Ádám Lóránd gives a summary of last week’s World Economic Forum
The annual World Economic Forum was held from 23 to 26 January in the Swiss town of Davos. It was attended by world leaders from all over the world, including President Donald Trump, who was the first US leader to visit since Bill Clinton. There was also one notable absentee, Angela Merkel, who was occupied with her coalition talks back home. The meeting did not lack surprises and important events. Here are some of the most significant.
Trump deals yet another blow to US soft power
Last week, President Donald Trump dealt what was probably his greatest blow yet to the position of the United States in world politics. He started by imposing tariffs on solar panels and washing machines, potentially harming the US’ own economy in the process. Then he flew to the WEF, where he gave a speech emphasising his “America First” policy. Finally, he put yet another nail in the coffin of the EU-US political and economic cooperation. During an interview at the weekend Trump said he had a “lot of problems with the European Union.” These actions contribute to a greater trend of the United States losing its position as a promoter of free trade worldwide, focusing on its domestic problems instead of global issues. The weakening of US diplomatic ties with the EU (and the UK in particular) might mean that the Western world will have a hard time dealing with any new threat, such as a water crisis (which the WEF assessed as likely to happen), but it might also struggle to keep Putin’s Russia in check.
Merkel still hopes to avoid another election
Despite failing to form a coalition with the environmentalist Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, instead having to hammer out a deal with the Social Democrats, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that Merkel still hopes to form a government by 1st April. However, it is questionable whether this would be the right path. Polls published in December by Die Welt show that almost half of the Germans don’t want the caretaker chancellor to serve a fourth term.
The current world order could well be destroyed by cyberattacks
The WEF assessed cyberattacks as one of the most probable and high-impact risks of 2018. Western governments lack the means to efficiently deal with them. Obviously, WEF participants mainly voiced fear of cyberattackers targeting major firms in the hope of making money, as in the Wannacry of 2017. However, another more troubling scenario is the threat of attacks against major social media platforms. It is true that in the wake of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have stepped up their “fake news” monitoring policies. Despite this, they are far from being completely safe. Anti-democracy hackers and fake content creators are advancing faster than defensive methods against them. So, suppose that there were a major, coordinated attack on the biggest social media websites, who would profit from it politically? Vladimir Putin is definitely one potential beneficiary. If the wave of fake news cripples the democratic systems of the US and Western Europe, Russia’s soft power would increase manifold- if only temporarily. Using that soft power, Putin could sign trade deals with pro-Russian governments, creating the basis for a possible Russian-led counterpart to the NATO. In this case, we would only be a step away from a 21st-century Cold War. I’m not saying that this will definitely happen, but from observing how afraid Davos participants were of cyberattacks, it is certainly a possible, if far-fetched, scenario.
Featured image: Flickr