The 15th Annual Rhodes Forum took place on the island of Rhodes, Greece from 6-7 October 2017. The Forum gathered approximately 300 participants from 30 countries, including more than 60 speakers, and featured 13 sessions, a press conference, and on-site interviews.
The conference brought together prominent thought leaders, representing civil society, the political sphere, academia, and the business community. The Rhodes Forum continued in the tradition of developing mechanisms and approaches that can lay foundations for a new model of solidarity based on dialogue, which would offer paths towards new forms of global governance worldwide.
During the opening panel, “Multipolarity and Dialogue in Regional and Global Developments: Imagining Possible Futures,” former Nigerian President Goodluck E. Jonathan argued in favour of a profound reform of the UN body, most notably through the reconfiguration and democratisation of the UN Security Council.
Rather than providing answers to the issues it sought to resolve, the UNSC has opened new frontiers for conflicts, Jonathan said. He highlighted the effective restructuring of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which helped to reduce conflicts significantly after it was transformed into the African Union (AU), coupled with the formation of regional blocks such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), ECOWAS, and SADCC.
We live in a world of risks, many of which are resulting in wars that have affected millions of people worldwide was one point made by Dominique de Villepin, the ex-prime minister of France (2005-2007) and founder of Villepin International.
These risks, he continued, have been increased by the politics of today. Instead of addressing conflict with constructive dialogue, we have seen warmongering and unilateral interventions that set us further back. De Villepin argued that a multilateral approach is the key, one that includes policy-makers and actors not only from Western countries.
Using terrorism in his home country, Mali, as an example, President Dioncounda Traoré emphasised the importance of dialogue and the need for common efforts amongst the international community in tackling crises.
Traoré explained the spread of Islamist terrorism in Mali, which initially was portrayed as a Tuareg problem. In fact, the conflict has an international dimension since the Islamist objective was to establish a sanctuary in the north of Mali from where forces would be trained and supplied in other regions around the globe.
Therefore, as President Traoré argued, the involvement of the international community, including ECOWAS, the African Union, and the EU with France leading the negotiations, was critical.
Moderated by former President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus, Summit #1, “Globalisation and the Future of Democracy,” featured presentations by Walter Schwimmer, secretary general of the Council of Europe (1999-2004) and co-founder of the DOC Research Institute; Keping Yu, dean of the School of Government and director of the Research Center for Chinese Politics, Peking University; Jan Figel, special envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief Outside the EU; Abouzar Ebrahimi Torkaman, head of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organisation (ICRO) Iran; and Themis Papadimopoulos, former ambassador of the Youth Time Movement and sales manager at Ladolea Co.
The panel began by addressing the failure of existing economic models in meeting expectations, while slow, non-inclusive economic growth and the decline of global trade demonstrate that self-regulated open markets have not become the growth engines for economies as was expected. Keping Yu advocated for new forms of cooperation, arguing that existing models of global governance fail to meet the needs of globalisation.
Jan Figel called for the need to respect plurality, emphasising that freedom of religion is an essential element of human dignity. Fighting ignorance and tackling the absence of reason are duties of modern religious leaders, Abouzar Ebrahimi Torkaman stressed. Walter Schwimmer pointed to the growing influence of populist parties as a result of lacking inclusive internal policies and warned against the power of fake news in the era of digital media.
Moderated by Vladimir Yakunin, the Leader’s Club brought together Goodluck Jonathan, Dioncounda Traoré, and Vaclav Klaus; Djoomart Otorbaev, the ex-prime minister of Kyrgyzstan (2014-2015); Walter Schwimmer; Jan Figel; Ian Goldin, professor of Globalisation and Development, Oxford University, and a former vice-president of World Bank (2003-2006); investor and social entrepreneur Ruben Vardanyan; Greek PASOK MEP Eva Kaili; and Peter W. Schulze, co-founder of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, and professor in the Political Science Department at Georg-August University of Gőttingen.
The meeting addressed the numerous regional and international conflicts that are multiplying with the ongoing changes to the architecture of international relations and the fact that they cannot be mediated and prevented by traditional diplomacy alone.
In an age of public politics, participants discussed the fact that civil society could be more involved in mediation and take a more prominent role in overcoming geopolitical and intercultural tensions. ‘Civil forums’ or ‘councils’ – nongovernmental institutions comprised of prominent nationals from different parts of society – can help achieve this.
Another question for discussion among the leaders was what role education can play in helping to alleviate the current strains and tensions felt in Europe. As a result of discussions during this session, the Rhodes Forum will be able to outline an initiative to form a task force in conjunction with leading universities and NGOs to explore practical solutions involved in making education more accessible and inclusive.
Summit #2, “Global Infrastructure Development Scenarios: Where the Interests of Banks, Industries, Governments, and Societies Meet”, was moderated by Dmitris Psarrakis, an economic and monetary policy advisor at the European Parliament. The summit featured speeches by Vladimir Yakunin, chairman of the Supervisory Board, DOC Research Institute; Djoomart Otorbaev; Santhosh Jayaram, partner & head, Climate Change & Sustainability at KPMG; Vicky Kefalas, an investment committee member at the European Fund for Strategic Investments, European Investment Bank; Ian Goldin; Ruben Vardanyan; Qi Bin, executive vice president of China Investment Corporation; Li Xiguang, director of the Tsinghua University International Center for Communication in Chin; Richard Werner, chair in International Banking at the University of Southampton; and Andrey Klepach, deputy chairman (chief economist) and board member of Russia’s Vnesheconombank.
The summit explored the most ambitious current projects for reaching regional cooperation agreements on economic, political, and governance issues.
These included the potential of the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, and possibilities for how Public Private Partnerships (PPP) can contribute to states’ infrastructure development goals, as well as bringing together the interests of banks, industries, governments, and societies.
Vladimir Yakunin warned that infrastructure development can also be damaging. Therefore, he advocated, global civil society must smartly determine how and what to invest in. Ian Goldin drew attention to the fact that PPP projects can, in fact, incur far greater liabilities and costs than if governments are solely responsible for them.
Andrey Klepach made the point that Russia has the opportunity to offer an alternative system for cyber security to the US. Richard Werner argued that small and medium-sized enterprises need external funding. This could be provided by small, not-for-profit banks.
Politics panel #1
The guiding principle of Politics Panel #1, entitled “Never Again: Demands for a New Global Security Architecture,” was that in view of the crises that the unipolar hegemonic order has generated, only a multipolar constellation can guarantee peaceful relations within the international community.
The first step towards achieving a sustainable transformation must be the “renovation of terminology”, as advocated by Vladimir Yakunin, who warned against using old phrases for describing new events and socio-political developments in the global arena. Part of the transformation of the global order must be the stronger involvement of civil society in the construction of a new political architecture, he insisted.
The crisis we are witnessing is structural, not personal or situational, explained Piotr Dutkiewicz, professor and director of the Center for Governance and Public Management at Carleton University. Therefore, trust-building and fear-reduction are crucial tasks at the international level. With regard to possible means of cooperation between Russia and the West, Dutkiewicz suggested creating an OSCE-like organisation, devoted to combatting terrorism.
The need for multipolarity as the only alternative to the hegemony of one superpower was also emphasised by Hans Köchler, president of the International Progress Organization in Austria, who expressed the view that the lack of a system of enforceable norms with a clear mechanism of enforcement is one of the key reasons for the numerous predicaments within the international community. In this sense, a reform of the UN such as through the enlargement of the UN Security Council will not solve the essence of the problem.
Outlining a possible common security agenda for relations between Russia and the West, Sergey Markedonov, associate professor at the Russian State University for the Humanities, advocated a realistic assessment of the current state of affairs, calling for the rehabilitation of ‘Realpolitik’ as an approach.
Markedonov insisted that national interests, geopolitical concerns, and spheres of influence are recognised as legitimate elements of state policy. Along with this line of thinking, he urged the public and political representatives not to be “hostages of political correctness”.
Kumiko Haba, professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, spoke of the need to institutionalise security in Asia in order to avoid war between nations in the region and to strengthen cooperation between them in the sphere of economics and security, and between civil society actors, including think tanks.
Another key issue mentioned during the panel by Parti Démocrate-Chrétien Suisse parliamentarian Claude Béglé, is the disconnect between the legislator and reality, which proves particularly problematic when policies that require technical expertise must be implemented, such as policies to address cyber threats, low-tech terrorism, and climate change.
Politics panel #2
The ongoing transformation of the global order and possible ways of cooperating on the international level towards achieving a multipolar order were discussed in detail at Politics Panel #2, “Beyond the World of Clashes: Towards a Multipolar Order.” Moderated by Raffaele Marchetti, senior assistant professor in International Relations at Rome’s LUISS University, the panel featured presentations by Peter Schulze; Jia Qingguo, dean of the department of diplomacy at the School of International Studies at Peking University; Richard Sakwa, a professor of Russian and European Politics at the University of Kent; Alexey Malashenko, chief researcher at the DOC Research Institute; Adrian Pabst, reader in Politics at the University of Kent; and Alexander Dubowy, a researcher at the University of Vienna.
The panelists agreed that the United States’ quest for unipolar dominance is increasingly being challenged by new actors who demand an equal role on the international scene. Richard Sakwa spoke of an emerging ‘anti-hegemonic alignment’, formed most notably by China and Russia, as a bloc that rejects the idea of blocs in their entirety, and not as an ‘anti-Western’ bloc.
Referring to the ongoing discussions within think tanks around the world about the future orientation of Russian domestic and foreign policy, Peter Schulze warned about the risk of Russia’s self-isolation and militarisation of its society and politics.
Changes in relations between Russia and the West will be of particular importance to future developments of the European order, he argued.
The argument about the severity and complexity of the current crisis was shared by Adrian Pabst according to who we are witnessing a ‘meta’ (not cyclical) crisis, characterised by political insecurity, the lack of economic prosperity and a contest of values and ideas (both within countries and on the international level). These economic and security concerns are responsible for the citizen revolts against the liberal world order that we are witnessing.
A critique of the universalisation of values also came from Jia Qinguo who advocated for the need to respect values that are characteristic of specific countries. In light of the current developments and international players’ diverging interests and visions regarding the future order, the panelists showed restrained optimism regarding finding a common project.
Despite the worrisome state of affairs and dim prospects for solving the crisis anytime soon, growing regional competition, as Alexander Dubowy put it, does not exclude global cooperation, and must be strived for by all means.
Society panel #1
Society Panel#1 “Social Mobility and Migration: Through the Prism of Values and Cultures”, moderated by Brunson McKinley and Anne-Marie Buschman-Petit, included Vaclav Klaus; Ruben Vardanyan; Anatol Lieven, senior researcher at New America in Washington DC; Demetri Papademetriou, the president of MPI Europe in Brussels; Catherine Walsh, a professor at the Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar in Quito; and Ivan Juric from Latsis Foundation. The panelists offered their views on migration and its impact on societies, with diverging views coming to the forefront of the conversation.
Special attention was paid to the interplay between migration, social mobility, and common values; questions of cultural and religious identity; the future of migration policies; and media coverage of migration and refugee flows.
Opinions on the topic ranged from skeptical attitudes towards receiving immigrants and the probability of integrating them, to a more nuanced stance towards migration that reflected the complexity of the issue, rather than boiling it down to a dichotomy.
The current refugee crisis in the Mediterranean revealed substantial policy conflicts within the European Union between those countries which are in favour of an open-door policy and those rejecting multiculturalism, said Anatol Lieven. According to Anne-Marie Buschman-Petit, the degradation of women’s rights in Western societies that host a large number of Muslim immigrants, societal divisions, and progressing ghettoisation is troublesome and should not be ignored.
Nevertheless, as Ruben Vardanyan pointed out, migration will continue and must be accepted as a given fact. Efforts to stop migration have largely failed, an example of which is the Roman Empire. Therefore, rather than trying to prevent migration, a sustainable approach towards integrating immigrants must be developed. The need for effective management of migration by governments was acknowledged by Demetrios Papademetriou who warned that dismissing the people’s concerns regarding mass migration provides fertile ground for nationalism and populism.
Society panel #2
Society Panel #2, “Challenges to Humanity: Traditionalism vs. Postmodernity” was moderated by Nataliya Yakunina, the chairperson of the Sanctity of Motherhood and by Larry Jacobs, the managing director of the World Congress of Families. The panelists included Jean-Christophe Bas, founder and president of Global Compass; Brian Brown, president of the World Congress of Families; Fred Dallmayr, professor of Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Notre Dame; Irina Nikitina, president of the Musical Olympus Foundation; Igor Ashmanov, managing partner at Ashmanov and Partners; Scherto Gill, executive secretary and research fellow at the Guerrand-Hermes Foundation for Peace; and Theresa Okafor, director of the Foundation of African Cultural Heritage.
Fred Dallmayr opened the session, stating that dialogue is needed more than ever and the newly established DOC RI, situated at the heart of Europe, can play an important role in fostering mutual understanding and dialogue. Dallmayr is convinced that the unipolar world order is ending and that we are witnessing the emergence of a multi-polar world with powerful actors like the US, China, and Russia.
Scherto Gill asserted that values grow from the distillation of everyday rituals and the traditions of families and societies, modified on a daily basis by the development of our knowledge, allowing each generation to build on the knowledge and wisdom of the generation before.
According to Gill, the crisis of postmodernity does not necessarily arise from a loss of traditional values, nor the foundations that give rise to these values, but instead, it is due to the multiplicity of moral sources that determine what count as good.
Theresa Okafor talked about what she refers to as a ‘new global ethics of totalitarianism in the West’. The rejection of Western values, according to Okafor, is at the root of the cultural and civilisational foundation behind the resilience of many African countries. Irina Nikitina gave a brief presentation, featuring video clips of various initiatives that used music as a means to either foster dialogue or unite diverse groups of people around a social cause. For instance, a collaboration between young Palestinian, Lebanese, and Israeli musicians resulted in an orchestral performance that brought awareness to the conflict in that particular region.
Jean-Christophe Bas spoke about how new technologies, the globalisation of the economy, and migration have impacted relations and interaction among people, sometimes generating hate speech, radicalisation, and extremism. However, he also said that technology and globalisation allow direct connections, exchanges among different societies, and fill cultural gaps.
Igor Ashmanov had a more critical viewpoint regarding the post-modern relationship with technology. He argued that younger generations, and more liberal populations, have in fact embraced technology, specifically social media, as a new form of God. Brian Brown said that the heteronormative, traditional concept of family is the only acceptable makeup of a household. He also discussed how pro-family, pro-life, and anti-gay marriage organisations and activists in the US are continuously attacked for their beliefs by the liberal, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage groups.
Economics panel #1
Economics Panel #1, entitled “Impact of New Technologies and Digitalization on Society” was moderated by Eva Kaili and digital entrepreneur Rob van Kranenburg. Panelists included President of the InfoWatch Group of Companies and Co-founder of Kaspersky Lab, Natalya Kaspersky; Founder of Margaris Advisory, Spiros K. Margaris; head of government and external affairs of BMW Group India, Vinod Pandey; Founder and CEO of GLBrain, Wolfgang Pinegger; and Lecturer at University of the Arts and Humboldt University, Jens Wendland.
The panel addressed the potential value and possible challenges of new technologies. The main discussion was about how new technologies and complex phenomena such as Big Data could be used for the common good. Eva Kaili opened the panel by pointing out that there are strings attached to new technologies like geo-blocking and price discrimination.
Overall, Kaili emphasised the need to embrace new technologies and to get the best out of it for users. Rob van Kranenburg talked about the disruptive force of this wave of technology, which has accelerated after storage capacity dramatically increased in the 2000s. Spiros Margaris discussed the opportunities that can be derived from technological advances and how the fintech industry could contribute to the common good via fairer bank fees and interest rates.
Jens Wendland reflected on how the discourse about digitalisation and globalisation will fundamentally change. He noted that geopolitical shifts will move digitalisation away from the domination of the US towards a multipolar digital world order. This will be marked by the rise of the new economic, political, and military power of China and the strengthening of the BRICS group.
Wolfgang Pinegger presented his ideas on how the internet could help bridge the gap between developed and developing regions. He argued that the internet can enable local economic development. He stressed the fact that Africa, and India to some extent, will see the greatest increase in internet usage.
Natalya Kaspersky began by stating that she dislikes new technologies and if she had the choice she would prohibit them altogether. She expressed doubts that international treaties will stop the criminal use of technology, because important stakeholders, such as multinational corporations, are driven by wishes for dominance and profit from unrestricted access to Big Data.
Vinod Pandey spoke about new trends in mobility, especially with regards to his company BMW. In his presentation, Pandey talked about the new directional shift in mobility – with electric mobility, shared mobility, and digital gadgets being the most prominent developments.
Economics panel #2
Economics Panel #2, “Alternative Economic Models: Curbing Inequality” was moderated by the Director of the Land Research Trust, Fred Harrison, and a Senior Advisor on Finance and Development at the South Centre, Manuel Montes. The panelists were CEO of Falcon Equity Group, Holger Heims; Ian Goldin; Senior Advisor of PWC Arata and Research Director of CANON Institute for Global Studies, Daisuke Kotegawa; DOC RI Research Director in Economics and Politics, Vladimir Popov; and Senior Research Fellow of the Observer Research Foundation, Jayshree Sengupta.
This panel dealt with the question of how the current global economic system needs to be adjusted in order to tackle the challenges of rising inequality and political disenchantment of parts of the population. Manuel Montes opened the discussion with the statement that the conclusion of a number of investment treaties that also included the protection of intellectual property can partly be blamed for existing inequalities between the Global South and North.
Ian Goldin, began his speech by stating that the world economy has been quite prosperous in recent decades and that this was related to the spread of markets in almost all parts of the world. He underlined the roles of India and China in pulling millions of people out of poverty. Goldin acknowledged that recent growth is extremely unequally distributed, with the top one percent of the world’s population profiting the most, and rural regions increasingly losing out.
Vladimir Popov argued that intra-country inequality has been on the rise since the 1980s in a majority of countries worldwide. He provided historical data on the relation between the income levels of the wealthiest vis-à-vis per capita GDP and showed that today’s super wealthy are far richer in relation to average income than before.
Jayshree Sengupta was highly critical of the role of the IMF as a loan-making institution. When India received loans the IMF ordered the Indian government to reduce the budget. This resulted in less spending on education, health, and agriculture and was hard on the weakest link in Indian society: the lowest castes were left behind.
Daisuke Kotegawa agreed with the criticism of the IMF and stated that during the Asian financial crisis in 1997 the IMF opposed the introduction of capital controls although this would potentially have been proven an appropriate measure to curb the crisis. He further stated that for the sake of economic progress the world requires fewer investments into questionable financial documents, but rather a return to commercial funding and manufacturing.
Fred Harrison presented ideas on the future of economic development and the possibility of another global economic crisis in the next eight to nine years. In particular, he argued that in many countries today essential changes and reforms are needed. Firstly, to improve the intolerable living conditions for most of the world’s population, even in wealthier countries. Secondly, ill-informed decisions made by governments have persuaded people that there is something fundamentally wrong in the approach of policymakers.
Holger Heims singled digitalisation out as the main driver of inequality. He argued that investments in knowledge and infrastructure are key to economic success, especially for African countries. However, these investments should not just be made by the private sector, but national governments have to be involved too and have to be accountable for the outcome of these investments.
Special panel on the refugee crisis
Moderated by writer and broadcast journalist Mary Dejevsky, “Europe’s Refugee Crisis: Crisis Response from Rhetoric to Reality”, was comprised of humanitarian workers who have direct experience with the refugee crisis. The first speaker, Jana Boulus, Programme Coordinator for a Palestinian organisation, Humanity Crew, spoke about her direct experience in Greece working with refugees coming primarily from Syria. She emphasised the point that the ‘European refugee crisis’ goes beyond Europe, as Syria’s neighbours have far more refugees within their borders.
Fintin Drury, a former journalist, businessman, and volunteer who worked in Greece and the Balkans with refugees, argued that a more human-focused approach to refugee work needs to be employed, as it is Europe’s duty as fellow human beings. Lucy Popescu, who is a writer working with refugees resettling in the UK, also stressed the point that refugees from Muslim countries are no different from Europeans when it comes to their basic needs, wishes, and goals in life. Therefore, we should reconsider approaching refugee crises in such a Eurocentric manner.
The priorities of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute were discussed during the final panel, “DOC: Reflections of a Think Tank”. The session introduced the DOC’s research in critical areas such as the importance of inclusive infrastructural development, the need for alternative economic paradigms, the role of civilisational values in combatting terrorism, and the vitality of restoring innate human values in societies across the world. It also provided an overview of the DOC’s research output since its launch in July 2016.
Moderated by Jiahong Chen, director of research in society and culture at the DOC, the panel brought together leading experts from the organisation to analyse major economic, political, and social trends and offer their insights. Peter Schulze, who has significant expertise in European-Russian relations, emphasised that as an international think tank, the DOC aims to address pressing social and political issues from a global perspective.
Alexey Malashenko shared critical thoughts on religion, conflict, migration in Europe, and the post-Soviet transition. His future research will investigate ways by which conflicts in the Middle East can be defused during a period of civilisational transition and will explore how Islam can contribute to world peace.
Vladimir Popov, research director in Economics & Political Science, warned that rising income inequality over the last three decades in most countries has created favourable grounds for the rise of nationalist and anti-globalisation feelings. When globalisation is properly managed, it is good for growth and income distribution and does not lead to ethno-populism and nationalism, he argued. But if it is accompanied by a decline in real incomes for a large mass of people, nationalist political forces gain additional arguments for instigating anti-globalisation and isolationist sentiments.
Raffaele Marchetti said that migration should be seen as a major topic for DOC Research Institute. In cooperation with DOC, he launched the World Politics and Dialogue of Civilizations series – the first issue of which is Debating Migration to Europe – shortly before the Rhodes Forum.
All panelists emphasised that through our major areas of research, the DOC will continue to promote dialogue as a means for the protection of humanity’s future.