COMMENT: Adding polarities to a unipolar world

COMMENT: Adding polarities to a unipolar world
Vladimir Yakunin, former head of Russian Railways and co-founder of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute.
By Vladimir Yakunin of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute August 26, 2016

My generation grew up in the shadow of World War II; we came of age and built our careers amid the all-pervasive tension and mutual suspicion of the Cold War. When the Berlin Wall came down, it felt like a new era, with considerable new opportunities.

But looking at our fractured and economically vulnerable societies today, it seems we did not make as much progress as we had originally thought possible. Not only have we singularly failed to solve the traditional threats we inherited, we also face a plethora of new non-traditional threats, including many from non-state actors. The era of unipolarity seems to have become synonymous with the terrifying triumph of extremism.

In this environment, there is a clear and present need for us to put aside political rhetoric and focus on working together to bridge the divides that separate us – and seek to arrive at practical solutions to the truly complex and challenging problems we face. 

Think-tanks have a critical role to play here. They are the sources of analysis and critical thinking that inform public opinion and influence indirectly so many of the vital decisions taken by governments around the world – decisions that have a direct impact on peace, security and sustainable development in the world.

This is what makes the establishment this year of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC RI) so relevant. In a world where think-tank and policy organisations are so heavily dominated by what one might describe as an “Anglo-American” viewpoint, which cannot help but be rooted in its own cultural and political traditions, there is a very real and urgent need for other perspectives to be involved in our common efforts to rise to solve the problems that we face.

DOC RI has no single political agenda. It is nobody’s “soft power” initiative. It has taken no money from any government. Our supervisory board and expert community are international, and bring together people from across the globe – from South America to China, from Russia to the United States, from Germany to India.  They hold differing views and bring to the table different perspectives. This is our strength – our ability to engage opposing views and bring them together in a spirit of objective, open, dialogue.

Born out of a United Nations-endorsed initiative, and building on the 15-year experience of the World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations, DOC RI is still at the early stage of an important journey.

If we are to be judged – and I believe we should be – we should be judged through the research that we produce, through our ideas, through our substantive contributions to global discourse, and through the practical research-based solutions and advice that we put forward, aimed at addressing some of the most complex problems we face in the world today. Problems that currently seem to have no viable solutions.

The road to Rhodes 

Our next major event will be to host the Rhodes Forum, which will take place at the end of September. It will bring together serving and former presidents and senior officials, members of the international academic community and business elite, representatives of international non-governmental organisations and diplomats. Our goal is to promote a new culture of dialogue that is so desperately needed, as we discuss issues of critical importance to the world today. 

In short, the “you’re either with us or you’re our enemy” mentality is getting us nowhere. The world is more complex, and the problems we face require more complex solutions. At DOC RI, we are committed to finding ways in which we can contribute to those solutions.

Vladimir Yakunin is the Co-founder of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC), Head of the Department for State Governance at the Moscow State University and former head of Russian Railways. You can follow the institute on Twitter at @DOCResearchInst