The 11th meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club is underway in Sochi. Scholars of international studies and experts from around the world gather for this annual event to discuss global politics and Russia’s place in it.
The Valdai forum has been held amid many tragedies and cataclysms. Its first meeting, in Novgorod in September 2004, was held when terrorists took a whole school hostage in Beslan, North Ossetia, and forum participants took turns to go out to listen to the news. In 2008, the club met in Rostov several weeks after a five-day war with Georgia, which added fuel to discussions between Russian and Western experts, with delegates from Eurasia acting as unwitting intermediaries. But the 11th meeting will likely be the most heated so far, as can be seen from its theme, The World Order: New Rules or No Rules?
Much has been said about the ongoing decline of the world order, or rather the system of relations that has not stabilized since the end of the Cold War. The Valdai experts have discussed this issue before, but exchanging reproaches is not done in the international professional community. They tend to discard the shallow view and attempt to look for in-depth reasons behind events.
Economic globalization has not eradicated geopolitical rivalry.
Interstate contradictions remain, because economic globalization has not cancelled geopolitical rivalry. Another major cause of conflicts is internal instability, or rather, these two elements are interconnected and this interconnection produces a resonance effect, especially in the countries that are on the crossroads of geopolitical, cultural and historical traditions.
All governments without exception have to operate in a much more aggressive and unpredictable environment today. This includes their complete transparency amid a variety of threats, from crime and the omnipotence of financial markets to information influence and cultural convergence. All governments find it increasingly difficult to control the developments in their territories. Their responsibility to the public to prevent tremors is growing, while their ability to control events is decreasing.
The state as an institution has a problem. Pressured by the global environment, it is trying to expand its ability to control cross-border processes. At the same time, the public, primarily in prosperous countries, wants the state to protect it, in the broad meaning of the word, which includes maintaining their customary living standards and prosperity. But both of these variables are endangered: for the first time since WWII, a generation has grown up in Europe that knows that it will be worse off than their parents.
In the mid- and the second half of the 2000s, many scholars and politicians predicted the beginning of a new leftwing renaissance, a departure from the vices of the neoliberal economic model amid growing public discontent with the ideological monopoly that was spread around after the Cold War. Some extremely aggressive anti- and alter-globalist popular movements, which appeared in the early 2000s, seemed to be a harbinger of this change.
In fact, this is not what was happening. The classical dirigiste approach, under which the economy is strictly controlled (directed) by the state, has not become popular. The leftwing movements have not produced a practical alternative, but instead focused on criticizing the omnipotence of the free market. No one is disputing this anti-globalist approach, but no one has proposed a way to deal with market omnipotence either.
A demand for a more active role by the state is countered by the growing mistrust of the public. Falling trust in the free market does not automatically increase trust in the state as the governing body. On the contrary, people around the world are becoming disappointed by the inability of the ruling class to deal with their problems. They see that governments are fighting for their trust and broader powers only to be able to carry on the same policy and as a way to increase pressure on the public.
Falling trust in the free market does not automatically increase trust in the state.
A contradiction between the growing demand for the quality of state governance and the need for the state to maintain control of society engenders internal tension. Nearly all existing models of political organization in society are eroding. When this happens in a troubled country, or a country with underdeveloped institutions, the system collapses uncontrollably, which creates a vortex into which external forces are drawn.
The Arab Spring and the crisis in Ukraine have cast a bright light on the international community’s attitude toward internal shakeups and regime changes in sovereign states. These collisions, along with territorial conflicts, will likely become the main cause behind a chain of shocks that will accompany the creation of a polycentric world.
This issue is on the agenda of the Valdai Club meeting this week. See you in a week with a commentary on the results of these discussions.