The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2022 convenes at the most consequential geopolitical and geo-economic moment of the past three decades and against the backdrop of a once-in-a-century pandemic.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appears to have signalled the emergence of a new geopolitical era – one that is being shaped by heightened and hostile competition over security, economic, energy, and ideological interests.
To respond to this new reality, the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Geopolitics is reflecting on the role leaders must play to address urgent humanitarian and security challenges as they simultaneously advance long-standing economic, environmental and societal priorities.
Five members of the council discuss what they see as priorities in the advancement of global peace and stability, and the steps that could be taken to stabilize specific sectors that are frontlines of conflict.
'Helping Ukraine defeat Russia's invasion is the key priority '
Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, Co-Chair, Global Future Council on Geopolitics
While Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity, which are threatened by Russia, merit support, a great deal more is at stake. Putin’s blatant aggression, if successful, will destroy the post-World War II European security architecture and will legitimize the use of force as a legitimate instrument of statecraft, making warfare a permanent feature of the international system.
Meanwhile, Moscow’s war crimes and genocidal strategies, unless their perpetrators are held accountable, will strip warfare of all limitations, and render it particularly brutal and destructive. To prevent these calamitous developments from occurring, helping Ukraine decisively defeat Russia's invasion is the key priority.
But, while mishandling Russia's aggression against Ukraine would cause grave regional and global problems, tackling it well is likely to produce considerable security benefits. Indeed, there is already abundant evidence that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and many, albeit not all, Asian democracies are cooperating to an unprecedented extent in supporting Ukraine and sanctioning Moscow.
The unfolding NATO accession by Finland and Sweden is but one example of the growing NATO strength. The commitment by Germany to increase defence spending to comport with NATO's 2% of the GDP benchmark, will both greatly augment its military capabilities and help reduce long-standing trans-Atlantic tensions over burden-sharing. This cooperative network can and should be sustained and might well evolve into a broader democratic partnership for handling a range of security threats.
How is the World Economic Forum helping to improve humanitarian assistance?
'Rather than ending connectivity, we should try to devise rules and norms that take the sting out of it '
Mark Leonard, Director, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)
In the longer term, we need to rebuild the European security order and prepare for a world of unpeace. We do not just see the tragedy of war in Ukraine – every aspect of globalization is being turned into a weapon. Putin is using high energy bills, refugees, disinformation and cyberattacks to weaken Ukraine and the countries that are supporting it.
In response, many governments have cut Russia off from the global financial system, diversified their energy supplies and tried to decouple their economies and societies from Russia. Many countries, citizens and companies across the world will be inadvertent victims of this conflict.
In my book The Age of Unpeace I show how the good and bad features of connectivity are inextricably entwined – and that it is impossible to untangle them without destroying many of the biggest advances in our civilization. Rather than ending connectivity, we should try to devise rules and norms that take the sting out of it or disarm it. If the Cold War was eased by arms control, the equivalent for our age is “disarming connectivity”.
'It is imperative for those with voice and influence to be equally creative in the pursuit of peace '
Samir Saran, President, Observer Research Foundation (ORF)
The Russia-Ukraine war has reached an unstoppable force-immovable object impasse. The political emotions invested in it are appreciable, but it is moot if they are worth the unfolding human tragedy and resultant upheaval in the global economy. Post-pandemic recovery, patchy and uneven in any case, has been seriously imperilled by a worldwide inflation in food and energy prices. Governments and societies far away from Europe are feeling the pressure. It is imperative for those with voice and influence to step up and be equally creative in the pursuit of peace.
The war has only exacerbated the pandemic’s continuing hollowing out of global supply chains. From Shanghai to the Steppes, from finance, commodities and resources to components and finished goods, chokepoints have strangulated world markets. There is an urgent need to both de-crinkle supply lines, as politically feasible, and diversify supply lines, as economically practical.
Finally, as summer temperatures soar in South Asia and beyond, climate change is an everyday, every-person crisis. The commitment to climate finance and green technology flows to countries such as India, where the battle for our ecology’s future will be truly and meaningfully fought, is loud; the action is muted. This has to change – now.
'Rules-based order must be sustained and strengthened'
Ivo Daalder, President, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs
The 20th century was divided into two halves: the first was characterized by two world wars that killed over 100 million people; the second by the longest period of great power peace in history. The essential difference between the two eras was the prevalence of a rules-based order based on the concepts of collective security, shared prosperity, and respect for the rule of law. All of these rules have been violated by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Our most important priority must be to ensure Moscow fails in its evil designs on a neighbouring country and to make upholding the rules-based order the most important, collective responsibility of those states committed to, and benefitting from, that order. This responsibility falls on all states – not just those who have responded most swiftly to Russia’s aggression.
While states no doubt differ on the best way to respond to Russia, there can be no doubt that it is in the fundamental interest of all of them that the rules-based order is sustained and strengthened lest we return to a world of the early 20th century, where the strong did as they will and the weak as they must.
'Peace and security require being judicious about joining the right dots'
Lynn Kuok, Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security, International Institute for Strategic Studies
Advancing global peace and security will require the world to connect the dots across regions but refrain from linking them where unwarranted. While many in Asia see what is happening in Europe as a fairly contained event that does not risk reshaping the global order, this neglects its implications for international law if not properly addressed.
Countries that sit on the fence on this issue, rationalizing that Europe is far away, overlook how an assault on the rules-based order in one part of the world hurts it everywhere. In the same way that – quite apart from economic repercussions – developments in Europe should concern Asia, Europe should not neglect the Indo-Pacific as it battles a crisis closer to home. Though less dramatic than open conflict, the slow burn of an eroding rules-based order also hurts peace and security. Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, international law was being undermined in Asia, most notably by China’s actions in the South China Sea.
It is equally important, however, not to make erroneous linkages which are counterproductive. China and Russia have proclaimed a “no-limits” partnership, but Beijing’s response since their joint statement in early February suggests discomfiture over Moscow’s subsequent invasion of Ukraine or at least how it has gone so wrong. While there are likely natural limits to the China-Russia partnership and the acts of the two countries are not equivalent, this appears irrelevant to the at times cynical propensity to paint the two countries with the same brush.
Doing so, however, is a mistake if one’s goal is peace and security. Framing the contest as one between liberal democracies and authoritarian states unnecessarily deepens divisions, makes cooperation difficult, alienates potential partners, and opens up strategic space to China. Peace and security require being judicious about joining the right dots.