David G. MIRANDA [a] (ORCID iD :

Analele Universității din București. Științe Politice [Annals of the University of Bucharest. Political Science series]

Vol. XXIII, Issue 2, pp.193-223 | Download PDF

[a] Faculty of Education Sciences, University of Playa Ancha, Chile & SEK University, Chile


In recent decades, we have witnessed the consolidation of the knowledge society, based on a process of globalization, which promotes the consolidation of the knowledge economy as an emerging paradigm, as well as promoting new dynamics of scientific cooperation, especially from the European Union to the rest of the world. Agreements, summits, and a network of science diplomacy have been set up reflecting the impact of knowledge on new development models. From this process, conceived as a catalyst for value chains based on knowledge intensity, it is possible to glimpse new power conflicts related to other recent conflicts for economic and political hegemony on a global scale. This study aims to analyze countries’ behavior vis-à-vis the global threat of the COVID 19 pandemic, based on the correlation between their ability to face it and their levels of knowledge-based development as a differentiating element in terms of vulnerability. The results show a process where scientific cooperation has given way to a field of geopolitical competition between the actors of the international system, affecting their levels of vulnerability to global threats.

Keywords: knowledge economy, globalization, interdependence, Global Knowledge Index, cluster analysis, COVID-19, pandemic

En las últimas décadas, hemos asistido al afianzamiento de la sociedad del conocimiento, a partir de un proceso de globalización, que propicia la consolidación de la economía del conocimiento como paradigma emergente, impulsando nuevas dinámicas de cooperación científica, especialmente desde la Unión Europea, hacia el resto del mundo. Se han configurado acuerdos, cumbres y un entramado de diplomacia científica que refleja el impacto del conocimiento en los nuevos modelos de desarrollo. A partir de dicho proceso, concebido como un catalizador para las cadenas de valor basadas en intensidad de conocimiento, es posible vislumbrar nuevos conflictos de poder relacionados con otros conflictos recientes por la hegemonía económica y política a escala global. Este estudio se propone analizar el comportamiento de los países ante la amenaza global de la pandemia de COVID 19, a partir de la correlación entre su capacidad de enfrentarla, y sus niveles de desarrollo basado en conocimiento, como elemento diferenciador en términos de vulnerabilidad. Los resultados evidencian un proceso donde la cooperación científica ha dado paso a un terreno de competencia geopolítica entre los actores del sistema internacional, impactando en sus niveles de vulnerabilidad ante amenazas globales.

Palabras clave: economía del conocimiento, cooperación científica, globalización, interdependencia, Índice Global de Conocimiento (Global Knowledge Index), análisis de conglomerados, COVID-19, pandemia


When analysing the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, irrespective of how they have unfolded across the world, it is possible to observe large differences of impact at state level. These are mainly expressed in terms of loss of human lives, testing capacity and vaccination, as well as in relation to the economic effects and estimated costs for recovery. The notable differences have been attributed mainly to factors such as the states’ capacity to face the public health crisis and the levels of economic development and/or vulnerability of each country. Undoubtedly, these characteristics determine the access and production of technological resources, as well as the level of medical supplies, and specialized medical and scientific assistance, within the framework of a world system where interdependence and participation in global value chains are reflected in how much each country adheres to the process of economic globalization consolidated during the last decades. This process has been driven by the technological revolution, which has as main pillars the consolidation of the knowledge economy as a new productive paradigm (Vilaseca i Requena & Torrent i Sellens 2005), giving way to new analysis models of development issues, and vulnerability. In view of these considerations, and within the context of the debate in recent decades on the relationship between globalization and development as tools to face the challenges and threats of the contemporary world, in this article I aim to analyse the behavior of a large group of countries when faced with a global crisis of the magnitude brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. More specifically, when looking at the case of this particular pandemic, has national development from the perspective of the knowledge economy paradigm reduced vulnerability to global threats? To analyse these factors and their possible correlation, I will address first several debates on the effects of globalization, with a focus on the centrality of knowledge as a strategic factor for development, and on how this could have been configured as a relevant factor to face the dramatic effects of the pandemic.

Globalization and development vs vulnerability

Looking at human development indicators such as life expectancy and infant mortality, controlled by per capita GDP levels, democracy levels, and population, using a cross-sectional time-series (CSTS) analysis approach, Mukherjee & Krieckhaus (2011) find that globalization has been mainly beneficial for humanity in terms of quality of life. Similarly, Bhagwati (2004) and Bergh & Nilsson (2010) show that globalization has positively influenced life expectancy. Mukherjee & Krieckhaus (2011, 151) also observe that, while globalization has many negative effects, positive effects predominate, and that “human well-being is improved as countries become increasingly deeply incorporated into the global system.” Despite his more critical position on globalization, Stiglitz (2002, 4) also recognizes that “due to globalization, many people in the world now live longer than before and their standard of living is much better.”

Then again, some critics of globalization point towards its negative effects such as greater vulnerability to disasters that generate high-impact economic shocks (Benson & Clay 2003), a low capacity to react to global threats (Yopo 2021), diminished or shared sovereignty (Stallings 1992; Mahon 1996), unequal geographical development (Harvey 2003), greater income inequality (Milanovic 2005; Wade 2003; Williamson 1997), and aggravating the effects of international recessions (Stiglitz 2002; Stiglitz 2007). At the same time, Wallerstein (2007) interpreted globalization as a phenomenon of capitalism restructuring under the idea of the so-called “world system” where development is not national but corresponds more to a large capitalist world economy of a polarizing and asymmetric nature based on centre-periphery relations, where states can differentiate themselves by their capacity for intervention in the market, and consequently in the "world system." He also anticipates that the eventual emergence of new poles of "semi-peripheral" industrial and economic activity would be conditioned by central countries’ power balance mechanisms. Consequently, "peripheral" countries would be subordinated through several mechanisms, including the creation of new proletariats. Within this context, national educational systems play a leading role (Ibid.).

When analysing global risk vulnerability in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, one must acknowledge first that it is the worst global crisis of our time and that it has significant political and economic effects. This crisis has created a chaotic environment defined by a dissociated interaction of global system actors. This is a scenario with entropic features (Marcano 2021). Like all scenarios characterized by extreme uncertainty, it features forces that, in the classic pendulum between security and freedom, drive the evolution of political systems towards the former (Bauman & Dessal 2014). This also recalls the portrait that Beck (1998) makes to the contemporary world, as being one of difficulties generated by the centrality of states’ role in emerging global crises, such as climate change, pandemics and large-scale displacements requiring humanitarian interventions. The current period is also sometimes described as a hegemonic interregnum (Puccio 2021b; Stahl 2019; Taggart 2020), characterized by the emptiness of power in global terms, with confrontation defined in relation to a transactional use of the international arena. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is visible particularly in the field of vaccine production, a critical element for bringing the crisis to an end. Furthermore, the generation of large flows of contradictory (or directly false) information is shaping a new post-hegemonic conflict. This may weaken those substantive initiatives for the compensation of asymmetries and inequities of the global accumulation system, such as international cooperation for development or the paradigm of multilateralism in international relations. Not least, these dynamics have also negative influences on regional integration processes, such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) or even the European Union. Given its depth and degree of uncertainty, the fact that it hit the foundations of social protection and democratic systems, the legitimacy of social pacts with extreme inequality, and the relationship between states and entire regions, it will take a long time to overcome the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The world is left in a crisis scenario that we must analyse in its structural dimension to minimize future impacts on vulnerability levels of the population.

Knowledge: A new strategic dimension?

As an economic and political phenomenon, globalization has multiple effects on the creation and implementation of new internationalization policies through various scientific diplomacy initiatives, designed within the framework of the knowledge economy and knowledge society paradigms. The consolidation of a corporate dynamic has modernized the field of knowledge production in accordance with the technical and industrial requirements of the technological revolution, generating a strong impact on the institutional order in the scientific and academic field, with multiple implications related to its influence on public policy formulation and implementation. For instance, in the case of the European Union, Schleicher (2006) pointed out that education would be the key to EU’s further success, acknowledging that this is a new field of competitiveness in relation to other major knowledge production centres such as the United States or Asia. Soon after, the Treaty of Lisbon included among its basis of operation the so-called knowledge economy, designed on three fundamental pillars: (1) education, (2) research, development and innovation (R & D + I), and (3) development of ICTs, generating a framework for its competitiveness policies, conceived as a strategic dimension of its integration project, and global positioning.

In this complex institutional political scenario, universities, as well as both public and private research institutions face the complex problem of redefining their global positioning strategy through competitiveness policies. This dynamic is typical of what some authors call a post-capitalist order (Sassower 2013, 20) which promotes synergy between companies, research centers, and states under a paradigm of global interdependence, characterized largely by the use of new technologies and their application within an intensive process at several levels and in permanent reformulation to cope with an environment in accelerated change. This scenario has thus operated as a powerful catalyst for the dynamics of internationalization and academic cooperation, activating a process of unprecedented political dialogue with relevant examples in higher education. These include the so-called Paris Process (2000) with the aim to build a Common Area of Higher Education between the European Union and Latin America and the Caribbean (Miranda 2013), as well as the so-called Ibero-American Area of Knowledge, and the emergence within the region of the Latin American and Caribbean Meeting Space for Higher Education, sponsored by UNESCO-IESALC. These generate new challenges for regional integration, among other initiatives that could be convergent with “new regionalism” (Telò 2007). This is an alternative to the theories of hyper-globalization and neo-medievalism, that have a strong neoliberal basis, in which the nation-state is in gradual retreat due to its decreased incidence capacity, while the economy is dominated by non-governmental actors (transnational companies and financial institutions), leaving the state to a subordinate and reactive role, exposed to the continuous tension between the principles of territorial sovereignty and interdependence (Gamble 2007).

To a large extent, this seems to be a moment in which the actors of the international system could join forces to redirect the course of the world system, through the reinforcement of regional and interregional integration actions, as well as by appealing to its central feature of interdependence as a key factor for sustainability. In short, it could be the rebirth of a new global consciousness distant from populisms (Innenarity 2021, 96). In this context, the challenges of Europe, for instance, would be "the challenges facing democracy and globalization" (Puccio 2021a, 57). In this sense, there is a substantive role of the European model as an alternative to the resurgence of realpolitik at the dawn of new hegemonic disputes. This view has gained more relevance within the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, which, due to interdependence, has had global impacts. Already generating to millions of deaths despite a wide range of efforts, this crisis has also placed states in a leading role in relation to the new security puzzles.

From cooperation to competitiveness

The emergence of new interregional initiatives associated with a competitive dynamic on a global scale (where the growth of collaborative networks becomes one of the unavoidable tools to improve competitiveness, and in turn, to reduce vulnerability to global threats) has had some precedents in Latin America (e.g. ENLACES) that aimed to reduce the existing asymmetries with respect to extra-regional actors such as the EU, USA or others such as Spain and Portugal (e.g. EIC, CYTED). In this context, it makes sense to consider knowledge as a strategic dimension (Miranda 2013). Among the features defining this dimension are: a) the emergence of a new conception of knowledge as a strategic resource and productive factor for new development models; b) the reorientation of middle-income countries’ cooperation policy towards knowledge-intensive areas; c) a slight decrease in interregional asymmetries (e.g. EU-LAC) in terms of capacity of action (actorness); d) an expansion of knowledge exchange structures towards knowledge-intensive areas, a consolidation of regional and interregional structures of academic and scientific exchange; and e) the diversification of collaboration agreements towards a multipolar way (Miranda 2015). These characteristics are related to both the framework of interdependent models, and the emergence of the so-called knowledge economy as a new productive paradigm in the northern hemisphere. However, in Latin America, for instance, when analysing the features of productive systems there are few countries whose economies have a relevant component of production of knowledge-intensive goods. In this complex scenario, the definition of post-pandemic public policies in Latin America may end up deepening competitiveness gaps in these areas (CEPAL 2020). Then again, it may also represent an important recovery path from the economic crisis derived from the pandemic, with the understanding that, based on a productive model, the new strategy of international insertion should provide conditions associated with regional cognitive capital to improve its performance. This will take place in a world expected to reduce its levels of exchange, and therefore of interdependence, in a possible cycle of “deglobalization,” added to imminent global threats such as climate change and its collateral effects of unsuspected magnitudes (Benson & Clay 2003).

In this context, it is also interesting to note that certain features observed in this process are consistent with the paradigm of the new regionalism (Aldecoa & Cornago 1998). This is a phenomenon arising in the post-hegemonic era, where the interests of states fundamentally mobilize in a multipolar way around the economic element and with the need to join forces to confront the systemic effects of the globalization process, conditioning its international activity on a logic of mutual benefit (Miranda 2015; Lagos Escobar 2021). This finding reinforces the idea of the prevalence of the liberal-institutional argument as the main impulse for the process of integration and / or cooperation for knowledge production (Miranda 2013), and consequently of knowledge-intensive goods, generating new modes of relationship between countries and later between regions or groups of countries. This gives way to a mode of academic and scientific cooperation at the interregional level that is convergent with the processes linked to the production and exchange of this new strategic capital that had the following features (with EU as a case in point): (1) establishing a foreign policy strategy carried out through academic and scientific cooperation programs; (2) promoting a dynamic of corporate-order institutional relations, in the manner of consortia, via a subsidy mechanism; (3) knowledge management as a productive resource, and as strategic capital, redefining economically relevant areas and their financing ranges; (4) prevalence in the actions of states with greater economic capacity and leadership in scientific and academic cooperation; (5) coinciding priorities of knowledge interaction levels between regions, and the amount of academic and scientific cooperation actions; (6) congruence between the actions carried out and the principles defined in the study of the so-called knowledge economy, which is based on the process of globalization, the technological revolution and new demand; (7) subordination of the objectives defined in the political dialogue process to a limited framework for action can be seen in institutional, coordination and resource deficits.

Among other aspects, the world economic system changes towards a new informational phase of capitalism that modifies the spatial and temporal experience: "Capitalism is moving into its third great phase of extension. The first was the national market; the second was the imperial system; and the current phase is the production and manipulation of signs, images and information” (Gamble 2007, 33). In this phase, the common element is its configuration around the relevance of knowledge management for the construction of societies and distribution of the common good. In view of that, a broad consensus emerges on the conception of knowledge production and exchange as a fundamental strategic resource. It is a productive factor of emerging development models, a conceptualization that has been further consolidated during the health emergency and the technological imperative to sustain production systems. In the case of Latin America, for instance, the emergence of certain middle-income countries within the region as a more relevant group in the global economy has reconfigured the dynamic between this region and the European Union, with dependency relations decreasing significantly. In this context, Sanahuja (2012, 103) pointed out that “the cycle of interregionalism as a strategy is already exhausted, largely because its main objectives have been achieved.” These goals, also related to free trade (among other aspirations) are giving way to a new cycle in the relationship between both regions, where foreign policy regarding cooperation and knowledge production has been characterized by convergence with global economic dynamics, aimed at increasing capital and information flows, as well as homogenizing its regulatory framework, and regulating migrant population flows as a critical factor.

Then again, in relation to the global scientific innovation system, “[n]evertheless, previous sharing of medicine discoveries in the public commons has been eclipsed by the global race among private companies to dominate markets,” in a competitive dynamic capable of generating a break in the global innovation system (Ibata-Arens 2021). This dynamic reached its epitome during the COVID-19 pandemic and the vertiginous (and competitive) emergence of vaccines in global scientific knowledge production centers. Paradoxically, this feature of the current patent system drives monopolies within the industry. These in turn prevent the free circulation of common goods of innovation to face global vulnerability challenges, such as throughout the pandemic (Idem, 2), giving way to a kind of “social Darwinism” that puts the concept of common good in crisis (Yopo 2021; Sandell 2020). This feature contrasts sharply with the dynamics of prevailing scientific policy in critical scenarios during the 20th century, with the emergence of innovations aimed at saving human lives, such as insulin (1921), penicillin (1928), polio vaccine (1955), and monoclonal antibodies (1975), the last of which was a key discovery for cancer therapies, for instance (Ibata-Arens 2021, 2).

It would be expected that those countries (and regions) that accumulate greater scientific and technological capacities, as well as what could be called knowledge capital could better cope with the effects of the pandemic. On the one hand, this would be done through the intensive use of technology to improve levels of PCR testing, infection traceability, population mobility monitoring, detecting CO2 levels in closed areas, or simply, respect for the most basic health regulations, such as the proper use of a mask and social distancing. On the other hand, coping better with the crisis could be achieved through international cooperation for development, scientific cooperation, multilateralism, and integration agreements, all of which could generate a visible compensatory effect of interstate asymmetries in the face of a global crisis. In this complex scenario of the COVID-19 pandemic shock, these may constitute variables that allows us to analyze the states’ capacity to confront global threats and reduce their vulnerability in terms of human lives costs.


For this study, I designed a quantitative analysis that allowed an interpretation of qualitative aspects of the international system, within the framework of a globalization process that confronts the world with a pandemic. The pandemic effects are understood as a “control variable” to analyse the response by country, and its possible congruence with proxy variables, such as the knowledge development index, population, average age by country, and testing capacity, among others. I conducted a correlation analysis, a cluster analysis, and ANOVA mean difference tests to observe the behaviour of the analysis units in the selected variables. The results were analysed first descriptively, and then in their degree of convergence with the theoretical and political aspects described above, ultimately aiming to answer the main research question: is it possible to affirm that national development, within the knowledge economy framework, has reduced vulnerability to global threats, analysing the case of the COVID 19 pandemic? Then, I analysed what kind of observations on the international system we can infer, considering the theoretical framework.

To address the research question, I prepared a diagnosis on the current effects on the population of the knowledge generation systems in pandemics, exploratorily analyzing the correlations and differences between selected variables. Correlation analysis has been the technique selected as the most suitable for the available information, in view of the characteristics of the data, obtained from a non-probabilistic sampling both at the level of individuals and analysis units (a necessary condition to perform a linear or logistic regression analysis), and in which the relationships between variables are not linear. Since data have been obtained from various information sources, I performed a descriptive statistical analysis rather than an inferential type. In the light of the main demographic indicators considered relevant to understand the magnitude of the effects of the pandemic, I decided to consider as general factors the population and average age of each country, as well as deaths per million inhabitants, and population testing indicators. In relation to the development of knowledge economies, I considered the indicators of the 2020 Global Knowledge Index (GKI) and its sub-indicators of competitiveness in knowledge (included in the “economy" dimension of the general index). A joint initiative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation (MBRF), GKI aims to introduce a systematic and multidimensional understanding of knowledge and development by proposing a measurement of the multidimensional concept of knowledge, in connection with concepts such as knowledge economy and knowledge society. The 2020 edition (UNDP & MBRF 2020) used for this analysis includes 133 variables structed on the following dimensions: pre-university education (weight: 15%); technical and vocational education and training (weight: 15%); university higher education (weight: 15%); research, development and innovation (weight: 15%); information and communications technology (weight: 15%); economy (weight: 15%); general enabling environment (weight: 10%).

The specific variables incorporated in the analysis were: the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 per million inhabitants (data from: and national sources); the number of tests carried out by each country per million inhabitants (data from: and national sources); population per country (data from: and the United Nations Population Division); average population age by country (data from: and the United Nations Population Division); Global Knowledge Index (GKI); indicators of competitiveness in knowledge (GKI). I also placed the results and the discussion in the larger conceptual and policy framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The final sample of nations selected for this analysis consists of 138 countries, which correspond specifically to the resulting crossover between those that have been incorporated into the GKI measurements between 2017 and 2020 (142 countries), and the available indicators for the variables number of deaths per million inhabitants, and COVID-19 tests per million inhabitants (accumulated until the 7th of July 2021), reported on the open statistics portal, from a total of 225 countries, excluding lost cases.


Figure 1 presents the GKI distribution by deciles in a sample of 138 countries, which differs in a perceptible range from the normal distribution. The mean is 46.8 and the mode is at 50.9, right in the middle of the scale (Table 1). In view of this, the Spearman correlation coefficient was used to measure the degree and direction of association between variables (Table 2).

Fig. 1. Global Knowledge Index 2020 (distribution) (view PDF)

Table 1. Statistics (view PDF)

The correlation analysis (Table 2) indicates several interesting findings. On the one hand, the population variable is significantly negative related (at a moderate level) with the Test index per million inhabitants (an expected result), although it is also negatively associated with the COVID-19 deaths per million inhabitants index (at a moderate level). In other words, a larger population does not necessarily imply a greater number of deaths. On the other hand, the GKI (2018 and 2020) shows a positive association at high levels for the Test item (0.821 and 0.813), an expected result (Table 2; Fig. 2), although it also shows a significant correlation in levels that could be considered moderate (0.417 and 0.398) regarding mortality levels per million inhabitants (Table 2). This result could be classified as counterintuitive, since considering the theoretical framework, as well as the theories of development, a negative correlation between both variables would be expected. That is, we would expect to observe that greater development and knowledge levels could imply lower mortality levels facing the pandemic. However, the data partially suggest an inverse reality, which can be seen more clearly in Figure 3, where the distribution, although not completely linear, generates a positive trend line that is confirmed in the correlation analysis.

Table 2 Correlations (Spearman's rho) (view PDF)

Fig. 2. GKI 2020 per COVID-19 Test (view PDF)

Fig. 3. GKI 2018 per COVID-19 deaths (per million) (view PDF)

Due to the results’ complexity, which establish an unexpected significant degree of positive correlation between the variables of deaths per million inhabitants, and GKI indicators (0.417; 0.398) although with certain nuances when addressing indicators such as population (-0.2) and average age (0.5), I carried out a cluster analysis crossing both variables to group countries that were in similar profiles. I used the method of Euclidean distances to weigh possible similar behaviors between countries during the decision-making process regarding pandemic governance, and its most relevant indicator, the number of deaths per million inhabitants. After carrying out a procedure of variable standardization and analyzing the clusters’ result in a dendrogram, I decided to group 131 cases of countries in 4 main clusters that show a close relationship in the averages analyzed for the GKI variables, and the number of deaths per million (Table 3). Group composition is detailed in Figure 4.

Table 3. Report (view PDF)

Cluster 1, composed of 37 countries, presents a figure close to the world average of GKI (as in its average age), with an average of 729 deaths per million due to the pandemic (slightly above the average). This group covers a range of countries including Mexico, Romania, Oman, Qatar, Malaysia, Ukraine, and Greece. Cluster 2 is well below the global GKI average (along with its mean age), although with low death values, which could be attributable to the low test rate, as well as lost information. This group covers a range of countries including Turkey, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Uganda, Senegal, Cameroon, Indonesia, Venezuela, Honduras and El Salvador. Cluster 3 accumulates the highest GKI (and has an average age over 41 years) and a number of deaths well below cluster 1 and 2, as well as the very high average of tests per million inhabitants (2.2 million). Northern European countries stand out in this group: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, Canada, Hong Kong, or Iceland. Cluster 4 shows an average of GKI ten points below cluster 3, a high number of deaths per million (2120, three times the world average), and a high test indicator, although much lower than cluster 3. This group covers a range of countries including the USA, Spain, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Slovenia, Portugal, Italy and Belgium, among others. Cluster 5 is a single case (Peru), with the highest indicators of deaths, which was chosen to keep separate.

Fig. 4. Cluster analysis (view PDF)

Finally, ANOVA tests were carried out to compare means between clusters and their knowledge competitiveness indicators to detect possible significant differences between groups, as well as if there is a pattern of interrelation between groups of countries. The results were significant with 95% confidence. Since no equal variances are assumed, correction by Welch Test were operated for the variables competitiveness in knowledge and infrastructure, and equal variances for the competitiveness drivers variable were assumed (Table 4). In this analysis, it is noteworthy to consider the convergence of this comparison with the data reported for clusters 1 and 4, with non-significant differences between them, while clusters 2 and 3 present significant differences with all other groups at the extremes of the scale. These results suggest that, at the level of knowledge competitiveness, the countries incorporated in clusters 1 and 4 are more similar to each other than to another countries.

Table 4. Homogeneous subsets in knowledge competitiveness (Tukey HSD a, b) (view PDF)


Traditionally, approaches to human development theories, and particularly the UNDP Human Development Index, have focused on how economic growth or scientific, educational and health development actions have a favourable impact on life expectancy, infant mortality or literacy, among other indicators. The ultimate objective of this approach is to support the design of public policies aimed to improve the well-being of the population so that the loss of human lives is avoided.

The results of this study seem to indicate that the large number of political, regional, and bi-regional agreements, scientific cooperation agreements and/or mobility agreements, cooperation actions, international programs in the field of research and higher education have not had sufficient impact at regional level in reducing vulnerability to global threats in the so-called Global South. However, if there are cases of convergence in emerging countries, or in what Wallerstein would possibly call semi-peripheral zones (as well as new peripheries emerging), there is a possibility of verifying its centre-periphery model, even within regions of the Global South. This raises serious questions about the conclusions expressed by Mukherjee & Krieckhaus (2011) concerning the benefits of globalization. The pandemic makes this more visible because it is a factor that acts as a contrast element in the analysis of how policies and knowledge accumulation can positively or negatively impact the ability of specific countries or regions to face global threats.

The data obtained strongly indicate that differences across countries, regions, or sets of countries do not necessarily respond to criteria that we could call regional. It could also be argued that so-called “science diplomacy” has not been entirely effective, given the high incidence of the pandemic and international fragmentation. However, one could argue that the reality would have been even worse without all these efforts. The analysed data does not support the hypotheses that countries with more knowledge have effectively avoided more deaths than those that accumulate less knowledge, apart from cluster 3, which contains very advanced countries, and that it gathers other factors in its favour, as discussed further. There is a positive correlation between advanced countries, or at least a certain group of advanced countries, regarding the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. This means that there are other influencing factors, like political decision-making (e.g. populism, denialism, economism), the culture and idiosyncrasy of the country, and other events that may have an impact. For instance, if one considers Brazil, the United States, Russia, or Mexico (all large countries by population) or the United Kingdom, one can observe a dismal performance in the management of the pandemic, especially if we consider the amount of knowledge they have accumulated. This suggests that these countries have not been sufficiently able to take advantage of their “knowledge capital” to defend themselves against a global threat such as the pandemic, and therefore avoid the loss of human lives. It is worth asking about the causes of this behaviour. As a possible answer, one may consider the prevalence of a productivist perspective of public policies linked to the need for competitiveness (Table 4), trying to minimize losses (or maximize benefits, depending on the opportunity), and postponing the fundamental political objective of defending human lives as an axis of state action. A factorial analysis study could be considered for this purpose, considering the inherent contradiction in this type of decision, as well as in certain types of governance. This can be observed in the application of populist or denialist policies in an exacerbated interpretation of neoliberalism, leading to a necessary reflection on the concept of competitiveness inherent in the functioning of market economies. These economies have mostly adopted a character of interdependence as a distinctive feature of economic globalization, with a loss of national response capacity to major threats generating a new focus of vulnerability. To weigh this statement, I examined the indicators of economic openness in relation to the competitiveness variables analysed, which reveals a high degree of correlation between the level of economic openness and the indicators of competitiveness in knowledge (Table 5).

Table 5. Correlations (Spearman's rho) (view PDF)

The correlation analysis between economic openness and indicators of COVID-19 deaths per million inhabitants (Table 5; 0.389), in a convergent way with the previous results, is very similar to that of GKI 2020 vs deaths per million inhabitants (Table 2; 0.398), as well as to the high levels of correlation between economic openness and GKI (Table 6). This supports the perspective of interdependence as a condition of knowledge-based development within the framework of the globalization process.

Table 6. Correlations (Spearman's rho) (view PDF)

In light of these results, it would be possible to interpret that, even though countries that transfer more knowledge as a factor of development present more favourable conditions to reduce their vulnerability to global threats such as COVID-19, their interdependence paradoxically conditions their ability to face them. This increases when the situation occurs comes from a health issue, given that their development model depends largely on their economic openness. This limitation is only mitigated in the case of highly advanced countries, as is the case with Nordic countries and some countries in Southeast Asia. In addition, the cluster analysis shows us that there are four theoretically interpretable groups, and one of them includes the most affected countries (i.e. countries in Central Africa and South Asia, as well as some Latin American countries such as Venezuela or Honduras). Then again, there is another group of countries (21) of high GKI development that have managed to transfer their knowledge capital to the pandemic governance sphere, maintaining average mortality levels considerably below the world average. It is the group that has achieved greater coherence between its level of knowledge-based development and the fight against the pandemic in terms of effective governance to reduce the loss of human life.

Finally, there are two other intermediate groups of poor performance, where the United States, Spain, England, Chile, and some countries in Central Europe and Central America stand out among other countries. These clusters, 1 and 4, have in turn been grouped into a homogeneous subset comparing means in variables associated with their knowledge systems’ competitiveness, where despite lacking significant differences in these indicators, their results are very different when accounting for COVID-19 deaths. Interestingly, in this subset, cluster 4 (more advanced in GKI and competitiveness indicators) is the one with the highest results for the variable deaths per million inhabitants. This could indicate the existence of certain political biases associated with competitiveness development, which in the face of a pandemic scenario turn against the security of the population. However, this should be formulated with caution, given that there is a significant information bias present in the results for cluster 1 and 2. Paradoxically, the lack of accurate information is one of the factors presented as deficient in countries with lower GKI, which could affect an adequate reading of the data.

From a more theoretical perspective related to regional dynamics and international cooperation, the differences in scope between regional and interregional scientific cooperation initiatives seem to currently operate as true concentric circles of power that generate instances of coordination, ways of cooperation, and political guidelines to promote specific areas of action in the field of knowledge (Miranda 2013). According to previous analyses, macro knowledge cooperation initiatives have a “gravitational effect” by virtue of their economic size and institutional strength (Miranda 2015). In this case, this characteristic is observable in a limited time period, and as a counterpart to its positive impact, it implies the emergence of “new peripheries,” influencing thus the dynamics of variable geometry (Aldecoa & Cornago 1998) typical of the globalization process. A possible interpretation of the regional fragmentation observed in the clusters then arises, leaving a question about the levels of cohesion in knowledge creation in the regions covered regarding their performance in the face of the pandemic. Not least, vulnerability to global threats is also linked to knowledge-based development levels, as is the case in the economic field. This was already observed in previous studies, especially those discussing the negative effects of the globalizing process, such as greater vulnerability to economic shocks (Benson & Clay 2003), low response capacity to global threats (Yopo 2021), diminished sovereignty (Stallings 1992; Mahon 1996), geographical inequality (Harvey 2003), and income inequality (Milanovic 2005; Wade 2003; Williamson 1997). All these effects are observable in the current global crisis derived from COVID-19 and are consistent with the results presented in this study.


It is very likely that, as with the case of COVID-19, the current global context and dynamics will further stimulate a redefinition of international research and academic cooperation policies to make a coordinated front against new global threats. Precisely due to this context, it is important to update knowledge, analyse possible future effects and make public policy recommendations to states, provide alternatives to mitigate the effects of vulnerability generated by global threats, and advance in a recovery cycle that can be (to say the least) traumatic, if adequate measures are not taken.

The study identified states’ behaviour and correlated their global threat vulnerability level in relation to their knowledge-based economy levels, investigating the degree of convergence with certain previous assumptions such as the correlation with the number of deaths per million inhabitants. The analysis revealed four clusters of countries that are not homogeneous in terms of geographical, regional or continental location. This observation has implications for analysing the degree of convergence between the vulnerability level and political integration agreements, for example in the case of the European Union, as well as the levels of development across entire regions, as in the case of Latin America. If one considers, for instance, Wallerstein’s view on the eventual emergence of new poles of semi-peripheral industrial and economic activity becoming subject to the balance of power mechanisms of countries in the centre (Wallerstein 2007), it is striking to observe the conformation of cluster 4, incorporating a previously hegemonic power such as the United States, with middle-income countries such as Spain, Chile or Colombia, in relation to a vulnerability to global threats. While not following the levels of accumulated economically active knowledge, this result might be explained by interdependence and by the new balances of power that are observed in the economic and knowledge fields, reflecting new forms of configuration of the international system.

Although there is a significant degree of correlation between the analysed variables, the results do not categorically support the hypothesis that national development within the knowledge economy framework has reduced vulnerability to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather, they seem to support a centre-periphery dynamic more typical of the Wallerstein model, where only some actors have been able to reduce their vulnerability according to their development level. The remaining state actors have been subject to a contradictory dynamic reflecting other associated factors or hidden variables, ranging from the lack of timely information (which prevent, for example, a reliable analysis based on excess death rates), applying populist policies, denialism, pharmaceutical competition, and others.

In relation to other approaches to combating the pandemic, Green, Harmacek, & Krylova (2021) argue that countries with higher rates of social progress performed better and have shown a greater degree of resilience in the face of the enormous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (i.e. Social Resilience to Infectious Diseases - SRID). They report having found a high correlation for eight indicators selected from the Social Progress Index: (1) nutrition and basic health care; (2) water and sanitation; (3) shelter; (4) health and well-being; (5) access to basic knowledge; (6) access to information and communications (7) personal freedom and choice; and (8) access to advanced education (Idem, 2). The present study found at least three knowledge-related indicators to be convergent with their research. The findings of both studies can be complementary if one observes that only under the focus of competitiveness and scientific-technological development it stops being possible to reduce vulnerability in countries that hold privileged seats in the global innovation system, or GDP per capita (especially the countries of cluster 4), as is the case of the United States; or in the case of countries that have strongly adhered to the paradigm of interdependence and competitiveness as a driving force for development. However, when comparing with the results reported by Green, Harmacek, & Krylova (2021, 4), one may observe that from the list of 20 countries with the highest index of resilience to infectious diseases (SRID), there are 15 that correspond to the present study’s Cluster 3, and 5 to Cluster 4. This is the same group of countries that present the best indicators of social progress under the methodology proposed by Green, Harmacek, & Krylova (2021).

Corroborating these results suggests that when considering how to reduce vulnerability to global threats such as COVID-19, or others such as climate change or forced displacement, it will not only be necessary to have an advanced development model based on the intensive use of technology and knowledge, but also safeguarding mechanisms of redistribution and social inclusion that facilitate the access to health resources and social protection of the population, and that help reduce the centre-periphery dynamics of the development of global capitalism. For regions of the so-called Global South, a strategy needed for prioritizing productive, knowledge and technological integration, may include the following aspects: articulate and reinforce current knowledge creation networks (R & D + I); intensify the participation of local knowledge generating entities in regional value chains; strengthen regional higher education systems’ convergence; strengthen the process of political dialogue in research and higher education; strengthen convergence between joint initiatives with other regional research networks; promote subnational and/or sectoral integration processes in research; increase research funding on a regional and/or interstate basis; strengthen health and social protection network; and incorporate sustainable economy measures in the development model.

It is highly likely that multilevel governance systems will become increasingly complex, while the role of powerful states at regional level remains fundamental to the extent that these are willing to assume certain leadership, proposals and degrees of responsibility. The active role of countries such as the United States, Russia, China, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, Mexico or Argentina will be decisive in demonstrating their ability to redirect subregional cooperation processes to strengthen responses to global threats, in accordance with their potential knowledge-based development. We are witnessing an unsuspected vertigo of liquid modernity (Bauman & Dessal 2014) that has been only accelerated by the pandemic. This is a distinctive feature of an era characterized by intense information flows and a scientific-technological transformation feeding the unpredictability of social transformations, in an ecosystem of high instability. Given these conditions, further research on this topic is needed for the evaluation and formulation of interregional cooperation policies for the development of science, technology and innovation, as well as for the productive transformation based on sustainability and innovation in the Global South. Future research can also analyse the need to strengthen integration infrastructure and the permanent incorporation of an environmental perspective in the debate, by generating a stable institutional base that appears indispensable to face the new foci of vulnerability derived from the current global crises, and those that are still to come. We must be prepared.


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David G. MIRANDA (ORCID iD: has a PhD in Political Science and Master in Contemporary Studies of Latin America from the Complutense University of Madrid, He has published part of his scientific production in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, the Institute of the Americas of France, the University of Guadalajara and the Free University of Brussels, among others. He is a member of the International Political Science Association (IPSA), in recent years he served as Director of Research at SEK University, Chile. He is a visiting professor at SEK International University (Ecuador), and currently works as researcher at the Faculty of Education Sciences at University of Playa Ancha (Chile).


Versions of this article were presented at the 26th World Congress of the International Political Science Association (University of Lisbon, 10-15 July 2021, virtual) and the 7th international interdisciplinary conference of political research SCOPE: Science of Politics (, University of Bucharest, 20-24 September 2021, virtual).



The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


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MIRANDA, David G. 2021. Global knowledge? Cooperation and conflict in the post-hegemonic era: Facing the pandemic crisis. Analele Universității din București. Științe Politice [Annals of the University of Bucharest. Political Science series] XXIII (2): 193-223.