Deglobalization is a movement towards a less connected world, characterized by powerful nation states, local solutions, and border controls rather than global institutions, treaties, and free movement. Some consider the world to have entered a period of deglobalization, citing recent events such as Brexit, Trumpism, the Ukraine war, problems with supply chains, the global energy crisis and the past decade’s decline in foreign direct investment (whereby residents of one country invest long-term in another country’s economy).
But it would be wrong to say the world is definitively in a period of deglobalization. Phenomena such as the COVID-19 pandemic, international crime, and climate change demonstrate the continuing relevance of global collaboration and interconnectivity.
It is better to understand the question as one of balance between globalizing and deglobalizing forces. It is fair to say that in the West today, unlike the 1990s, the scales have tipped towards greater suspicion of globalized approaches. A surge in populist politics in Europe and the US has ridden a wave of opposition to globalized economies and international institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and NATO. Leaving the European Union (EU) is written into the constitutions of populist parties in countries such as Poland and Hungary. International organizations have seen their reputations suffer, either condemned as too powerful or too weak. The World Health Organization (WHO) struggled to drive an efficient response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in large part due to uncooperative governments.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of deglobalization taking place is in the current political imagination of both democracies and authoritarian states. During recent election campaigns in the US and Germany, climate change – an inescapably international issue - was discussed as a national challenge with mitigation and adaptation efforts characterized as national opportunities.
In China, globalized infrastructure such as the internet is heavily restricted and recast as a tool heavily controlled by the national government, with ‘the great firewall’ turning the free flow of information into an incredibly effective method of political control.
Increasingly policymakers struggle to articulate an appropriate balance between global and local solutions. How much should international trade in goods and service be curbed or facilitated? How can the global climate change challenge be met by competing, sometimes hostile nations? How is migration to be managed and its push factors adequately addressed? How are wars and conflict to be managed? To what extent should responses to health emergencies be dealt with by international organizations?
This effect on the political imagination inevitably has a knock-on effect on the trade and financial flows that underpin global trade, weakening confidence in the safety of international investments.
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