The London Conference 2017

The 2017 Chatham House London Conference focused on how world order is shifting under current pressures and how societies and leaders can best adapt.

Special event Recording
23 October 2017 TO 24 October 2017 — 8:00AM TO 3:45PM
St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel Euston Road London NW1 2AR

Session reports

World order is fundamentally changing. The Trump presidency has left a vacuum in global leadership; developments in the Middle East are intensifying the struggle between Gulf states and Iran; Russia persists in reasserting its power while Europe remains preoccupied with its internal recovery; the North Korean threat has become thornier; and China seeks to balance its growing international ambitions and internal dilemmas. This is all taking place against a backdrop of accelerating technological advances and ever-expanding flows of information, bringing unprecedented change and uncertainty to how we work, compete and relate.


Monday 23 October 2017

Registration and refreshments

0800 – 0850

Welcome to Chatham House

Robin Niblett, Director, Chatham House

0850 – 0900

Brainstorm | What is on your mind?

Nik Gowing, Visiting Professor, Department of War Studies, King’s College London 

0900 – 0930

Keynote | A vision for global Britain

Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, UK

The foreign secretary highlighted the success of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.

He pointed to the success of the nuclear deal with Iran and expressed his confidence that the deal can be preserved despite President Trump’s announcement of decertification.

He urged North Korea to change its current course, and rejected the examples of Libya and Ukraine as cautionary tales for Kim Jong Un of giving up his nuclear programme. In contrast, he argued that Kim’s current course is the biggest threat to his regime.

He cited the willingness of China to adjust their policy and bring economic pressure on North Korea as the biggest reason to be optimistic about a diplomatic solution – though he supports the US in keeping a military option on the table.

When asked about Brexit, he reiterated his support for the prime minister’s Florence speech as the basis of a way forward in the negotiations with the EU.

When asked about the annexation of Crimea, he admitted that an adequate response has not yet be found, but emphasized that the UK has strongly insisted that Russia must continue to pay a price. He said he regrets the deterioration with the relationship with Russia but expressed his hope for constructive talks when he visits in December.

0930 – 1015


1015 – 1045

Plenary session one | America first, America alone: the end of world order?

The panel discussed whether, under President Trump, the US appears to be withdrawing from its historical role as the underwriter of the post-war liberal consensus in favour of defining the world as one where the US must and will compete against others, including allies, for national advantage.

It was argued that President Trump is often seen as a “catalyst of change” but the reality is that he is in fact a reflection of what is happening economically, and that there is a growing sense that the US is finished with paying for the security of the global community - now seen as a “burden”.

However, the jury is still out on whether US power abroad is actually in decline, and it was noted that the long history of American might is not easy to replicate. No-one - not even Russia or China - are ready to step into those shoes just because there may be a vacancy.

It was noted that any absence of world leadership is worrying and that acting solely in your own national interest to the exclusion of others does not bring the co-operation that is needed. However, it was felt that it is not America’s presence globally that is fundamentally under review, more the balance of what it gives to the world in terms of resources.

This potential strategic shift in world order – away from the US as the world’s superpower helping create a ‘global community’ - could result in shared power and shared influence, which may lead to a safer world than one which tries to centralize power. 

But, despite the views of President Trump, there is still continuity in US foreign policy, and the country is still tied to a number of international obligations which are not simply going to disappear.

1045 – 1145

Plenary session two | People vs politics: building and breaking trust

In this session, the panel discussed the importance of trust in politics at a time of growing distrust between governments, the media and the public. 

Michael Stewart, global vice chairman at Edelman, began by exploring the findings of a study where over 50 per cent of the people surveyed said the existing system wasn’t working for them. Similarly 49 per cent of the elites asked, said they felt the system was also failing. The results, he argued, demonstrates a fundamental desire for change which he explained was played out in 2016 with the Brexit vote in the UK and the election of US President Donald Trump. Fear had a significant part to play in both cases, where during the UK’s EU referendum and the US election, 54 per cent and 67 per cent described themselves as fearful respectively. However, of the 28 countries surveyed, there was one country where the public thought their system was working and where there was still a trust in its leaders – India. 

M J Akbar, minister of state for external affairs of India, discussed why this is the case in India, where following the vacuum left with the collapse of the British empire, the will of the people became imperative. However, he explained why this might not be the case in other countries, such as in Spain, where although Spaniards across the country might believe in the Spanish state, the Catalonians have lost their faith in it. Akbar outlined why he believes the biggest threat to the nation-state today is Salafi jihadism. When the idea of man fails, he explained, religion can become the basis of nationalism. By creating a religious ideology that sponsors fear, ISIS were able to develop a political agenda which challenged the idea of the nation-state altogether, therefore using fear as a poison to destabilize the existing system. 

Nick Pickles, head of public policy and government for the UK and Israel at Twitter, went on to explore the discussion California is currently having around fake news, social media and digital technology. Political and traditional media circles are increasingly out of touch with the public’s views, he explained, creating a challenge for governments who have been able to rely on this system for years.

Ida Auken, member of parliament for Denmark, argued why democracy is not just about voting: it’s about leaders having conversations with the public. But who are they talking to in these conversations? Is it just with other political parties or is it actually with the people? 

The panel also discussed the question of corruption and how ordinary people have lost their faith in the ruling elites. Akbar narrated an anecdote of Mahatma Gandhi, where in 1915, his mentor told him, ‘If you are going to enter public life, you need to keep your mouth shut and your ears open for a year and listen to the people’. Ida added that despite Denmark not being on the top of the list of the most corrupt countries in the world, maybe it should be because there is little social mobility between ordinary people and the ruling elites.

The panel concluded by exploring both the democratization and weaponization of social media and digital technology, the impact of artificial intelligence, how tech companies are beginning to decide what is true and what is false and also who is ultimately responsible for the deficit in trust between leaders and the public? On the last question, Michael Stewart argued that the responsibility rests with everyone. M J Akbar added that the international community will have to win the argument – not just the battle – when defeating radical groups because, as the case of the Taliban in Afghanistan showed, although it was defeated, it was allowed to come back because the argument wasn’t won with the Afghanistani people. Ida Auken also added that trust cannot be forced – it must be built – but patience is needed in order to do this. Nick Pickles then concluded by saying that there is currently a global battle of values taking place across the world and it’s up to whomever to win.

1145 – 1245


1245 – 1345

Break-out sessions – round one

Beyond oil: New economies in the Middle East and North Africa 
This session will be taking place in ‘The Quarters’

Hacking elections: Politics and cyber security
This session will be taking place in the ‘Ladies Smoking Room’

Fear the future? What’s next for international trade
This session will be taking place in ‘Hansom Hall’

1345 – 1500


1500 – 1530

Break-out sessions – round two

New business models: Disruption and opportunity
This session will be taking place in ‘Hansom Hall’

Agendas and agency: Africa’s influence in an uncertain international order
This session will be taking place in the ‘Ladies Smoking Room’

Lessons from Latin America: Conflict and co-existence
This session will be taking place in ‘The Quarters’

1530 – 1645

Short break

1645 – 1700

Plenary session three | How can states navigate the global disruption? Take-aways from day one

The panel discussed the topic raised by the day’s previous sessions, and where the main turning points for global order were emerging.

In looking at the approach of the United States under the Trump administration, it was pointed out that in some regions, like the Middle East, Trump’s more transactional approach was received as more honest than the Obama administration and previous presidencies, whose words were often not backed up by action.

It was broadly agreed that the US stays relevant because of its security contribution, but in economic terms, the contrast is with China, which is felt to have less of an interest in trying to export its way of life. As some of the economic anxiety in Western countries can be drawn to the rise of China and other newly industrialized countries, the relationship and interplay between China and the US is inescapable.

There was some discussion over the future viability of the nation-state, but many of the talks throughout the day seemed to reveal the enduring resilience of the nation-state – Iraq was a prominent example, where state collapse has been predicted often but has not come to pass.

Discussion of the Middle East also highlighted the contest of ideas taking place in the region beyond the military contest against ISIS.

Finally, technology – and the difficulty of predicting its societal effects – was a major theme. Most acknowledged technological changes as one of the most important factors shaping the future of the world – but knowing how that will manifest is much less clear.

1700 – 1800

Close of day one


Tuesday 24 October 2017

Registration and refreshments

0815 – 0830

Open roundtable discussions

Table A | Why does Ukraine’s trajectory matter for Europe and the whole post-Soviet space?
Host: Orysia Lutsevych, Manager, Ukraine Forum, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House

Table B | What are the challenges tomorrow’s leaders see themselves confronting, and what capacities do they need to address them?
Host: Andrew Swan, Assistant Head, Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs, accompanied by Academy Fellows

Table C | Rethinking the state in the Middle East
Host: Neil Quilliam, Senior Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House

Table D | Developing Businesses of Scale in Sub-Saharan Africa
Host: Chris Vandome, Research Analyst, Africa Programme, Chatham House

0830 – 0945

Convene in Hansom Hall

0945 – 1000

Plenary session four | The liberal economic order: will the centre hold?

The panel discussed the current state of the liberal economic order and how it can respond to current populist challenges.

A key factor highlighted was the extent to which global liberalization is unfinished – there are still many restrictions on free trade and many economies with heavily subsidized state-owned enterprises.

There was also an emphasis on how different elements of the global system underpin each other – with economic institutions relying on security institutions and vice versa.

There was debate over whether the global economic order is under an existential threat or is simply going through a rough period – often boiling down to perspectives on whether the Trump administration in the US represents an enduring phenomenon or an aberration.

Though the path forward is unclear, there was agreement that the focus on what ails countries needs to be adjusted – from unemployment to income stagnation, for instance, or the pressure of technology on wages.

A further question was one of leadership – whether political leaders, especially in the West, are fit to tackle these problems, and whether this is the result of systemic problems in democracies.

1000 – 1115


1115 – 1145

In conversation with Armando Iannucci

Chatham House Director Robin Niblett talks to Armando Iannucci, creator of The Thick of It and director of The Death of Stalin at the Chatham House London Conference.

1145 – 1245


1245 – 1345

Keynote | In conversation with HE Adel al-Jubeir

The minister addressed several topics during the session, including the position of President Trump in relation to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) in the region, the risk of nuclear proliferation, Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning relationship with Iraq, and the ongoing boycott of Qatar by some Gulf countries.

He spoke about his belief in “human adaptability” and that although periods of change bring instability, he was confident we would end up with a better world as a result. He said Saudi Arabia was supportive of President Trump’s stance regarding Iran and the JCPOA, and that there was a need for tighter inspections within that country as the agreement has “weaknesses” within it.

HE Adel al-Jubeir noted that he felt stopping Iran in terms of nuclear capability also stopped potential nuclear proliferation across the region, and that a united and strong GCC can be a major force in protecting its own territory, although America’s role in security remains “indispensable”.

On Iraq, the minister outlined Saudi Arabia’s desire to engage with the country, and highlighted the opening up of border crossings and a willingness to invest in Iraq as it rebuilds, stating a hope to be a partner and put their relationship on a “high strategic level”.

The boycott of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and several other countries remains in place, and he put across the view that Qatar needs to recognize it has a problem with terrorism and its associated activities, and begin to deal with it. He insisted that this is “not about humiliating anyone” but a hope that Qatar wants to be a “good neighbour”.

During questions from the audience, HE Adel al-Jubeir outlined his country’s aim to become an “innovative, dynamic, and progressive” society, with more empowerment of women and a transparent government. And that the changing nature of America’s international role meant that the burden of international security would be shared among the rest of the world in partnership.

1345 – 1415

Plenary session five | Alternative views on future world order

In this session, the panel discussed the uncertain future of the global world order. Hina Rabbani Khar, foreign minister of Pakistan (2011–13), began by discussing how the world order appears from Pakistan’s perspective.

In the post-Cold War system, she explained, the values of democracy, justice and fairness have been selectively used. For example, the US has continually served its national interests, as demonstrated by its use of drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan for example, while condemning other countries. She argued that there is a degree of double-standards in the international system when assessing whether countries are abiding, or not abiding, by the rules and regulations. Examining the case of the Iraq war, she explained why she believes the biggest threat to the global order is now the use of proxies that can later become unfriendly terrorist groups. 

Alexey Pushkov, senator and chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs (2011–16) in Russia, argued that the world is in a state of transition from the system it established in Yalta and Potsdam. During this transition, the world is seeing a declining US and an ascending China which is causing insecurity in the Donald Trump administration. The US president’s ‘America First’ policy is a knee-jerk reaction to this new global reality because it is no longer able to hold together the previous world order it helped to design and then police. Pushkov then asserted that he believes there is now a new centre of power forming which gives the world a chance to build a better world order then previously. Where does Russia fit in this new global order? Puskkov answered that the Russian administration is not seeking to replace the US as the leading global superpower, but to be one of the leading global powers that can help to keep the balance of the new world order. 

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations, HE Lana Nusseibeh, outlined the role small countries, like the UAE, can play in the shifting global order. She explained why it is important for all countries to be a part of the burden sharing of protecting the world order. The arc of history, she explained, previously tilted towards American exceptionalism but now it is bending towards a pragmatic international system based on legitimacy. However, governments will be faced with a period of intense disruption in the future as long term and short term trends – from populism to globalization to migration to new technologies – will come together. Nusseibeh argued that the existing international order that was inherited post-World War Two, must be preserved – albeit reformed –  in order to address the difficult global challenges ahead. Small countries, like the UAE, she added, can no longer be passengers in the world system but players. 

The panel ended the discussion by exploring the future for international institutions such as the UN, the IMF and the G7, G8 and G20.

1415 – 1515

End of conference