At the Rhodes Forum on October 6 and 7 former political leaders, experts, and businessmen focused on the world’s uncertain future, marked drop in American leadership, and confirmation of new centres of power and the appearance of non-state actors.
Problems related to migrants. Problems related to Internet activity. Fear of liberalism. Fear of terrorism. Fear of the political decisions of Donald Trump. Fear of North Korea. Fear that new power centres will emerge in Moscow and Beijing. Fear of competition between great powers. Fear of losing our identity, the rise in inequality… “A lack of trust and fear is controlling international relations” stated Piotr Dutkiewicz, university professor from Ottawa, from the podium of the 15th Rhodes Forum.
On Oct. 6 and 7 participants of this meeting, sponsored by the Dialogue of Civilizations research institute, a think tank based in Berlin and financed by Russian private patrons, sometimes heatedly discussed the world, which is becoming more unpredictable and multipolar. “There are fewer opportunities for cooperation”, said the former Vice President of the World Bank, South African Ian Goldin.
Something of a mini-Davos with a view of the Turkish coast, the Rhodes Forum annually brings together politicians, former leaders, researchers and the heads of business circles from across the globe. “Although most of the participants are Europeans, this forum has, you could say, a Russian spirit”, mentioned one participant from China.
From the podium and behind the scenes the speakers adamantly called for dialogue, emphasising the failures of America’s policies and, to a lesser degree, of Europe’s, in managing the world’s affairs.
“Military interventions generally exacerbate situations and make dialogue impossible. We have seen this in the interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya”, insisted the former Prime Minister of France Dominique de Villepin, who took the stage after the former leaders of Nigeria and Mali.
Problems of a multipolar world
Either by accident or coincidence, at this year’s meeting the topic was once again Russia and China — a topic familiar to rivals of the United States — including: “Imagine a possible future” in a multipolar word marked by the relative decline in America’s hegemony.
“We don’t believe that there is only one nation chosen by God to lead the whole world”, said Vladimir Yakunin, founder of Rhodes Forum, Dialogue of Civilizations research institute, and former president of Russian Railways, in an interview with La Croix newspaper.
Because of his close relationship with Vladimir Putin, he landed on the sanctions list of the US State Department after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. “We lived for a long time in a bipolar word, which didn’t usher in a sufficient level of general development, and then in a unipolar world, which has seen an increase in crises”, he said, welcoming the appearance of new power centres.
However, according to the speakers, the transitional process is creating a dangerous situation. “We are currently experiencing a great deal of instability, confrontations between power centres, flexible regional cooperation and the growing significance of non-state actors” warned Aleksandr Dubovy, an Austrian scholar from Vienna University. “Demarcating the borders of influence between the centres of power is very complicated, and we need to prepare for the possibility that confrontations could worsen.”
Maybe the Chinese delegates to the Rhodes Forum were just well informed about the problems of globalisation, but they didn’t express much optimism about the future of our planet. “A multipolar world will not necessarily be better than a unipolar one if we don’t strengthen the international institutions”, warned Jia Qingguo of Peking University.
Does the UN need more reforms? No participants believe that such steps are needed in the near future. It would appear that neither the United States, nor Russia, nor China are ready to give up the power of veto they have as permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Several participants ended their speeches on a more optimistic note, pointing out that chaotic periods in international relations are precursors to the creation of a new world order.
Olivier Tallès (in Rhodes)