The Impacts of the Spread of the New Coronavirus on the Competition of Major Powers in the Middle East

Coronavirus (COVID-19) appeared in the Chinese province of Wuhan in December 2019 and eventually spread globally until the World Health Organization WHO declared it a global pandemic in March 2020; which means that the Middle East is included. The Middle East is a highly sensitive region which is expected to face heavy impacts due to that pandemic.

The continuation of the pandemic for more than six months will not resolve the competition between the superpowers who will not appear with their usual strength. I expect these forces to withdraw relatively from several hotspots of the ongoing crises in the Middle East because of the ongoing economic deterioration and even prefer isolation and focus inward rather than outward. The administrations will have a limited desire to provides assistance to the countries stricken by the virus. Right-wing extremist movements and terrorist organizations may take advantage of such a situation and move forward in favor of their objectives. Failed governments may also seize the opportunity to cover their failure under the guise of panic.

The United States

Under these circumstances, it is doubtless that the greatest threat to the international economy arises from the slowdown in the growth of the United States. The ability of the United States to control the spread of the disease is still vague. President Trump should change his behavior which depends on his personality rather than relying on the institutional approach in the American decision-making process. Therefore, Corona crisis appears to represent a severe blow to Trump at the peak of a stormy election year that is accompanied with a the decline in the economy and the US and global stock market indicators, which have been previously the strong points that Trump links to the success of his presidency. Thus, Coruna virus could harm Trump’s status in the upcoming elections if he fails to, at least, recover what the United States has lost during his term in office. At any rate, the US permanent support for its allies in the Middle East will be affected

China

China has announced its great success of its efforts in facing the crisis and the Chinese regime has had impressive results in a short time; while the democracy of the West is still struggling the spreading of the pandemic in their country without attaining control. Although the Chinese economy has been severely affected, succeeding in curbing the spread of the virus has given an example of “authoritarian capitalism”. The people of the Middle East and in several places all over the world have considered the Chinese approach a successful model compared to Western liberalism.

However, Japanese officials (in close contact with me) regard what china has announced about confronting the virus is mere procedures on paper and only on official statements of the Chinese government. China’s delay in declaring the spread of the virus has led to its spread in the world causing a major disaster. 

They see China wants to tell the world, “We have succeeded in containing the crisis and China today is safer than the United States or Europe. Chinese citizens and students living in the Western Hemisphere are returning to their safe country for fear of infection.” Based on what the Japanese officials said, there is no doubt that the return of these Chinese from the West may lead to a new outbreak of the virus in one or more Chinese provinces. This time the Chinese government is not to blame; but the blame will be on the western countries from where the Chinese citizens have come. Currently, China is in the phase of returning to normality. The work force is returning from rural areas to major cities for work and that may cause a second waves of the virus outbreak.

Russia

The true state of the extent of the pandemic in Russia is not clear enough. But it is assumed that Moscow maintains its traditional strategy to adapt to the crisis. Such a strategy includes information warfare and the exploitation of opportunities and mistakes of opponents to divert attention from sensitive issues. Putin has already seized the opportunity by extending his presidency until 2036. The objective of this move is to harm the oil shale industry in the US and to prove his ability to harm global economy. I also expect Russia to play a more effective role in the European / European and European / American split taking advantage of the difficult circumstances in the Old Continent. Russia will play a similar role to increase the intensity of competition between the US and China and flare-up the situation between the two countries. On the one hand, both of the Russian roles will distort the efforts of Europe and the US and weaken their stances against Russia, on the other hand increase China’s need for Russia in exchange for Chinese economic support to Russia. Russia already started sending to Italy Russian support forces to help in its efforts confronts COVID-19, the time the EU is blamed for its negative reaction.

European Union (EU)

Europe, with its mostly elderly population and the spread of COVID-19, along with the invasion of COVID-19 faces an increase in the existing divisions among the countries of the continent such as the conflict between the extreme right and the socialist left, as well as the refugee crisis. This may lead to the collapse of fragile organizational structures in some European countries and even the weakening the foundations of the European Union and its powerful institutions. Moreover, closing the borders between the EU countries and not accepting visitors from other countries is imperative at the present time and the short term. Such measures may lead to the isolation of those countries and will have a severe impact on the EU economic capabilities and on its political and security influence in the short term.

Impacts on Japan’s approach

Japan is carefully studying all aspects of the crisis, on the short term, on the one hand, Japan continues to contain the crisis inside its country and work to not to spread it.

On the other hand, I expect Japan to cooperate seriously with the European Union in setting global rules and regulations on future virus infections to balance with attempts to dominate China on this matter. On the other hand, Japan will commit to increasing cooperation with the (American / British) axis and will also try to link it with the Europeans in order to set scientific standards. Japan is aware that the Europeans have a lot of experience in this regard.

According to the Japanese view; Japan, the US, Britain, and Europe will work to try to restore the confidence of the Middle East countries in their western allies, in the hope that the Middle East countries will not be attracted to what China offers in its media, and Russia’s misleading news in its media as well.

MG. Sayed Ghoneim (Ret)
Fellow, Nasser’s Higher Military Academy
Chairman, IGSDA
www.igsda.org