Strategic Frivolity and Free-Wheeling Cabaret: What Does The Future Hold for Humankind?
Hall 9.1, 2nd floor, GMC, Sochi
List of speakers

On October 20, the Valdai Club held a session titled Birth of the New World: Conflicts and Responsibility as part of the 2017 World Festival of Youth and Students.

In his remarks, Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club, said in his remarks that the outline of the new world can only be regarded as a mirage that may eventually prove to be a real oasis or dissolve into the air without a trace. According to Lukyanov, Valdai Club has carefully followed the birth of the new world order over the last four years, something reflected in its annual reports. The most interesting concepts included in the 2017 report are “strategic frivolity” to characterize international relations after the Cold War and “free-wheeling cabaret” to describe current politics.

One of the most striking manifestations of strategic frivolity today is the US and North Korea balancing on the brink of a limited nuclear conflict. Lukyanov explained the use of the term “free-wheeling cabaret” by the fact that modern politicians are characterized by flippancy and an inability to understand cause-and-effect relationships in world politics.

According to Anatol Lieven, professor of Georgetown University in Qatar, strategic frivolity is characteristic not only of the geopolitical behavior of Western actors but also of the preferences and thinking of ordinary people. What is being discussed by experts the world over may prove irrelevant in the future because, for example, problems associated with climate change could have more devastating consequences than armed conflicts. He stressed that these problems should be addressed while displaying global responsibility, but despite this their solution is largely the concern of national states. He reminded his audience that there were no such things as “global citizenship,” “global police,” “global government,” and so on. Providing life’s necessities to people was the function of national states.

The main challenges of the future facing the world are associated with social inequality and climate change. The latter problem will at the very least cause a wave of mass migration accompanied by growing destabilization of societies. In the worst-case scenario, Lieven believes, climate change will lead to mankind’s extinction.

Sheng Shiliang, Senior Research Fellow at Xinhua News Agency’s Global Challenges Studies Center, reminisced about the world as it was 60 years ago. In his view, the world, divided into two camps – socialist and capitalist – was simpler, and this suggested to each particular country its system of values. The world of today is better than what existed 60 years ago since it has become “flat and indivisible.” The Chinese leaders have introduced into political lore the “community of common destiny,” a formula meaning that today the world should meet challenges jointly. He stressed the importance of this year as the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution, which was largely responsible for China following the socialist path of development. Over the last 60 years, China, formerly a poor, backward country, has become a wealthy state, where people no longer die of hunger. China’s target is to solve the problem of hunger and achieve a standard of living commensurate with advanced countries by 2021. He wound up his remarks by quoting Mao Zedong, who once said that the future depended on the youth being capable of building a new world order without conflicts but with strong sense of responsibility.

Alexander Rahr, Research Director at the German-Russian Forum, agreed with participants in the session that the challenges facing the modern world are enormous. He shared his impressions of the annual meeting of the Valdai Club and characterized the main conflicts in the world, which had been discussed at the meeting. He outlined 10 problems: climate change; mass migration; the real danger that nuclear weapons will be used; European-US relations; social inequality; collapse of statehood in the Middle East: Kurds seeking to establish a state of their own, decline of government structures in Iraq and Syria, the unsolved problem of the Iranian nuclear program; an unprecedented threat of terrorism in Europe; the conflict in Ukraine that may escalate into a major war; the problem of Africa, including climate change, overpopulation and resultant migrations; technological challenges linked to the industrial revolution 4.0.

According to Rahr, World War I was largely caused by the first wave of industrialization in the late 19th century; today, digitalization could also lead to a new major conflict. But, in his view, there are at least three stabilizing factors in the world that could prevent the world from sliding into a new war: the lack of direct military confrontation between the great powers, the existence of the UN as an international arbitrator, and the democratic system accepted by almost all world states.

All experts agreed that the previous generations of politicians had committed numerous mistakes, something that eventually affected world stability. It was up to the younger generation to draw the contours of the new world and they had the capacity to change many things.