The theme of this year’s World Economic Forum stirs hope for change and raises one of the most painful questions of modernity as the young generation is left with nothing else but sheer scepticism in the era of Putin and Trump. I can picture the inspiring atmosphere of the Forum: as skiers go down the Alpine slopes, the world leaders arrive in private aeroplanes to rest in spa resorts and save the declining world. They head down the white corridors flanked with barbed wire and metal constructions – now necessary for security reasons – that unfortunately block the wintry views of Davos. Political talk, like a sponge promised to dry the worldly tears, remains a sponge for electrocution.
We can all agree that the actions of some world leaders exhibit few shared values between the governments and their people. Rhetoric often comes as a façade to cover up reality. Was that true about the conference in Davos?
Durham is far from being the ‘the anti-war university’, so to speak, or a platform for radical reform. That’s why conferences like the one in Davos should be of primary concern to us as representatives of the new generation because they are supposed to be pitfalls of diplomatic, civilised decision-making. Monitoring these conferences allows us to hear and see the bigwigs of the world gathered in one room in order to sense the dynamics and shape our political preferences.
Theoretically, the event in Davos, like many other events such as G20 Summit, is there to ensure an efficient cooperation between some of the most influential governments and businesses around the world. An upsurge in nationalism and anti-globalisation exhibited even in the most democratic governments nowadays is perhaps the result of the lack of consensus and a basic presence of leadership philosophy across the world. Such forums are therefore important to ensure shared values remain and give a mutual sense of direction for leaders around the world.
Chinese President Xi Jinping challenged Donald Trump, an easy target for satirists worldwide since his election as U.S. leader last autumn. He attempted jokes about ‘Schwab-onomics’ (after the founder of Davos Klaus Schwab) and spoke in lyrical tones, quoting Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – to champion globalisation, of course. ‘Protectionism’, Xi said, ‘is like locking yourself in a dark room, which would seem to escape wind and rain, but also block out the sunshine. No one is a winner in a trade war’. A beautiful irony could arguably be drawn from this statement, especially considering China’s recent violations of World Trade Organization regulations, its lack of freedom of speech and evident market and currency manipulations.
Theresa May also spoke about free trade, but in a different context, saying that she wishes to ensure ‘stability and prosperity’ for British citizens and highlighting her strong intention to have free trade agreements with the European Union as well as with other countries. The importance of the financial sector for the UK is indisputable. May ensured she highlighted the underlying strength of the UK and attempted to ward off the uncertainty that has been plaguing the City. This was met apprehensively by some world leaders, but a happy ending to Brexit now seems like a possibility.
Joe Biden, a darling of the Democrats, who at this point was still U.S. Vice President, stated that Washington leadership is not an exclusive force that should define the relationship between the U.S. and the rest of the world. An encouraging yet difficult message to take on board. Even more so was the speech of Anthony Scaramucci, the new Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs and an assistant of President Trump. Charismatic, for sure, but is what he says about Donald Trump trustworthy? He made it clear that the new President does not want a trade war with China, nor does he want the breakup of the European Union or a nuclear war, as he ‘has got grandchildren’. Furthermore, he assured us that Trump is not opposed to globalisation. Scaramucci hopes that soon we will see Trump the way he sees him – good and kind.
All it made me think about is how unwilling and somehow scared I am to witness the new ‘House of Cards’ reality show which will dominate media for the next four years. I also hope that the points Scaramucci made about Trump prove true. One of the most credible ones can be his claim about Trump’s view of NATO. Precisely, he stated that Trump wishes to re-direct the forces of NATO towards fighting ‘radical Islamism’ as opposed to dwelling on the Cold War and promoting a bi-polar world. It is perhaps true that in most cases the involvement of NATO rings alarm bells for Russia and provokes Putin to be more aggressive rather than restrained, and that NATO continues to reinforce the divide between East and West.
It is not the first time that Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, stressed the issue of inequality during the annual Forum. It may seem somewhat futile to vocalise this problem as corruption always thrives unnoticed and the relationships between the privileged are often built on the material, mutual benefit. There is little morality in politics. Still, quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt might appeal to the sense of courageous integrity and remind us of the extravagant lifestyles we lead in comparison to those who have very little.
The Forum was abundant with insightful speeches delivered by the leading experts in different fields about leadership and change. Especially informative were the conversations with Henry Kissinger and John Kerry, who touched on the issues of politics and diplomacy in ‘The Era of Disruption’. Overall, the Forum succeeded in becoming a platform for change, proving that actions speak louder than words. The Forum introduced a fund set up by a Norwegian government that will ultimately raise $400 million and protect 5 million hectares, hoping to reduce deforestation worldwide. If successful, it will promote deforestation-free agriculture that will benefit economic growth and decrease unemployment. Among other achievements of the Forum was setting up the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). Its function will be to execute an emergency release of vaccines to prevent epidemic outbreaks around the world. In addition to this ardent environmental and humanitarian action, the Forum became a place for 40 governments and businesses to approve a plan to increase global recycling rates for plastic from its current 14% to 70%. Other significant resolutions included ensuring the abolition of work slavery and access to clean water. The Compact for Responsive and Responsible Leadership was signed by 100 leading businesses on attending the Forum, which will ensure implementation of ‘corporate strategies that pursue sustainable long-term value creation’.
We can only hope that the money and words promised in Davos have equally strong power to influence the world and that both are ultimately used for good ends.