Contours of the Future: As Long as We Can See the Light

The Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club is being held in Sochi. Dozens leading experts from around the world are discussing the contours of future. It is a fascinating engagement, albeit risky - the fog that conceals the political horizon is already very tight. According to the tradition established many years ago, the debates at the forum are closed, and the draft of the main report, which serves as a starting point for discussions, will be made public only after the revision of the meeting results. However, I don’t think that will break anyone's rights and secrets, if I disclose what the guests are invited to discuss in Sochi this year.

The prepared report thematically completes a kind of trilogy. In 2014, it was "The World Order: New Rules or a Game without Rules" in the international arena. The main argument was that after the Cold War, in spite of the promising prospects, we failed to build a political system that everyone would agree with, and which would provide a harmony of interests for a long time. In 2015, in Sochi, we thought about the eternal problem of politics - finding a balance between war and peace. It is not clear how to obtain it in a complex multi-polar system where different centers of power have different weights. But without the balance a peaceful and smooth development cannot be expected. This time, the focus is on the "global revolt and the global order," the relationship of accumulated imbalances which are worsening in the global political system as well as on the public mood in the leading countries.

Globalization blurs the line between inside and outside, this phenomenon manifested itself long ago, but now it has reached a qualitatively new level. The system of relations established in the world a quarter century ago is being attacked from two fronts. Non-Western states, which did not participate in the formulation of its principles, no longer consider them quite fair. The societies in the leading countries share this opinion, which is rejected by the elites, responsible for the policies of the last decades.

The phenomenon of so-called populists, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the US, Euro-skeptics, the left-wing and right-wing radicals in Europe, indicates that the citizens no longer understand where the political class is leading them and why. This does not mean, however, that the alternative movements have answers to vital questions. They act as a symptom of social and political malaise, not offering an accurate diagnosis and treatment. However, to ignore the symptoms of the disease, sweeping under the carpet what the establishment is clearly trying to do, is pointless and dangerous.

The shortcomings of the world order as a whole entered into resonance with the inner consequences of these imperfections in each individual country. The Valdai Club report states that the basis of "world disorder" is a triple dissatisfaction with the situation. At the same time (for various reasons) the elites of the leading countries of the West, societies in Western countries, and the major Non-Western powers are all dissatisfied. Up to a certain point, the irritation was managed and kept under wraps, but in the second decade of the 21st century, the quantity at once passed in quality on many fronts. By 2016, there was no significant actor in the world completely satisfied with the economic and political status quo.

Despite the rhetoric expressed over the years that the global world requires exclusively common universal solutions, quite different things are happening: the fragmentation of interests and the goals and means to achieve them. If these processes have preoccupied the political sphere for some time, since the beginning of this century, the spread of "anti-universalism" to the economy is a new phenomenon. Attempts to form economic mega-blocs (partnerships initiated by the Obama administration, which he, however, had no time to perfect) are aimed at fixomg the boundaries of the vast areas of Western economic influence and to make the rest of the world either play by the rules defined by the major Western nations or to form something of their own as a counterweight.

Given the widespread intensification of political conflicts, the second option is more likely. Will such a division, if it occurs, give a way to resolve the root problems of world development? Apparently not. After all, the nature of threats and challenges on the one hand and tasks of leading powers on the other are global, not regional in nature, even if the regions are dramatically enlarged within new blocs. The failure of universalism on the level of practical politics of the major countries will not cancel the close interconnectedness between the world and the arising problems.

The challenges facing the world are so deeply entrenched that we cannot expect to find solutions in the near future. At the same time, the severity of contradictions is fraught with dangerous developments and serious consequences that can happen very soon. In these conditions, the task of "all people of good will,” as declared in the previous years of the Cold War, should be minimization of risks and the desire to avoid direct collisions in any occasion. The only tool to accomplish this is universal institutions. No matter how much the weakness and inefficiency of the UN or the WTO is criticized (often rightly), international institutions are now the only ones that formally connect us with rather legal nature of relationships in the international community. They should be strengthened by all means as carriers of idea of global governance, built on consensus, even if in practice there are frequent disruptions.

This article was originally published in Russian in Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.