The best piece we’ve read during the current crisis is Henry Kissinger’s warning that the corona pandemic “will forever alter the world order.” Writing in the Wall Street Journal, the Nobel laureate acknowledges that America must protect its citizens from disease. Yet he reckons the time has already begun for “starting the urgent work of planning for a new epoch.”
One could call it the sequel to “Present at the Creation.” That was the title of the memoir of President Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson. He was present for the creation of the global institutions that went up after World War II — the Marshall Plan, say, the Bretton Woods monetary system, the United Nations, and the North Atlantic Treaty.
It was a storied time that handed up its own giants — Acheson among them — on the shoulders of those that levied the world war. What we take Mr. Kissinger to be signaling is not only that a new generation will have its own giant tasks after the current crisis. It’s also that some of the major institutions that were built after World War II will need to be remade.
“When the Covid-19 pandemic is over,” the Nobel laureate predicts, “many countries’ institutions will be perceived as having failed. Whether this judgment is objectively fair is irrelevant. The reality is the world will never be the same after the coronavirus. To argue now about the past only makes it harder to do what has to be done.”
Mr. Kissinger lists some broad areas. First is protecting against infectious diseases. He doesn’t point a finger, but this must follow from the failures of the World Health Organization and the administration’s Centers for Disease Control. Second, Mr. Kissinger lists the economy. He wants programs to look not only at America but “the world’s most vulnerable populations.”
The third area that Mr. Kissinger lists is safeguarding the principles of the liberal world order. “The pandemic,” Mr. Kissinger writes, “has prompted an anachronism, a revival of the walled city in an age when prosperity depends on global trade and movement of people.” He doesn’t offer solutions, but merely raises the questions — a scoop at the age of 96.
Our own list — not Mr. Kissinger’s necessarily — would put the United Nations on the table. This point was made the other day by our Benny Avni. He’s a long time veteran of the UN beat. He notes that throughout the corona pandemic, the world body has been nowhere to be seen. It’s irrelevant — or worse, in the case of the UN’s World Health Organization.
That’s because WHO is widely seen as truckling to Communist China. Not only has Beijing been untrustworthy in this crisis — but it’s hostile to Free China, which is blocked from membership in WHO. That’s classic UN, where a veto is held by a communist Chinese regime while the one real Chinese democracy, an exemplar on Covid-19, is cut out.
Next, we would look at Britain after Brexit. We see its decision to reclaim from Europe its independence as one of the great events of the current generation, but only a start. America has a chance to build an even better special relationship. Also to build new structures with British Commonwealth members and other freedom countries like Taiwan, Israel, and India.
A third creation at which the rising generation has the chance to be present would be — on our list — a new monetary system. It is unclear to us whether the dollar will survive the corona crisis. And whether the Federal Reserve will ever find the 15 minutes that its erstwhile chairman, Ben Bernanke, reckoned would be sufficient to restore normal interest rates.
We are not suggesting that the Federal Reserve caused this crisis. It did, though, enable the staggering expansion of debt that comes with the kind of big government response to the crisis that we have been pursuing. If the value of Federal Reserve notes keeps plunging — on verra — they will soon be worth less gold than any Federal Reserve notes in history.
Henry Kissinger begins his piece in the Journal by saying he feels like he did as a young sergeant in the 84th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge. But, he writes, there was an important difference — “American endurance was fortified by an ultimate national purpose.” It will be the part of our leaders to define that purpose in the new institutions we will create.
Drawing by Elliott Banfield, courtesy of the artist.