. We have no exact information about how and when it ends. The second phase will be the “return to normal” period, now within the framework of the strategies that all governments have developed on how to get out of this situation. In this period, they have to deal with many issues such as how-to re-spin the wheels, which have almost come to a halt in the area of economy, how to rejoin the broken production chains. Finally, we will have a damage assessment period at the last stage. We will experience a long period in which we will be looking for ways to eliminate the economic, financial, and social ruins that are likely to emerge, to build our future.

The return of the state

The horizontal assessment can be addressed at the national, regional, and global levels. In the pandemic process at the national dimension, each country is affected at a different level. We see that the “State” that was pushed back by globalization, has come to the fore as the main backbone of society. Those who have foresight, strong planning, organizational and technical skills, sufficient health structure and personnel, as well as a sense of solidarity and citizenship will come forward. Their crisis management skills and experience, maintenance of the production chain, their sensitive and inclusive leaders who have trust in society, will be at the forefront. Countries with high management and coordination capacity, institutions and organizations working like clockwork will survive this process with relatively little damage, and will successfully execute exit strategies. It is certain that among the countries that performed well during the epidemic, those with strong economic, financial and employment structures and organization will come to the fore. The questioning of state structures in countries with weaknesses will be inevitable.

Regional problems will increase

The view on a regional scale, regardless of the region, does not look positive. The system is already fragmented and disconnected due to the erosion suffered by global governance. The European Union (EU) is experiencing internal contradictions. The warnings of the International Crisis Group on hot war spots around the world are extremely frightening. The situation of the African continent, which lives under the economic/social conditions made by climate change even more serious, draws attention. There are worrying developments in the sub-continent, particularly in India. It is understood that Latin America will be adversely affected, although it is far from the old world. Starting from the sub-regions, primarily on the global level after the crisis, illegal immigration, as well as the legal movement of human and property freedom, is likely to be an important topic of debate and even tension regarding the restoration of the production-consumption chain.

The global crisis started before the Covid-19

As for the international level, the effects of both globalization and technological developments on politics, the economy, and governance were already under discussion before the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s been a matter of debate for some time that extreme globalization is coming to an end. The nationalism, populism, mercantilism, and protectionism movements created by this phenomenon had begun to alarm for a while. More than 40 years of liberal economic policies deepened income inequality to a greater extent with the impact of the 2008 financial crisis. In parallel with this fact, the news of digital media’s lies, misconceptions, distortions, and manipulations, which started to influence large masses in the same period, caused politicians and Western-type democracies to become disreputable. At this point, it should not be forgotten the emotional breakdown of the 2003 Iraq occupation of the USA against the Western values and the exploitation campaigns by Russian trolls.

Healing the wounds before radical changes

Returning to the issue, with the outbreak of the crisis, I see structural changes in the current international system as a very difficult possibility. Although it is desirable to have global structural changes, countries will surely give absolute priority to healing their own wounds. There will probably be some countries that will be able to overcome difficulties relatively easily by their own means. However, it will not be possible for most of the international community to survive this process without foreign aid and solidarity. As a result, the need for solidarity at both national and international levels will increase.
In short, the need for change is obvious, but is there a chance that the common will to meet this need is formed? I think this is the most important and urgent question before the international community.

UN and leadership problem

It is not possible to be very hopeful at this stage. We need to focus on this issue separately, but the United Nations (UN) has unfortunately fallen short of fulfilling its mission of collective security. Besides, another major shortcoming is the absence of leaders who lead the way in overcoming the problems and constituting the aforementioned common will. The United States, which has generally taken the lead in important international issues and mobilized the Western world, has lost this function with the presidency of Donald Trump; even if this is not enough, he has turned into a “disruptive” element. For example, after paralyzing the World Trade Organization (WTO), the U.S. Administration has put UNESCO and now the World Health Organization (WHO) on target. While thinking about the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak, we need to consider the results of U.S. presidential elections next November as an important factor.

US-China rift and the technology gap

Another important factor is the doubt that the great powers, especially the USA and China, mutually feel. It would be great diligence to assume that the selfishness, “hypocrisy” and “sincere bargaining” reflexes that already exist within the body of international politics will be left to one side immediately. It is also necessary to dwell on China and the US-China opposition.
If I do not mention another very important phenomenon that will further challenge the framework I am trying to outline, the picture will be incomplete.
Scientists talk about the “Cambrian explosion”. This is an explosion that led to the formation of the first vertebrates on earth hundreds of millions ago, and then man. In the coming years, artificial intelligence, big data, the internet of things, nanotechnology, etc. will come forth. They compare the changes that such an explosion will create in human life. Humanity is important, and it’s on the eve of a huge change and development. Except for a narrow environment, it seems that the masses have not yet had a complete idea of the extent of this change. These changes are likely to come into our lives quickly, as the mobile phone quickly took hold of all humanity.
Regarding Turkey, it is a vital issue for our nation’s future to separate the important from the trivial in such a chaotic period. Are we going to only be the users of technological developments that will lead to such big changes? Or will we be contributors? We are a society that pays heavily the price of accepting the printing press three centuries later, missing the steam engine and the industrial revolution. We cannot catch this technological tsunami coming to us in time, and if we miss it, we will not be able to avoid being responsible for future generations and history.
As a result, it is possible to draw a few main conclusions from the synthesis of the national, regional, and international analysis that I am trying to do.

Lack of global coordination ahead

We are entering a time when global coordination will probably be even more difficult. As such, regional structures and solidarity are expected to take precedence. In this context, it would be useful for Turkey, as a member of the former, to keep ties with regional organizations such as NATO stronger.
In addition to this, it will be possible to take initiative in certain world issues by entering new groupings with countries that are successful on a national scale even if there is no geographical proximity. Thus, the promotion of joint solidarity and initiative sub-groups will be possible.
In countries that have failed to combat the epidemic on a national scale, we have to foresee that there may be intensity and contagiousness in internal confusion, large migrations, and international conflicts. In particular, it is necessary to wait for the economic-social cracks that will deepen in our nearby geographical zone, which has already become fragile, to feed internal conflicts.

The need of establishing “idea workshops”

According to the course of the developments, I have just mentioned, the depth of the crisis and the length of its duration, the next ten years will pass through the efforts to overcome the shortcomings of global governance and rebuild in some areas. If the lack of leadership at the global level continues and weaknesses occur in the formation of a strong global will, there may be a period when nation-states try to protect themselves to keep their positions and conditions within their borders.
I have touched on some of the obstacles and difficulties against the shaping of the common will with some possibilities regarding this obscure period. In addition to the disadvantages, this period may also be a period when new opportunities will emerge. Therefore, to be able to take the lead, we need to set up “idea workshops” as prompt as possible in various fields and prepare as a society on these issues that will affect our future tomorrow.
* Future articles: UN, EU, NATO change in Turkey’s threat perceptions, the United States, Russia, Middle East.