What Did 2021 Teach Us About International Affairs?

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At the end of another historic year, we at the Pardee School find ourselves asking what 2021 taught us about international affairs and our ever-evolving world? Following a year filled with pandemic mitigation efforts, changing political leadership around the world, challenges to longstanding alliances, and other events global in scale, the Pardee School asked its faculty to weigh in on what lessons they think can be gleaned from 2021.

Universal among the Pardee School faculty responses to our inquiry – what did 2021 teach us about international affairs – was that a retreat from multilateralism was very apparent this year. Professors Kevin Gallagher, Vesko Garčević, Paul Hare, Adil Najam, Rachel Nolan, Mark Storella, and Min Ye all lamented the state of international relations and diplomacy, pointing out the need for increased international collaboration in order to tackle the issues that plague every country: COVID-19, climate change, economic inequality, and more. “The multilateral system failed the “stress test” of 2021 as it could not adequately respond to COVID-19 and related economic and climate shocks – especially in developing countries,” Gallagher stated in his submission. “It will take global leadership and cooperation to build a better system that will enable humanity and the planet to prosper.”

Another concern flagged multiple times was the fragility of democracy, its worrying decline globally, and specifically how this has impacted the United States’ role as a global leader. William Grimes, Timothy Longman, Jack Weinstein, and Joe Wippl all commented on the widening political divide in the U.S. that has made its standing as the worlds leading example of liberal democracy questionable. Voter suppression laws nationwide and the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol lay bare the fact that this year was full of encroachments on the country’s democracy.

Other lessons learned were focused on the influence of populism, public health, toxic politics, and the need to address inequality in developing countries. To read all faculty submissions of social media, search #LessonsLearned2021 on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.