Does the Future Start Today?


Is it so? Some words about the upcoming discussions at the 13th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club.

In principle, the answer is obvious - yes, of course, the future starts today. Although there are philosophers, like often recalled Martin Heidegger, who could challenge this statement, suggesting that the time is a very special nature, combined with the existence.

But this is still too far from the practical issues which will be discussed at the sessions of the Valdai Club. We propose to discuss a wide spectrum of problems, from technologies, which obviously affect the political agenda, to the transformation of the forms of democracy, from challenges and trends of economic globalization to the impact of the accelerating migration to the world order. In fact, our goal is to formulate a number of elements of the today's world landscape, which will play a key role in the formation of the future.

One of these elements, or, if you prefer, a set of elements, is the existence of formal and informal international institutions able to solve independently the world's problems or to create mechanisms to solve them. The fact is that, apparently, the key actors in world politics, primarily the states (but not only them), will face increasing contradictions between themselves. The reasons are many. In addition to the clear economic differences, there is, for example, the digital divide. Let's imagine a world where people in some countries will live to 120 years, and in some other at least to 70 years. Or the notorious robotization, which is happening just before our eyes. Or the level of education. Or the state of society as such. So, the number of competitive fields and players is growing. It would be possible to mention other reasons for contradictions, but our question is what to do with them?

Many people believe that nothing can be done, that the world is on the verge of collapse, that the commonplace talk about war is a real prognostication of war. However, it seems to me that we should not exaggerate the likelihood of a global war. Of course, wars sometimes happen against the will of the states. For example, in 1914 the war began largely due to communication problems between relatives of the ruling clans in Europe. Another thing is 1939. The Second World War was the result of a conscious conspiracy against peace. Although, of course, there is another view that in essence it was just one big war with a certain interlude in the middle.

As I see it, today just a tiny amount of any serious global actors seriously consider going to war. For example, does North Korea really want to attack South Korea? I believe that in spite of hate and dreams of the destruction of its neighbours North Korea does not want war, but surely there is a desire to inflict unacceptable damage to the enemy for a kind of security reasons. Perhaps, the offensive plans are developed by the army headquarters, but implementing them an extremely acute situation needs to emerge, with a serious threat to the existing regime. Certainly, never say never, but those, whom North Korea perceives as opponents, are also not fans of politicians from Pyongyang and would welcome a regime change, but, nevertheless, they want to avoid the war in the strongest terms.

Of course, there is the annoying ISIS, which openly proclaims the war, but at the moment it is a relatively weak institution, though extremely malicious. With real deadly weapons in their disposal they will not hesitate to act, but until now ISIS does not have such weapons.

In general, on the one hand, there are many preconditions for deepening contradictions, and on the other - quite a strong desire not to cross the red line, two wrongs don't make a right. Despite the severity of global competition, despite the desire of countries to take a more advantageous and honorable position in the international arena, no one wants to destroy the world. And exactly from this situation appears a possibility if not to resolve the contradictions, then at least to mitigate them, using more or less stable mechanisms of their regulation.

The essence of these mechanisms are international law and international institutions, which in the conditions of fierce competition between the various centers of power are able to exploit the reluctance of the world's elites to prevent conflicts escalation into uncontrollable aggression. Fortunately, most of the current conflicts have the character of a conflict of interests, this type of conflict is attributable to a rational settlement. In fact, in our world there are little real conflicts of values (unfortunately, ISIS is an example), which are always difficult to be resolved. Although, some time ago the USSR and the United States were able to avoid the war, despite the irreconcilable ideological confrontation. The mystery is, of course, when this confrontation ceased to be sincere?

Certainly, there are questions: Do we have enough international institutions to play their role? Do we have enough level of current international law for this? Probably not. Moreover, we need a certain modernization of the existing institutions and the establishment of new ones, the development of international law.

In particular, problem is that in recent years there were little new universal tools to resolve international disputes, to agree on certain actions. Of course, there is the United Nations, which, for all its faults, is one of few true global governance institutions, it represents almost all states. By the way, when Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin discussed the configuration of the United Nations, they saw the UN more powerful than it is today. But this is a separate issue. Anyway, the UN still exists. And there is nothing comparable to the United Nations.

But some new institutions appear, generally universal ones. First of all, in the field of climate control. The agreement adopted in the framework of the COP 21 (Paris, 2015) attracts much attention: it offers a system which provides participation of all countries of the world in the fight against the average global temperature increase. Of course, this agreement is based on the idea of free will, and sanctions are not provided, although the discussion about it is still going on.

Regulations in the economic sphere are rather well expressed, although the present processes are quite controversial. In particular, it is confirmed by a heated discussion about the relationship between WTO and the emerging Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic partnerships.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to be very pessimistic about the state of international relations and their various regulatory mechanisms. There were far worse times. No one now supports a direct slavery.

In addition, there are some important considerations that can affect the negotiability level of elites.

First of all, it is the development of new technologies, from the industries to the communications (which are closely related), which lead to quite unexpected results. The fact is that hundreds of millions of "new" people became involved into active political processes. Mainly because the communication technology obtained a new level. Of course, even before the so-called "ordinary people" played a significant role in world history. Even in the most severe dictatorships the public opinion has been taken into account. But such a broad awareness, even very controversial one, previously did not exist. There was no such a level of feedback. One way or another, the events in the Middle East is the consequence of retraction of tens of millions of ordinary Muslims into the active political process. In a sense, the severity of the so-called "Arab Spring" is the result of the well-known democratization, simplification and acceleration of communications, both vertical and, that may be even more important, horizontal ones. The changing nature of the masses involvement into the political process can be discussed for a long time. This is not a new phenomenon. The present stage in this process is new. If José Ortega y Gasset wrote an impressive book "The Revolt of the Masses", is it not a time to write something like "The Revolt of the Elites"? Of course, this colossal issue cannot be revealed in a couple of paragraphs, but in the context of discussion on the international regulation it would be interesting to understand, how it will affect the elites?

The question arises: How the growing drawing of the masses into the political processes will affect the behavior of the elites? Will it make them more negotiable with their peers from other countries? Will it make them pay less attention to the contradictions between countries in the name of overall stability? Or, on the contrary, will it make the elites more dependent on their masses, more selfish and therefore more conflictual? There is no simple answer. And if the history of Nazi Germany is evidence that the drawing of the masses increased the aggressiveness degree of the elites, many of the post-war processes show the contrary. And, in my opinion, today there is a lot of evidence that elites actively seek agreements among themselves to set up the framework for global development.

Moreover, the development of technologies (not only communications) contains yet another challenge: a kind of values depreciation. Values and ideologies have arisen largely due to scarcity of human life, the need to be united in irreconcilable struggle for resources. But if in the near future the technologies will make people less vulnerable materially, if concern for daily bread will remain a matter of the past, the processes of social self-organization may change. And the task to regulate various kinds of processes will become more complicated and would require an even higher level of harmonization of different interests, the ability to avoid unwanted consequences and to coordinate the actions for the sake of maximizing the impact of the taken decisions. Theoretically, this should push the development of various types of mechanisms of interaction and mutual influence - international organizations and international law.

There are startling challenges. The development of post banking system of economic relations, such as all kinds of Bitcoins (it is an illustration) and their derivative blockchains can once and for all liquidate all known methods of modern money theft, international corruption, and so on. Of course, the inventive humanity will find ways to unjust profits, but it will take time. But it is in the hands of the world's elites, it depends on their ability to trust each other and establish mechanisms for this trust. In fact, the law of exchange is something that is at the heart of it.

There are so many challenges, and I barely managed to mention at least a small part of them.

Originally published in Kommersant

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