In This Review

Aftershocks: Pandemic Politics and the End of the Old International Order
Aftershocks: Pandemic Politics and the End of the Old International Order
By Colin Kahl and Thomas Wright
St. Martin's Press, 2021, 464 pp

In this gripping, fine-grained account of the unfolding COVID-19 crisis, Kahl and Wright paint a vivid portrait of a deeply dysfunctional international order, incapable of even simple cooperation in the face of a deadly global public health emergency. At one level, the book is a work of contemporary history, telling the story of an ongoing global political crisis—a chaotic spectacle of uncertainty, fear, and political expediency in which multilateral cooperation quickly gave way to nationalism, populism, and great-power rivalry. At another level, the book seeks to use the crisis as a sort of diagnostic tool to identify the long-term trajectory of the international order. Kahl and Wright argue that the pandemic has played the role of catalyst—more than cause—in the final breakdown of the U.S.-led global system. The era of great-power cooperation is over. Transnational interdependence—in economics, security, public health, and the environment—may be growing, but so, too, is the U.S.-Chinese rivalry, creating a negative synergy that will make the world less stable and less safe. The United States and like-minded countries should give up on building a global system of governance, the authors argue, and instead work together to address shared dangers, while upholding the liberal international principles of transparency and accountability.