Raisina Dialogue 2019: Curator’s Note

Samir Saran

Each successive year in the last decade has brought with it disruptions implicating global politics, economics and societies. At the Raisina Dialogue last year, we discussed how best to manage such disruptive transitions. This year, we believe that it is time to look ahead and search for new solutions and frameworks to manage the world. A “World Reorder” is our theme for Raisina 2019—and bold as it maybe, we have little doubt that the moment to reflect on this is already upon us.

Perhaps the most important driver of change is the certainty that 2019 will herald the arrival of truly global politics. The post-war order contributed immensely to the progress and security of nations; yet its ideas, frameworks and institutions are no longer sufficient for a new world.

The small community of nations that designed and sustained it must give way to a more diverse constellation of actors. New powers from the East are only one set of stakeholders—increasingly, global governance must allow for distribution of authority and agency to a more diffused networks of actors, from cities and citizens to corporations and civil society organisations. How we do this will be the key question of our time.

Consequently, we have chosen five themes that are defining a new world order. Perhaps the most consequential of these developments is the emergence of new strategic geographies that are transcending the old divides of East, West, North and South. Second, we analyse the discontent with today’s globalisation paradigms—and how new trade and technology tensions are threatening the future of connectivity and commerce. Third, we explore how technology is compelling us to search for a new contract between the individual, business and the state. Fourth, we ask what ethics will define the development and deployment of new technologies and how they will affect individuals and our societies. Finally, we emphasise the role of leadership—both individual and institutional—in managing the complexities of today’s world.

These are the big ideas that have influenced the design of the Raisina Dialogue 2019. Over the next three days, we have curated over 40 sets of interactions with a global community of leaders and experts in an attempt to paint a picture of a new world order that is rapidly emerging.

A prominent feature of this year’s conversation at Raisina is Europe or more broadly, Eurasia. This supercontinent is without doubt the most dynamic and unpredictable region in the world, one that continues to surprise itself and others around it. Once considered a benchmark for democracy and collective security, the EU is today increasingly roiled by the politics and economics of populism. Equally significant is that the geographical construct of the larger European continent is dissipating. New flows of finance, labour and information are merging Asia and Europe into a single Eurasian supercontinent. The question for the EU and other European actors, therefore, is whether they can act upon these momentous changes or be subsumed by them.

The waters that link this region are undergoing a churn as well. Strategic and economic drivers have brought about seminal changes in the Arctic and the Indo-Pacific.

As climate change transforms the geography of the Arctic, its waters will merge the politics of the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean, even as the regions’ incumbent powers scramble to create new arrangements. The Indo-Pacific, meanwhile, is already fast becoming a domain for great power competition. Yet, with over 60 percent of the world’s populations residing astride these waters, its potential for scripting new paradigms for globalisation and development is unparalleled. This begs the question, then, of whether these new constructs merely allow us to visualise and manage tensions in the region, or whether they can emerge as a new conduit for development and stability.

The emergence of these new geographies is no coincidence. They are symptoms of a new normal in global politics—the eastward tilt in the concentration of economic wealth and military might. Two prominent questions arise from this trend. For one, what does this mean for the West? Can the liberal international order remain viable even as Western values, norms and influence steadily decline in international affairs? Second, what is the future of governance in Asia? The rise of new powers and interests is necessitating the ideation of new norms and institutions; however, there is little consensus on how to go about this process as old tensions eclipse the potential for cooperation.

The broader shift in economic power will certainly not be free of friction. Indeed, it has already given rise to tensions amongst the great powers of the West and the East.

Both the US and China are exerting their influence upon the rules of trade and commerce—and technology is the flashpoint that may inject a new urgency and ferocity to this contest. This dispute is only one facet of the broader dissatisfaction buffeting the global economic order. The rise of non-market economies and the domestic compulsions of populism and nativist economics are threatening the very foundations of free markets and free trade. How will the economic order that has enabled much prosperity over the past seven decades adapt? More consequentially, what happens if it cannot?

Even as the very foundations of the global order stand on shaky ground, the world is still attempting to address the imperatives of sustainable development. Emerging economies are struggling to access and raise sufficient finance to fuel their sustainable development pathways, while trillions of dollars remain locked up in Western pension funds and insurance schemes. This hints at a deeper issue: that 20th-century development paradigms continue to privilege a small set of actors and reflect their biases, preventing flows of technology and finance where they are most needed. Indeed, we must continue to ask how the global development agenda can be made more diverse by accommodating new voices. Engendering conversations on globalisation and development is certainly one solution; and it must form part of the template that includes underrepresented communities from around the world.

It is time that voices from the dynamic African continent contribute to the deliberations on the future of growth and development; and Latin American perspectives add a new dimension to the voice of America.

For many years, the world remained optimistic that new technologies would provide a voice to these communities and create new pathways for progress. Events in 2018 have compelled us to revisit this consensus. Balancing the imperatives of economic growth, national security and privacy seems harder than ever before. Democracies, it appears, are hard-pressed to achieve this, given that open societies are most vulnerable to manipulation and influence in their political processes. Worryingly, however, despite their outsized influence in our lives, global technology platforms have proven immune to calls for accountability and reform. This year, therefore, the Raisina Dialogue will ask how powerful technology companies can be made more accountable to the constituencies that drive their growth and profit. Or else must we rethink regulation that curtails their influence and reach?

There is, however, little doubt that technology will continue to transform our societies. The fourth industrial revolution will spur new breakthrough innovations and progress, even as it makes redundant extant arrangements for social mobility and economic growth. It will also compel us to reimagine the value of human capital. Our education, healthcare and labour frameworks must shed their 20th-century formats and reflect the realities of today’s knowledge-based information economy. Further, societies will have to grapple with creating ethical frameworks for new technologies as they increasingly become essential to our politics, economics and military postures. In today’s polarised times, these tasks will not be easy.

This year at Raisina, we also explore an often-ignored aspect of governance; one that will be increasingly relevant in today’s complex world: leadership.

In a world buffeted by multiple headwinds, it appears that we are experiencing a dearth of progressive leadership. How can individuals and institutions rise above the political divides that are inhibiting a new consensus?

Finally, we explore the role of India on the global high table. The opening lines of the Mahabharat, one of India’s oldest epics, boldly states that knowledge that eludes its pages may not be found elsewhere. It is fair to aver that India shares the same relationship with the world. Its billion-plus population is an embodiment of all that is right with the world and all that needs resolution. The challenges that it confronts are those that constrain all of us today. It is inexorably destined to be the steward of the liberal order with which it has had significant differences in the past. It is still emerging even as it leads, it raises hopes even as it disappoints. Indeed, India is a “boundary” nation. It is a living experiment where science and religion and identities and ideas intermingle to script a unique narrative of progress.

It is therefore an ideal location to dissect the most important issues that engage us all. It is on these boundaries that durable pathways for a world reorder will be discovered. This year, we have convened over 40 conversations to assess, analyse and argue these emerging realities. With 1,500 participants including 600 delegates and speakers from over 92 countries converging in New Delhi, there will be ample diversity and plurality of opinion. And our concerted efforts towards achieving gender parity have ensured that women account for over 40 percent of our delegates this year.

We hope that the Raisina Dialogue can be an incubator that generates new ideas for a shared planet and our common future; provide a space where contesting ideas can flow freely; and a platform where we may just tease out an elusive consensus. As always, we look forward to hosting you here in New Delhi.

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