WEF-2018: Everybody First

31 january 2018

Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and Research Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club.

Resume: If America, with its power, influence, capabilities and share in the world economy proclaims itself "First", it thereby sets the tone. So everyone will have to follow it and also to become "first of all." It's hardly worth to be glad about it. But we must be ready.

If America, with its power, influence, capabilities and share in the world economy proclaims itself "First", it thereby sets the tone. So everyone will have to follow it and also to become "first of all." It's hardly worth to be glad about it. But we must be ready, writes Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Valdai Discussion Club about results of the World Economic Forun in Davos.

The annual gathering of the world smooth operators, the global vanity fair, the capitalistic bacchanalia of neo-liberals ... these are definitions of the World Economic Forum, which was held in Davos since 1971 (under the current name – in last thirty years). For a beginner the meeting makes a strong impression, and I visited the forum for the first time.

In terms of the number and concentration of discussions there is little to compare with Davos, the level of representation is also extraordinary. Narrow streets of the resort town, famed by Thomas Mann in the "Magic Mountain", do not cope with the influx of visitors from around the world, which leads to logistical blocks. This year, the usual problems at least tripled - the visit of the US president is always a big event, and if his name is Donald Trump, then the agiotage is even bigger, as well as the security measures.

To describe Davos in general is impossible - too much there happen all at once. Therefore, I will try to summarize the atmosphere, starting from the main speech of the American president. How contradictory feelings he would evoke, no one argues that today the world depends from this person more than from anyone else.

Trump pronounced a rather calibrated speech - unambiguous in its main message. One year after the inaugural speech where the “America first” principle was proclaimed as an official credo, he demonstrated , that the turbulent events of the past twelve months did not in any way shake the worldview and goal-settings of the US president. The main message was expressed in Davos especially clearly: what is good for America is good for the world, if you want peace and prosperity - invest in America.

The President of the United States acts everywhere as a "sales agent" of his own country, he is not ashamed that he serves as a conductor of egoism (someone will say it is healthy egoism, someone will not - it's a matter of taste). Trump's favorite word is bargain, his favorite activity, to which he always calls - is trade. Not in the sense of turnover, but in a broad sense: bargaining, knocking out better conditions are legitimized as right and worthy behavior. Not only for the United States, for everyone, even for each country it will become "first of all." That is, bargaining is for the sake of balance of interests.

The toasts in honor of mercantilism, proclaimed by Trump, raise objections almost everywhere. In Davos almost all expressed against egoism and the protectionism associated with him: leaders of India, France, Germany, representatives of China, Russia, etc. But there was an inconspicuous psychological change at a first glance. Trump's slogans at the beginning of his political career evoked laughter, shock, indignation, the certainty that all this will fade away. Now the philosophy, associated with Trump, is becoming a norm, a natural part of the global picture. And this is also recognized by all.

Trump is the operator of the United States transition from extrovert to introvert. In the 21st century isolationism of the past is impossible, but the refusal to dictate to everyone the rules of life and behavior, as Trump insists, is the incarnation of an isolationist idea for an irreversibly interdependent Earth. A multipolar world, about the necessity and inevitability of which so much was said since the end of the last century, finally appeared in a somewhat unexpected form. Not when other poles are activated, but when the top of the pyramid suddenly declared itself to be only one of them. Of course, it is the strongest and still exceptional, but not the "ruling world", and certainly the first among the formally equal.

The most curious process of recent times is the fading of objections in the American political environment against Trump's conceptual guidelines. That is, his personality continues to split the society and elite, causes a lot of emotions - rage, anger, shame, hatred, anything. But it's more about his style and manners, really rather unconventional for the US president. Anyway the focus on national interests and the power approaches cause less and less opposition. In particular, it is evidenced by the reaction to the recently released two documents - the National Security Strategy and the Defense Strategy. Trump will leave the White House sooner or later, but that does not mean that America can/wants to return back to the previous line. Another era has come, and Trump is more like an instrument of history than its motor.

European leaders and even China can repeat endlessly that they will not allow to put globalization and openness in question, no matter what the United States does. But it does not work that way. If America, with its power, influence, capabilities and share in the world economy proclaims itself "First", it thereby sets the tone. So everyone will have to follow it and also to become "first of all." It's hardly worth to be glad about it. But we must be ready.

The Valdai Discussion Club

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