Day 2 of the GLOBSEC 2020 Digital Stage was yet again packed full of thought-provoking panel discussions, with topics ranging from an analysis of US-China strategic tensions to harnessing new technologies and an overview of counter-terrorism measures in online space.
In recent months, sabre-rattling by the US and China has featured strident tones in proclamations and comments of both global superpowers. It appears the relationship between the two countries has been drastically deteriorating, with ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy being China’s new approach to the outside world.
The session on US-China relations kicked off with opening remarks by the former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who elaborated on a collapse in diplomatic engagement between the two superpowers and the heightened risk of the status quo escalating into a crisis. With the upcoming US presidential election, Hon. Kevin Rudd explained why the next three months will be testing times for a brittle US-China relationship. “There are three possible endgames”, said Rudd. “A hot war, sliding slowly and inexorably into a cold war, and thirdly finding some exit ramp.”
According to Rudd, the challenge is to identify these possible exit ramps. For now, however, he cannot see that occurring unless China tries to moderate some of its behaviours. Kevin Rudd concluded his speech, saying that climate change collaboration will be critical, as the US and China are the two world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters.
The relations between the United States and China were further discussed by a panel featuring Andrew Small, President of the Asia Society Policy Institute, Bradley Jardine, Schwarzman Fellow, Wilson Centre and Zhang Lihua, Resident Scholar at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing and moderated by Alena Kudzko, President of the GLOBSEC Policy Institute. Apart from US-China relations, the discussants debated the implications of China’s growing investments linked to the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), its ambitious global infrastructure and connectivity programme. The position of Europe, its place in the US-China equation was also closely examined. Commenting on the BRI, Bradley Jardine stated: “BRI is not a challenge to the liberal world. There is a lot of room for cooperation from China. The problem is with the implementation, it is a very state intensive programme. The problem with BRI is the lack of transparency from China.”
In a session addressing the role of AI in building a sustainable future, panellists reminded us of the urgency and potential of a technologically based climate response. Ines Leonarduzzi, Edward Zhou, Jacques Bughin and Eline Chivot representing both, the public and private sector, technology and environment, emphasised the importance of emerging technologies and developments in AI and their use in resolving the global climate crisis. According to the expert panel, a political agenda, such as that of the European Green Deal, will benefit greatly from the opportunity of education and finance directed at the field of sustainably based technological resources.
The push for European strategic autonomy was discussed by Gen. Claudio Graziano, Nathalie Loiseau, Carl Bildt and Gen. Knud Bartels. The panel agreed that the EU’s defence ambitions and its strategic autonomy remain in exercise influx. Although the EU does possess the capabilities to carry out some operations, Carl Bildt was blunt in his assessment that without American support, select theatre operations are not feasible which by extension handicaps the EU’s ability to act in their strategic self-interest. Therefore, being able to act more unilaterally and proactively with sufficient military hard power is an essential prerequisite according to General Graziano for the EU to develop into a credible global security provider and geopolitical actor. Natalie Louiseau echoed this sentiment who also lamented that the EU remains too dependent on outside actors for military and material support. Knud Bartels bemoaned the current waste of financial resources and called for the abandonment of supporting national industrial champions in favour of a pan-Union oriented model to raise involvement of smaller nations and maximise funds in austere times. Looking to the future, concerns about continued complacency vis-à-vis PESCO and it being engulfed with Brussels bureaucracy were acknowledged.
Day 2 continued with two special sessions which provided updates on two hot topics – Israel and the UAE relations following a recent deal between the two Middle Eastern countries, and on the recent political developments in Lebanon after the devastating Beirut Port explosion, which claimed lives of many innocent residents. The recent deal reached between the UAE and Israel was debated by Ebtesam Al-Ketbi, Founder and President of the Emirates Policy Center in Abu Dhabi and Amos Yadlin, Executive Director at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Both protagonists agreed that, even though the deal is not an official agreement nor a normalization of relations, it has already been successful in halting Israel’s annexation plans and in potentially clearing the way for more, normalizing agreements between Israel and Arab states. Both, Al-Ketbi and Yadlin, believe this deal may be a starting point for further progress by bringing in pragmatic, moderate Arabs into the process to work towards more “outside the box” thinking. On the side note, both experts have noted Iran to be a negative force in the region working to obtain hegemony in the Middle East relying on non-state actors.
4th August is to be remembered as an unforgettable black day in Lebanon. The deadly Beirut blast has only worsened Lebanon’s already dire political crisis. In a discussion with POLITICO’s Rym Momtaz, Ayman Mhanna, Executive Director of the Samir Kassir Foundation in Beirut, talked about not only the worst single-day catastrophe in Lebanon’s history but also about a rotten and corrupted political system that was laid bare by the explosion. When asked by Rym Momtaz why the world should care about Lebanon now given the ongoing geopolitical tumults, Ayman Mhanna named three dynamics relevant to this interest: Lebanon’s geographical location and its proximity to great powers and proxy wars, the global emerging trend of how to better manage diversity in society, as well as the civil awakening and growing rejection of traditional political parties without change. On reforming Lebanon for the future, three pressing areas were presented. Ayman decried the persistent theft of state contracts and resources and illustrated how the maintenance of a faulty dam project was prioritised over providing financial relief to citizens for COVID-19 or the explosion. Additionally, basic features like an independent judicial system and an improved process for electing officials are needed if Lebanon is to credible reform.
The afternoon session on counter-terrorism measures in virtual and decentralised space kicked off with panellists sharing their recommendations on how to be safer online. They emphasised that there is no 100% privacy and security in today’s online world. Moreover, the risk of encountering extremism and recruitment by terrorist groups online is higher now due to their abuse of commercial algorithms and gaming platforms. For this reason, it is important to be aware of children’s internet behaviour. In the age when personal data can be weaponised and used against you and your relatives, the panellists agreed people need to think about the risks before sharing their data or engaging in transactions. Spending more time at home people are psychologically more comfortable and as a result, sometimes take more risks. Another possible threat is the Chinese intellectual property theft attempts and use of artificial intelligence (AI). Chinese espionage has evolved from traditional to commercial espionage to help their enterprises. More recently the Chinese have identified AI as an area where they want to go as global leading actors. In the discussion it was mentioned there is a concern of the Chinese capability to build very comprehensive profiles of the US and other nations consumers. This can be abused to target political messages to them or affect elections.
Finally, the panel has touched upon disinformation too. The ongoing discussion at the UN on how state-based cyber norms should look like are hindered by many geopolitical splits. A sustainable compliance mechanism policy to counter disinformation risks will be stronger if shared through international alliances.
The discussion was followed by a presentation of a joint project between GLOBSEC, RUSI Europe, the ICCT and the University of Amsterdam – project CRAAFT. An academic research and community-building initiative aims to build stronger, more coordinated counter-terrorist financing (CTF) capacity across the EU and in its neighbourhood.
A seven-hour intellectual marathon of Day 2 was rounded off with a discussion on the future of the workforce in the light of increasing automation. Nikolay Stoyanov, Policy Officer at the European Commission stated that automation will most likely replace particular tasks rather than jobs themselves. In his opinion, routine or mundane tasks, such as analytical, administrative or clerical jobs are the jobs at risk. On the contrary, jobs that are rich in human skills, such as social intelligence, cultural sensitivities or caring for others appear to be less jeopardised by automation. David Timis, Outgoing Curator of the Brussels Global Shapers Hub added that COVID-19 has exponentially increased the rate at which jobs are being replaced by automation, due to the increased health risks. COVID-19 makes it all the more urgent to deal with the problems caused by automation and Nikolay Stoyanov believes that the Next Generation EU will be instrumental in the recovery of the continent. Despite a huge potential of automation, including AI and robotics, Geertrui Mieke De Ketelaere, Programme Director AI, Imec, was more sceptical about its quick implementation in daily operations. “COVID-19 has revealed the limitations of AI with a lot of algorithms going completely wrong in retail,” she said. On top of that, she sees three domains that must be resolved before AI is fully embraced in automation of the workforce. First, we need to look at reducing the energy that AI is using; second, AI has a very narrow functionality, so we need to broaden up the functionality level; and third, we need to establish a level of trust in the systems, otherwise people will not believe them. There was unanimous agreement that in order to make the best use of AI opportunities, we need to manage the transition and equip people with the skills they need, primarily human skills.