London Conference: Maintaining legitimacy in a fast-changing world

The World Today Updated 7 December 2018 Published 1 August 2014 1 minute READ

The global order is changing. But who are the winners and who are the losers? And which changes will be permanent and which will pass? These were some of the questions addressed at the inaugural London Conference, held at Lancaster House on June 3.

William Hague, making one of his last speeches before stepping down as Foreign Secretary, sketched out a future defined by the growth of ‘systemic instability’ in global affairs. The main causes were: the disruptive nature of the digital age, which has increased demands for accountability and responsiveness from governments; the rise of religious intolerance; and a multipolar world which means there are more centres of decision-making than ever before.

As a consequence, the demands on the diplomatic service were growing. Multilateral forums needed to be supplemented by bilateral contacts with an ever wider range of countries and combined with new forms of outreach to civic groups, Hague said.

The conference, convened by Chatham House and entitled Globalization and World Order, was attended by 200 senior figures from the policy, business and academic worlds.

One theme that recurred throughout the five sessions of the conference was the difficulty of maintaining trust, both within individual countries and among the world’s multiplicity of actors. At a time of fast-paced change, institutions such as the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund were losing legitimacy through not being able to reform their structures.

While global economic integration had raised the incomes of many of the world’s poor, globalization was widely distrusted because its benefits were uneven. The poorest five per cent of the world’s population had seen no gain, and there was a perception that the rich had benefited most. The same distrust applied to the digital economy which was seen to concentrate wealth in the hands of the educated.

None of these challenges is insurmountable, the final session heard. But they require more confident leadership. Politicians were reluctant to speak inconvenient truths. The case for policies such as free trade was left unspoken for fear of appearing to side with the rich.