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Royal Irish Academy International Affairs Conference 2021

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'International politics in times of risk and uncertainty: the COVID-19 crisis and beyond'

About this Event

The annual conference of the Standing Committee for International Affairs will be addressed in a Keynote by Mr Simon Coveney TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Minister for Defence.

The programme is available here

Conference Theme

The Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has posed a fundamental new challenge to humanity and complicated an already unstable international situation. Nationally, regionally and globally governments and international organisations face complex questions about appropriate responses to the pandemic and about their ability to mobilise the political will, public support and resources necessary to address this crisis effectively.

At a time of increasing populism and nationalism and intensifying great-power tensions, the crisis is interacting in complex and unpredictable ways with these dynamics—intensifying some, but also adding new dimensions. The United States and China’s responses to the crisis are impacting on their power and standing as the world’s two leading powers, as well as on their bilateral relationship, but the longer-term consequences for global politics remain highly uncertain. Coming a decade after the Great Recession of 2008–09, the COVID-19 pandemic has also triggered a second global recession, once again raising questions about the appropriate balance between stimulus and austerity and the ability of states to collaborate internationally in addressing economic crises. The COVID-19 pandemic has also generated concerns about dependence on global supply chains (in particular for the provision of personal protective equipment but also, in the future, for a possible COVID-19 vaccine). More broadly, this is raising questions about whether globalisation can or should be reversed (at least in part); an argument that intersects with calls in some quarters to economically de-couple from China.

The COVID-19 pandemic is also posing new and complex challenges for multilateral institutions, particularly the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Group of 20 (G20) and the European Union (EU). Compared with their approach to the 2008–09 recession, governments—especially that of the US under the presidency of Donald Trump—have been reluctant to use international institutions to develop collective responses to the pandemic. The WHO has played an important role in responding to COVID-19, but the crisis has also highlighted the organisation’s limitations, leading to calls for its reform. The EU has played only a limited role in addressing the public health dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic but has assumed a major role in responding to the economic crisis within Europe. At the European level, these dynamics will feed into the on-going debate about the future direction of European integration.

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