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Growing fears over conflict among world powers amid ‘strongman politics’ trend

World News | Published:

The increasing threat of cyber attack as well as long-standing environmental concerns will also dominate the World Economic Forum meeting.

International security, the environment and the global economy will be mind at the 48th annual meeting from January 23-26. (AP)

A survey by the World Economic Forum (WEF) has found that more than nine in 10 experts are worried about worsening economic or political confrontation between world powers amid a trend towards “charismatic strongman politics”.

The WEF, the organiser of the annual Davos conference which convenes next week, cited a “deteriorating geopolitical landscape” and increasing cyber threats as key factors behind a pessimistic outlook this year — adding to continued and pre-eminent worries about the environment.

Its Global Risks Report is based on a survey of nearly 1,000 experts and decision-makers from business, academia and other fields on 30 risks over a 10-year horizon. The report notes that a global economic rebound can help solve some problems, but it also pointed to increasingly complex challenges.

World Economic Forum president Borge Brende has outlined the meeting's key goals (AP)
World Economic Forum president Borge Brende has outlined the meeting’s key goals (AP)

Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz, a WEF executive committee member focusing on economic progress, called the results “striking”. She noted that on “political and economic confrontations, 93% of the respondents think they will increase somewhat or significantly … in the coming year”.

The WEF said four in five survey respondents expect rising risks “associated with war involving major powers”.

The report said geopolitical risks have been exacerbated by falling commitment to “rules-based multilateralism”.

It noted how US president Donald Trump “delivered on some of his unilateralist campaign pledges” by pulling the US out of the Paris climate accord and a trans-Pacific trade pact.

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It also said “identity politics” could increase geopolitical and domestic risks.

“Charismatic strongman politics is on the rise across the world,” it said. “In addition to the ‘America First’ platform of President Trump, variations on this theme can be seen in numerous countries from China to Japan, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and elsewhere.”

The report said last year’s clash of “strong-state instincts” of Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “has created uncertainty about the strength of the norms created by decades of work to prevent nuclear conflict”.

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The WEF also said geopolitical tensions are fanning an increase in the scale and sophistication of cyber attacks, and suggests greater investment in prevention is needed.

John Drzik, president of global risk and digital at insurer Marsh and McLennan Companies, pointed to the prospects of “more state-sponsored attacks — to add to the financially motivated attacks that are already out there”.

He suggested too few companies have a cyber incident response plan in place.

:: The World Economic Forum annual meeting will take place from January 23-26 in Davos, Switzerland.

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