I would like to warmly thank Vladimir Yakunin for his invitation to this edition of the Dialogue of Civilizations’ Rhodes Forum. This is a great opportunity to enhance collective thinking on multilateral issues and solutions to the major challenges of our time.
We’ve just heard a strong voice from Africa, a continent that is dear to me because I was born there.
Africa is one of the places in the world where it is indeed possible to imagine a better future, where imagination can make the future better.
This is good and much needed news, because imagining possible futures has become today a difficult task; even a scary task.
Uncertainty has become the trademark of our time. It is true in international politics, with the unpredictability of Donald Trump’s administration upsetting international order by dismantling global agreements and favouring the rhetoric of war over the rhetoric of peace. It is true in national politics, with the rise of populism revealing new cracks within groups of people and competing with values of openness, sharing and common good. It is also true in economics, with repeated economic crises threatening global stability and the dominance of the dollar binding us to the fluctuations of American currency.
Escalation, war, and conflict are – undoubtedly, to most minds – possible futures for our world. Even the daily threat of nuclear weapons has come back.
We must learn to live in a world of risks.
The mix of globalisation and multipolarity has opened an unprecedented era of uncertainties. Although we might have believed that the end of the Cold War would open an era of global governance, we are actually facing a time of global disorder. Failures of regulations have led to a capitalism of cyclical crises driven by risk and increased competition. Everywhere you look, new bubbles are appearing – real estate, sovereign debt, shadow banking, student loans, etc.
With amazement, we have discovered widely expressed populism in liberal democracies, and the progression of radical political ideologies around the world is a major concern. Climate challenges urge us to face up our responsibilities, while we have just been experiencing unprecedented cyclones and seismic movements in recent months.
Forced migrations and refugee crises are creating despair, fear, and need. The global population of political refugees and displaced persons is higher today than the population of my country, France. Last, but not least, terrorism represents the opportunistic virus of this uncertain, globalised world.
We are facing multidimensional crises that are becoming increasingly complex to deal with, some of which have escaped from international media attention: Yemen, in the Middle East, has been forgotten – due to a global focus on ISIS and the Syrian crisis – with 6.8 million people sent back to the Middle Ages by war; The Central African Republic is becoming the blind spot of its region, despite the strong presence of the international community in the country; In Myanmar, we have had to witness images of hundreds of thousands of displaced people before the treatment of the Rohingya minority has even begun to be considered.
Risks have been increased by politics, because dialogue has been overshadowed by a spirit of warmongering. What must be said again and again, is that putting military options before politics has fed a vicious circle of multiplying both military interventions and transgressions of democratic processes.
Instead of engendering political solutions to conflicts, military interventions tend to worsen the situation and make dialogue impossible. We have seen this with Western interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. We can see it now in Yemen, where the Sunni Arab coalition is failing to curb the crisis, and in Qatar, where Gulf states have preferred coercion to dialogue. The same is true within nations where the temptation of authoritarian rule leads not to stability, but to more risks of civil wars and violence.
This is a real challenge in Burundi today, where political dialogue has been under lock and key by those in power, under the watchful gaze of the impotent international community. There is a real risk of violent explosion in Burundi, which could reawaken war in the Great Lakes region. Let’s not repeat a familiar mistake, while Kenya is going through a troubled election period, laden with hopes but also with tensions. Close international follow-up of the electoral process is needed, as well as strong monitoring by the African Union.
The risk of escalation has not been as high for decades as it will be in the coming months, with the rhetoric of war outweighing peaceful dialogue within the world’s principal superpower. In a way, the world’s sheriff seems to be going rogue. The North Korean crisis is all about the display of power and credibility, opposing Donald Trump and Kim Jung-Un in a counterproductive face-to-face. The same process is happening with Iran: Donald Trump has launched a war of words with the Iranian government, embodying a kind of ‘constant unpredictability’. We must be aware that in a few days – on 15 October – he may choose to reject certification of the 2015 JCPOA, which would represent a major risk of escalation.
Multilateralism today is the key to managing uncertainty.
The question of our time is how to avoid uncertainty. We must give priority to politics.
In times of escalation, we cannot take the risk of frozen conflicts heating up at any moment. The first tool should be a contact group, like the Minsk Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is in these small working groups, gathering goodwill and ideas, that peace is most likely to progress. These contexts bring the main actors and influencers to the table, away from the cameras and away from international pressure.
The second tool at our disposal is mediation, a role which is traditionally ascribed to the UN, and a role I believe to be the calling of France, which is able to speak to all. Even though we have seen in Libya and in Syria how extremely difficult, and how unsuccessful, this work can be, mediation remains an indispensable process. That’s why I support the efforts of French mediation carried out by President Macron, who last July gathered the Libyan leaders, Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar.
We must also give priority to regional actors and solutions. In many situations, the involvement of the international community leads to a takeover in terms of responsibility, and to a short-circuiting of regional and local voices. Look at the crises in Afghanistan or Libya, where Western interventions have allowed neighbours and regional actors to remain inactive, or have prevented them from playing a positive role. Look at all the regional powers and peace-brokers asking for more involvement and more influence, as in the case of South Africa. Dialogue and multilateral action cannot only be set up in Paris, Washington, or Berlin.
Regional organisations have a key role to play in bringing about peace. They are the natural players in terms of stabilisation and first response. The involvement of regional structures, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization headquartered in Moscow, or the ECOWAS (Community of West African States), embodies a hopeful and dynamic multilateralism. These arenas of regional integration are more and more eager to take over responsibilities. We saw this in Gambia in January, when ECOWAS observed the electoral process and forced the former dictator Yahya Jammeh to leave power after his refusal to accept the results of the election.
In order to deal with systemic regional crises like in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, or North Korea, we must build new international security architectures. Such architectures would prevent military escalations by setting regional security milestones, as well enabling cooperation and efficiency in the fight against terrorism, a common danger faced by us all.
Regarding Ukraine, designing a new cooperation and security architecture between Europe and Russia is essential, in accordance with the framework of the Helsinki conference that took place in 1975 and imposed a framework of a stable cohabitation.
As we notice rising tensions in Eastern Europe, evidenced by new large-scale military exercises, we need to think over our relationship with Russia by taking into account Russia’s fears and expectations. This will favour de-escalation rather than fuelling escalation. Today, promoting Ukraine’s neutrality at an equidistance from both Europe and Russia is our only tool if we want to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity and support its rebuilding process.
In the Middle East, we have to defuse an upcoming conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which would cause devastation to the region for decades. Iranian-Saudi rivalry has led to a new crisis in Qatar, which has been ostracised by its Gulf neighbours.
This is why I believe that we could promote a structure inspired by the European ECSC – a Helsinki Conference of the Middle East – gathering Iran and Saudi Arabia around oil and gas interests. The sharing of energy rents would constitute an effective factor of rapprochement, with economic cooperation today being the best shield against war.
As we witness the tragic increase in the volume of North Korean missile launches, it is imperative that we find a peaceful and multilateral way out. The first step would imply endorsement of the Russian-Chinese ‘double freeze’ proposal: a freeze of nuclear and missile testing tracked against a freeze of American and South Korean military exercises.
The second step would be to design a dedicated common security architecture gathering Russia, China, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea: This would seek an alternative to war with the North Korean regime, which is looking for lasting security guarantees.
We must build peace with new responsible stakeholders. I want to stress here the role of China in organising harmonious coexistence in the future.
China’s president, Xi Jinping, after the 19th Congress of the CPC – on 18 October – which will renew his mandate, will be the main actor on the international stage. China needs a recognition of its new status and its need for national security in a dangerous environment.
It would be unreasonable to provoke escalations in the South China Sea, where the issue should rather be the provision of security guarantees to all parties. It would also be unreasonable to foster economic confrontation with China over investments and trade, when it is possible to build rules in common on foundation of reciprocity.
China has the keys to many regional conflicts in Asia, because of its influence and proximity. This is true with North Korea. This is also true with Myanmar.
China also has the ambition of being a responsible stakeholder for world peace. China is now the primary contributor of troops to the UN. China is now increasingly involved in regional crises like those in the Middle East.
I also want to stress the role of Russia as a crucial actor for world order. We see this with its strong involvement in the Astana process, furthering political solutions in Syria and building on local ceasefires. We also see this with Russia’s role in the east of Europe and in crises situations like North Korea.
The time has come, I believe, for a multilateral shift.
Momentum exists for a renewal of organised multipolarity. Global disorder and unpredictability call for more balance and multilateralism.
As President Macron clarified at the UN, the majority of the issues we face are global in scope. When the weaknesses of the UN are increasingly criticised, this provides momentum for addressing UN reform, especially concerning its Security Council, which, as you know, is strongly supported by France.
International influence is restructuring around regional powers, with a shift from Western to Eastern countries. We can see this with the Astana process in dealing with the Syrian Crisis, but also with initiatives from both Russia and China in reducing pressure on the North Korean issue. This has to be a good news, because we need both more and new responsible stakeholders in the world community.
I believe Europe can become a key player in this multipolar world, and the main protector of the spirit of multilateralism.
Europe has been at the forefront of the fight against climate change, with COP21, and it must continue to be influential, above all through its exemple. Europe must provide proof that democracy and dialogue are able to overcome their own weaknesses when dealing with inner turmoil in Eastern Europe or in Western European elections.
Europe must demonstrate a way of demanding cooperation that always puts progress before sanctions. International relations are not about upholding your own moral self-image; it is about guaranteeing the security of your people. Today, multiple risks are seen at the doors of Europe: in Ukraine, in Turkey, in Syria, and in Libya. This means that Europe simply hasn’t done its job. We need to put politics first again.
We must bet on cooperation through multi-stakeholder projects if we wish to give substance to multipolarity. Such projects are the concrete core of multipolarity. They must gather both public and private actors, and be able to mobilise common will and energies.
The New Silk Road is a promising project led by Chinese authorities in response to the major challenges of global connectivity, inclusiveness, and development.
By financing and building infrastructure from Asia to Europe, but also Africa, this project is likely to develop and stabilise the countries and the regions it will cross. The most important challenge will be creating synergies and shared experience between new tools like the AIIB and old institutions like the World Bank and the IMF.
I am convinced that it is in our interests to enhance common reflection and to enhance participation with this initiative – which is providing a new vision for global development – in order to make it a shared project. That is why I created – alongside high-level former political figures – the International Marco Polo Society, aimed at raising interest in the Belt and Road Initiative.
Within this framework, we could also work towards creating the outlines of a large political, economic, and cultural partnership between Europe and Africa. We are used to seeing Africa as the continent of problems, when I think Africa can become the continent of solutions.
Such a partnership would be an opportunity to overcome a painful colonial past and to unite our efforts in the face of common imperatives: security crises, refugee crises, growth, and environmental challenges. This could also be a way of involving and leveraging the experience of high-profile former African leaders in a constructive project for future generations.
This would imply common financing and development of infrastructure that is dramatically lacking on the other side of the Mediterranean, but also promoting economic diversification as well as intercultural dialogue.
Climate change should be the essential field of multilateralism, as it has become a global security risk. From threatened islands to the shores of our continents, climate change concerns us all and its regulation cannot be the prerogative of a few powers ready to make it a priority. We need everyone’s contribution to this area, and our response to the climate change challenge must be convergent, otherwise it will not be effective.
That is why initiatives like the Paris climate agreement of 2015 must be maintained and enhanced. We must set up strong mechanisms to monitor this agreement and ensure that it will be thoroughly implemented in the coming years.
Dealing with climate change also requires innovative and sustainable financing, such as ‘green bonds’, to direct investment towards a low-carbon economy, in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
A stable world cannot be ensured without monetary stability. This stability cannot be obtained without fostering better dialogue between the main financial institutions, as well as better cooperation between the three main world currencies: the dollar, the euro, and the yuan. This is why we might envisage the creation of a G3: a new cooperative architecture gathering governments and central banks, dedicated to dealing with crisis situations and to coordinating monetary policies.
We also need a tool to assess risk, which involves a more balanced credit-rating system. This is still dominated by American agencies. Bringing forward the emergence of Asian credit-rating capacity would be a good start towards addressing the challenges of the global economy.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear friends,
Responding to the challenges of multipolarity starts with better regulation of everything that pertains to the common goods of mankind, or that deals with human security and sustainability. A joint initiative by a few large countries in order to reflect together on the new multipolarity, on the role of states in achieving global equilibrium and peace, and on the necessary reforms to promote peace in crisis areas, would provide a useful contribution. This would also be a way of reviving the power of dialogue, which is, more than ever before, a global necessity.