The New Geopolitical World Order
The former president of Colombia discusses the complex state of international relations and its future impact on trade, finance, security, and human rights.
- Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia (2010–2018) and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
- In conversation with: Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Prince of the Royal Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Dipping into a dangerous toolbox
Today’s mounting anxieties come from national elections that have a global impact, said Al Hussein. “We have players in the political field who are not playing by the rules…. After the experience of the Second World War you have recognition for two generations that there is a set of tools you don’t touch: generate fear through half-lies and mistruths, point it at a defined category of people, and build anxieties into a political platform.… A generation of new politicians are dipping their hands into this toolbox, otherwise prohibited, because it’s so successful and dangerous.” His question to Santos was: How do we stop this?
For Santos, a former journalist, the media must reclaim its role as “intermediaries of information” – a role that has been eroded by the power of social media and an atmosphere where emotions speak louder than logic. In Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, “we see the extremes did not work.” But he is hopeful the US mid-terms could indicate “the pendulum is swinging back to center.”
Lessons from the FARC
How did Santos achieve peace in Colombia when all others had failed? “You have to be a hawk and then you have to be a dove,” he said, attributing the advice to a retired general, who also told him to treat “adversaries as adversaries, rather than enemies”: “We achieved it by respecting your adversary, giving him dignity, building a bridge and creating the conditions.” For this, working with regional neighbors is key, he said. In addition, in reconciliation processes we see the positive flipside of the “emotions” that populists can manipulate – the healing power of “apologies” and “truth.”
A soft landing for Venezuela
Al Hussein asked Santos about his discussions on Venezuela with Donald Trump, whose initial comment had been: “When do we invade?” Santos, who wondered if the President was “half joking or half serious,” said he saw his South American neighbor as a plane that had run out of fuel: Whether it crashes or has a soft landing depends on multiple stakeholders, and the United States’ diplomacy is needed to get China, Russia and Cuba on board. In return Santos asked Al Hussein for his solution on Iran. For the former diplomat, the US mid-terms may be a decider, with domestic threats either making Trump more likely to strike, or the reverse.
When the private sector can lead
If a stronger media is one way to bolster society against worrying trends, the private sector too has a major role to play. Santos quoted the example of the Pacific Alliance trade bloc, and private-sector commitment to environmental goals. In the light of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s climate-catastrophic election promises, responsible choices by companies and shareholders are crucial, requiring decisive leadership at Board level.
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