On October 15, 2018, the 15th Annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club was opened in Sochi. This year’s meeting is an anniversary one, but this is not its main feature. For the first time in several years it is dedicated not to the “world around us”, but to Russia. This year’s topic is “Russia: Agenda for the 21st Century.” Why is it necessary now to conduct an “inventory” of Russia’s opportunities? The answer of the Valdai Club experts is that the world is “crumbling”, and if one follows the unwritten international principle – everyone for himself, then Russia also needs to be able to stand up for itself.
In 2014, the Valdai Club began issuing a series of annual reports, where the authors often touched the topic of global governance restoration. The report of 2018, the fifth in a row, is titled “Living in a Crumbling World”. The first session of the Valdai Club meeting in Sochi on October 15 was dedicated to it. According to the authors, the need for global governance remains, but it is impossible to restore the world order as it was created after 1945, and it is unlikely to build a new order by the forces, which take unilateral decisions and are guided by egoistic considerations.
One of the bright metaphors of the Report-2018 is the crumbling world, where every tenant is forced to equip his geopolitical corner. The full restoration of the building is impossible, as long as it is worth simply to avoid its final collapse. But none of the tenants want to give up their habits (including the bad ones) and/or their new identities acquired in the last half century.
Opening the meeting, Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Board of the Valdai Club Foundation, spoke about the importance of the image in architecture - “we must build in such a way that the ruins remain beautiful.” The modern world is "crumbling" very majestically and monumentally. The task of the experts gathered at the Valdai Club meeting is to discern the contours of what emerges after the destruction of the present world.
The present world, therefore, will not collapse as the European world did during the first half of the 20th century. Instead, it will slowly but surely crumble and deform as peoples and states push and pull it to satisfy their own interests. The process will affect everyone without exception because the world is much more interdependent than ever.
Both the metaphor, the forecast, and the report as a whole, caused a storm of emotions among the speakers of the session and the participants. William Wohlforth, Daniel Webster Professor, Department of Government, Dartmouth College, said that the authors of the report undoubtedly coped to stir up the discussion, but were mistaken in the analysis and, thus, made the wrong conclusions. He said that the report exaggerated the size of the world order destruction tragedy. Moreover, it does not specify what kind of world order is meant, because it has three components - the areas of security, economy and legal aspect. If we split the world order in that way, it becomes obvious that at least these spheres do not collapse at the same time, the speed of their destruction is different. William Wohlforth also noted that the report refers to the times when “states observed the rules”, but he (“perhaps because of his age”) does not remember such times and does not understand how the present differs from the past, from the times of the Cold War. Therefore, he believes that there is no need now to start talking about destruction. According to him, the world order is moving from the expansionism of the 1990s to a defensive position, and it would be a mistake to confuse this with a collapse.
Clifford Kupchan, Chairman and Practice Head, Eurasia Group, asked Mr. Wohlforth whether he really doesn’t remember the rules of the Cold War and believes that nothing changed in the world since then? Does he really believe that, for example, Donald Trump had no influence on the world order structure? Wohlforth did not answer the question directly, and noted only that some rules of the previous world order (before 1945, after 1945 and after 1991) still exist today, but now all states must “look at their homes and secure achievements of the 1990s." However, this is not destruction - it simply means that “we must take a step back and put our garden in order”.
Now there are not two or three, but at least five major players in global economics and politics, each with its own understanding of political culture. At the same time, numerous medium-sized states work to protect their national interests, thereby willingly or unwillingly contributing to the deformation of the usual rules and practices.
So what is ahead - chaos? Bipolarity? Or something new? The authors of the report pointed out that the “ram” that destroys the old world order is not a new challenger, but the global leader - the United States.
Aleksey Mukhin, director of the Center for Political Information, noted that the problem of the Western world is that the elites are aging - they live by the rules of the 20th century and are not able to build a new world order. Moreover, it is obvious that there is a global distrust toward the United States, which is already expressed by most countries in the world. “There is an option that other countries of the world will have to make a decision on a new world order design, and the United States will simply have to accept it,” he said. At the same time, according to Mr. Mukhin, the new world order construction, which will help avoid sharp conflicts, is already being built (and this is happening against the desire of the old Western elites) in the Asian region.
Reflecting on the future of China in the current conditions, Ms. Fu Ying, Vice Chairperson, The National People's Congress, Foreign Affairs Committee, stressed the importance of crisis management (global governance!). “In China, I am perceived as a gloomy analyst, but now I understand what it means to be truly gloomy,” she joked, referring to some of the scenarios outlined in the Valdai Club report. According to her, the deterioration of relations between the US and China went faster than expected, and the Trump administration only adds fuel to the fire. “Our main principle is dialogue and cooperation, not confrontation,” she said. “Whatever happens between the United States and China, we need to work, because the conflict is too dangerous.”
C. Raja Mohan, Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National University of Singapore (NUS), said that the Valdai Club report was “very stimulating,” but he would like to speak even more provocatively. He said that not only the world order is collapsing, but also the illusions about the world order - for example, that America is in a downturn in development, and China and Russia will become enemies. He said that if the US removes "its heavy hand" from the regions where it dominates, the political geography will change. But at the same time, if the US takes a step back, then other countries will have to work on new structures (including in Eurasia), which will face new challenges. “And this future is more like XIX, not XXI century,” he noted.
In fact, our most perspicacious colleagues suggest that international institutions will come to function as little more than ‘service companies’ for states. They could accomplish a great deal in this capacity, but they could not achieve the goal for which the UN was created – maintaining peace and civilized relations between the stronger and weaker states.
Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary, Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), defended international institutions. He said that international organizations "will remain with us and outlive us." He responded to the metaphor of Timofei Bordachev, Programme director of the Valdai Club and one of the authors of the report, who compared international organizations in the modern world with zombies. “International organizations are zombies! But the advantage of zombies is that they will never die. The CTBTO will definitely remain <in the new world order>, because it is part of the nuclear security architecture,” Zerbo said.
Yonov Frederick Agah, Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization, in his turn defended the WTO. He said that it was created with aim to be responsible for stability and tries to fulfill its functions. “All countries, including the United States, are appealing to the WTO for resolving disputes. The collective will allows the WTO to become an instrument of universal use. Russia's membership in it can contribute to its economic growth,” he said. Fyodor Lukyanov, moderator of the session and research director of the Valdai Club, replied that membership in this organization is a rather strange benefit for Russia, especially when new sanctions are imposed against the country every week.
However, most of the speakers and participants came to the conclusion that despite all the contradictions, challenges and collapses, there could be no war (at least, such as in 20th century). According to Andrew Kuchins, Senior Fellow and Research Professor at Georgetown University, “two minutes to the end of the world is a great exaggeration”. “There are no prerequisites for war between the great powers,” he stressed, as if confirming the thesis of the Valdai Club report that people obtained a “habit of peace”.
On the upside, we live in a safer world than we did 100 or 150 years ago. The physical destruction of human beings is no longer a priority – even for professional militaries.Thus, this disbelief in the possibility of a major war prompts leaders to take peace for granted and to engage in frivolous and risk-laden behaviours. At the same time, this makes it less likely that they will repeat the scenario of the first half of the 20th century in which leaders used world war as a way to cut the Gordian Knot of irreconcilable animosities.
This was the first session of the Annual Meeting of the Valdai Club.
But the Valdai Club working day actually began earlier, at 10 am at the Sirius Educational Centre, where gifted children study. The graduates of the center met with the Valdai Club experts. The students presented their vision of how the technologies affect the socio-political development of Russia in the medium term, and the experts got a detailed idea of how the next generation of the most active citizens imagines the development of Russia.
Alexei Miller, professor at the European University in St. Petersburg and one of the meeting participants, made an interesting conclusion. “Previously, the future was better, people thought of it as something where they would live better than yesterday, and today they think that it will be worse and more terrible than the present in which we live now,” the expert said. And although the scenarios proposed by the Sirius graduates were not gloomy, perhaps this remark by Miller is a reason to think about how to restore the crumbling world in which we live now, according to the authors of the Valdai Club report, and make it a little better - at least for the next generations.
We remind you that the Valdai Club Annual meeting will last four days - from October 15 to October 18. Most of the sessions will traditionally follow the Chatham House rules, which presumes the anonymity of all discussions. But this does not mean that no one will know the conclusions reached by the experts. First, we will prepare for our readers analytical summaries on the results of the day. Second, the most interesting discussions are open.
You can watch the Live broadcasts of these sessions on our website, the Programme is right here:
10:00-12:00 Session 2. Tradition and Future: National Identity in a Changing World (Live broadcast)
18:00-19:30 Special session. War of the Future: What should We Prepare for? (Live broadcast)
09:00-11:00 Session 6. Foreign Policy in Uncertain Times: Pursuing Development in a Changing World (Live broadcast)
14:00-16:00 Plenary session (Live broadcast)
More details about the Valdai Club meeting can be found in our social networks. We are on Facebook and Twitter. Photos and videos from the lobby of the forum, closed-door and open meetings can be viewed. If it is important for you to know how to live in the crumbling world, it's time to sign up.