This article looks at President-elect Joe Biden’s Strategic Challenges, namely, the “3Cs,” Covid-19, China, and Climate Change. Covid-19 was caused by SARS--CoV-2 that emerged in 2019 and has resulted in a pandemic that has created havoc globally. The immediate pandemic period will last hopefully no later than 2022 provided we wear masks, self-distance and carefully wash our hands numerous times daily.
Though many vaccines are being developed world-wide, it will take more than a year before America achieves “herd immunity,” or an infection level in a population around 40 percent for Covid-19 that limits “the epidemic potential of a pathogen.” (See N. Christakis, “The Long Shadow of The Pandemic: 2024 & Beyond,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 17-18, 2020, p. C1).
After we have deployed a widely-distributed vaccine or reach herd immunity, we will enter the intermediate phase of the pandemic, when things go back to normal. We likely won’t reach the post-pandemic period in the U.S. until around 2024, so we have a tough road ahead. The pandemic will undoubtedly cause a recession and possibly a depression.
An analysis of the 1918 flu pandemic demonstrates that the flu pandemic depressed the economy rather than public health interventions. Studies of urban cities that insisted on strict interventions at the beginning of the pandemic had their economies rebound more quickly after the flu was under control.
“Reacting ten days earlier with respect to the arrival of the pandemic,” once the recovery commenced, manufacturing employment went up 5 percent. (See N. Christakis, Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live,” (N.Y.: Little Brown, 2020.)
The second “C” stands for China. China represents the number one geopolitical threat in the 21st century. It has the world’s strongest economy, third-best military, and is arguably tied with the U.S. in terms of technology. In this connection, we must keep in mind that today’s technology is the steel and coal of the 21st century. (See T.G. Ash, “What will President Biden’s United States look like to the rest of the world?” The Guardian, Nov. 7, 2020).
In brief, Joseph Biden’s administration must do a 180-degree turn from the Trump administration in reversing the damage done by Trump’s policy toward Beijing. There are a host of issues that must be kept in mind: (1) America is losing the trade war with China by its many sanctions that hurt U.S. businesses and consumers; (2) We must not blame China for Covid-19, just because the virus began in Wuhan. Rather, we must take drastic steps to contain the virus in the U.S.; and (3) we must empower our allies like Japan, India, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Vietnam and the EU nations to trade with us, rather than alienating our longtime friends. Our allies may serve as our bulwark against China’s ambitions in the East and South China Sea.
Trump’s trade wars and sanctions on China are tantamount to shooting ourselves in the foot since the 15-percent increase on tariffs of Chinese imports like shoes, TVs, sporting goods and meat and dairy products are paid by consumers and pose a challenge to consumer spending, the main driver of our economy.
A first step would be to eliminate the tariffs on cars from Europe and across-the-board tariffs on Mexico and Canada. When push comes to shove, we can’t match China’s economic power on our own. We need allies and friends like never before.
The third “C” is fighting climate change globally. Climate change shows the strong connectivity of the world impacting organisms “from microbes to megafauna” and biological scales “from the subcellular to the global.” (www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-00947-x). According to the journal, Nature Communications and Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, climate emergency damage may come to $563 trillion, or to more wealth than presently exists on the entire globe. (See Juan Cole, Informed Comment, October, 29, 2020).
There’s only one way out — namely, eliminating fossil fuels as soon as possible. Last year, the world put almost 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, into the atmosphere that can stay there up to 200 years.
An economist, Robert Pollen, argues that if we put $600 billion a year for 30 years into fighting climate change, the planet would get carbon neutral. That $600 billion is less than the budget of the Department of Defense. (Juan Cole, above). The future of the planet depends on this. Hopefully, other nations, particularly China and members of the European Union, will see the necessity to help us monetarily to raise the $600 billion needed to keep the planet alive.
We may disagree with China and Russia on many issues, but we must put differences aside to overpower the devil that is global climate change.
Richard Penaskovic is an Emeritus Professor at Auburn University. His writings have appeared in the Birmingham News, Columbus- Ledger Enquirer, Montgomery Advertiser and online by Informed Comment and Politurco.