A new actor has emerged to become the dominant power. One can use different names to describe it. I will call it the “environment.” The basic error with our previous understanding of the global system was how we saw it as a “system of states.” National security was regarded as a problem endogenous to the system of states. That major threats could arise from the external environment was not taken seriously. It is now.
States are not powerless. The environment is not chaotic. There are rules and tools dictating what can be achieved if state actors make the right choices and are able to implement them. One might go so far as to say that the environment mentioned above is a “game environment.” And we have certainly witnessed how different actors have scored very differently in their response to the pandemic.
The game is competitive. Whether or not there were hopes of global cooperation at the beginning of the pandemic, those hopes have been dashed. Scarcity in an adverse environment is obviously a reason, but there is a second one. The emergence of a dangerous external environment opens up possibilities for state actors to change the global power distribution without directly engaging in actions against their rivals. The dynamics of indirect competition are impossible to resist.