The article was first published by The New Eastern Europe
Research shows that we live in the most peaceful time in recorded history, but the existence of various conflicts around the world continues to haunt us. Zygmunt Bauman asserted that we live in a liquid modernity wherein old structures on which we depended have melted. By this, he means that we live in times where adaptability and flexibility is key to issues around us, particularly the ones that affect the very existence of our beliefs and values. Should we finally admit that we must enable our structures to change for our survival? The Rīga Conference 2016 will address these issues during a critical time of our community’s future.
The world never sleeps
Whereas many argue that the internet has brought more democracy to the information sector, others contend that it has introduced anarchy. Journalism was previously respected for its investigative characteristics and now anyone can become a “journalist”. Unfortunately for democracy, many of these journalists often fabricate lies and conspiracies that affect marginalised groups. In fact, these stories are often used to divide society, paving the way for radical political groups, especially the far-right ones. What this can lead to is the fall of our unity as a community. This is already happening with some of our allies.
Alas, this benefits state actors who wish to divide unity and destabilise established norms. Countering such movements is not easy, as many citizens in the West feel betrayed by the liberal elites and hence, put little faith in the existing structures. Radicals and populist parties are able to rise to prominence through lies and consequently, the global economy suffers from less cooperation and reluctance to support each other. Tensions rise. Such parties are often associated with the Kremlin, which has financially supported the National Front (France) and the White House, which some have even suggested supports Daesh and al-Qaeda.
It would appear that we are slowly yet steadily returning to an order that is reminiscent of the Cold War, or perhaps the European inter-war period. Marred by economic hardship, people are prone to blame the Other, the alien, a trend which is reflected both nationally and internationally. Alarmingly, the unexpected British Leave vote has led to uncertainty when it comes to the European Union’s future. The Union’s outward-looking approach is gradually turning inwards as member states find themselves battling with mounting internal conflicts over issues such as the refugee crisis and counteracting radical political groups’ ascendance.
Although it is easy to score political points through populist messages, it is similarly easy to put other issues on a standstill. These include EU member states’ ineptitude to agree on refugee resettlement and on taking a real action in Syria in the wake of war crimes. Through our inability to act on our common values, we fail hundreds of thousands of Syrian war refugees, breeding more domestic hate and failing to destroy terrorist groups. Many commentators have contended that Russia would only negotiate with the West on Syria once the sanctions against its Crimean annexation are lifted, or once invited to join the negotiation table.
This brings us to an issue closer to our borders – Ukraine. In fewer than three years, the country’s integrity has been threatened, with millions of displaced citizens, making Ukraine the region’s largest host of internal refugees. Despite the support, Ukraine oftentimes falls short on reforms. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the subsequent sanctions also mean that many countries, including EU members, that trade heavily with Russia have felt the consequences.
Our problems are not independent. Each one depends on other factors and as a whole, we see how everyone struggles. The uncertainties mean that we must work on several fronts at once, sharing not only our knowledge, but also commitment and responsibility. We are, after all, inter-connected through global organisations. Our organisations were previously rigid, today they have to be flexible in order to accommodate the changing circumstances. We must be open-minded to ensure that NATO, for example, is fit for this century and that the EU uses Brexit as an opportunity rather than a blow. Ergo, we must look on how we can change the content without changing the context. We must find a way to return to our founding ideals of a united and strong Europe and NATO that can protect us from adversaries.
The majority of organisations that exist today were set up after the Second World War, during the Cold War or in the more recent peaceful times. The aims and objectives of those organisations at the time were compatible with the respective periods’ key issues. Today, many of them have adapted and become flexible, but it is not always easy. We must be ready to change and make our organisations flexible and fluid to guarantee their survival. Our unwillingness to adapt and understand our values will only help our adversaries.
Ultimately, the following question arises: how can we ensure that NATO, the EU and other institutions we trust, survive and change to be efficient today? This will be discussed at The Rīga Conference 2016, an annual security and foreign policy forum held in the Latvian capital. We will discuss these issues with more than six dozen heads of states, experts and policy makers and will engage with 500 participants at the National Library of Latvia on October 28th and 29th. You can follow and participate in the discussions online at www.rigaconference.lv and on Twitter by using #RigaConf hashtag. We look forward to seeing you online!
Toms Baumanis is the Chairman of the Board of the Latvian Transatlantic Organisation.