Global Perspectives on the World Economic Forum

24.01.2013

The Forum in Davos may or may not be giving new answers to looming questions – but it is a suitable venue for world leaders to embrace opportunities. The issues of globalization, sustainable and secure economic growth and other trans-boundary phenomena shall lead the discussions to where the most advanced nations are looking at the developing world.

Without any great fear of exaggeration, the World Economic Forum in Davos is perhaps the greatest gathering of world decision-makers in business and politics to kick off the New Year.

The godfather of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Professor Klaus Schwab, in an interview ahead of the Forum highlighted that one of the main tasks for this year’s gathering of world leaders is “to re-create more globalism.” Indeed, this task seems to be a peremptory challenge in a world that has been recovering from a crisis for the past five years. The Forum in Davos may or may not be giving new answers to looming questions – but it is a suitable venue for world leaders to embrace opportunities. The issues of globalization, sustainable and secure economic growth and other trans-boundary phenomena shall lead the discussions to where the most advanced nations are looking at the developing world, and vice versa, for enterprises that are not always mutually beneficial. This is even more important in times when the pace of recovery from the latest financial crisis has slowed down, and the outlook for 2013 is not optimistic either. With this in mind, the outgoing financial crisis has triggered a deep-rooted and long-awaited debate about institutions of global governance and regulation in general, as the currently functioning system needs to be adjusted to a world that has changed. To this end, the Chinese theme will occupy more than one day in Davos, and BRICS and other "catchy acronyms" ( as Ian Bremmer puts it ) will attract all the time for discussions over ways to lead the world back to sustainable growth.

The "R" in the "BRICS wall" will also be present, with the biggest ever delegation. Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev is a special guest at the Forum, delivering an address to outline the direction that Russia is heading in now – after a decade of steadfast growth thanks to the price boom for hydrocarbons. It is widely known that Russia brings a few challenges to the incumbent system of world affairs – establishing new international/regional currencies as alternatives to the U.S. dollar, favoring the expansion of the U.N. Security Council (Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov recently spoke in favor of India joining the P5), reforming international financial institutions, etc. – but Medvedev’s address will most certainly highlight national economic growth guidelines, and maybe the policy agenda of Russia's G20 presidency this year. On the first issue, the executive arm of the Russian tandem, Mr Medvedev, still represents only one narrative that is undergoing an interesting domestic, often inter-elite debate that will follow.

Now a full member of the WTO and an aspirant to the OECD, Russia seems to be sending flawed signals on its development preferences. Two tracks can easily be identified. The first, which President Vladimir Putin comfortably champions, arguably leads to new sovereign, or, for lack of a better word, "isolationist" approach towards the economy, and portrays the surrounding world as inherently a threat, and not a partner. This track suggests that Russia must remain an absolutist sovereign country that does not exist in any form that is dependent on "the West" or China (for the Russian Far East) until it finds local strength to modernize from within. On this track the fear of being abducted by "the West" still shepherds some heads, as a group of prominent economists, led by Sergei Glazyev, according to media leaks, is expected to suggest to the President that they impose further restrictions and keep the strategic segments of the economy under government supervision or control . This track in essence favors furthering strong protectionist measures within the WTO, embracing once more the former Soviet dependencies, and does not support joining "Western" clubs like the OECD. The second track, led by modernist Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, says that Russia may only become stronger once it embraces technology and other development patterns that are available in the West, by recognizing that the new model of international post-crisis economic regulation "will most probably be transnational." These two narratives of Russian national and international politics are not yet reinforcing each other, it's more like they are competing in a win/lose domain – in an attempt to influence one another in the tandem. However, for the time being, it is Prime Minister Medvedev who will be speaking in Davos, where he is expected to elaborate on the ways Russia will milk its WTO membership, and how it plans to knock into the OECD.

Of course, the Forum is neither a place to discuss Medvedev’s idea of "legally binding" and "indivisible" security architecture for the transatlantic community, nor a venue for Russo-American talks on the "Reset 2.0," as Obama promised to Medvedev in 2011. But one issue will certainly be there, as advertized: the future of Syria. Whether or not incumbent President Assad is on the wider canvas hardly interests anyone beyond ideological propaganda, as the issue now is much broader. The challenge consists of whether the world leaders, who seem to share disagreements on the triggers and outcomes of the Arab Spring, may produce a common understanding that beyond the national interests of each and any state there exist certain norms of behavior to limit the shield of sovereignty against authorities that are unable or unwilling to stop mass atrocities (the UN Human Rights Council has reported mass crimes in Syria since 2011). Just several days ahead of Davos, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met to declare that no progress on Syria has been achieved. Of course, the Prince of Saudi Royal Family Turki Al Faisal will hardly discuss values of democratic governance during the Syrian panel. But for the discussions on Syria to end up productively, at the end of the day, the decision-making leaders of the UN Security Council must admit that for the international order not to follow international financial institutions in their devastating present, certain types of behavior, such as committing atrocities, shall be held criminally liable, in order not to cause impunity on an international scale. Bringing justice and legitimate order to Syria will hardly damage the terms of neither the Russian sublease of the Tartus port, nor the interests of other stakeholders. In summary, Russian, Chinese and Syrian issues shall be expected to take up the entire week in Davos, which once again will give the world leaders an opportunity to think globally.

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