At Davos, war is on the agenda, but the focus is on AI and elections

At Davos, war is on the agenda, but the focus is on AI and elections

Each day this week has brought for officials and politicians at the annual World Economic Forum a new and fleeting reminder of two wars that are threatening global security and looming over the economy. The President of Ukraine spoke on Tuesday. Israel spoke on Thursday.

Neither were able to capture the collective attention of a gathering that has focused heavily on artificial intelligence and populist politics this year.

Gaza and Ukraine have come up daily on the public agenda in Davos, along with climate change and economic inequality. But in heated halls and muddy streets around the city, the conversation almost inevitably turns to two rapidly growing trends that are destabilizing business models and democracy.

Everyone wants to talk about how AI and this year’s elections, especially in the United States, could shake the world. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7, or the subsequent Israeli bombing of Gaza? Drowned in comparison.

“Nobody is talking about Israel,” said Rachel Goldberg, who came to Davos to urge action to free more than 100 hostages who were taken hostage on October 7 and who are still held by Hamas, including his 23-year-old son. , Joy.

In an interview on Wednesday, Ms. Goldberg said she was not surprised that the war has taken a back seat here. “I think it’s complicated,” she said. “And I think it’s going to be very polarizing.”

Davos is many things layered on top of each other. It is a font of rich idealism, where the phrase “committed to improving the state of the world” often adorns the walls of the main meeting centre.

The Forum is a networking event where CEOs, world leaders, celebrities, philanthropists and journalists speed-date through half-hour coffee meetings. It’s a trade show for big ideas, with overlapping panel discussions on topics including gender equality, media misinformation and the transition to green energy.

It is also a place for top government officials to speak on serious issues, including war. Most of the discussion this week on Gaza and Ukraine took place here.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for international aid in an address to a packed audience of hundreds of thousands of people on Tuesday – but not for more weapons. After this he also answered the questions of journalists.

Without more aid from the United States and others, Mr. Zelensky said, “there will be a major crisis.” He said: “Now we have war before us, and we will have a great crisis – a crisis for the whole of Europe.”

Many leaders spoke about the broader conflict it has caused in Gaza and the Middle East, although usually to small crowds. In a room of about 60 attendees on Wednesday, Mohammed Mustafa, chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund and former deputy prime minister of Palestine, called for additional international aid for the people in Gaza and an end to the war.

“The military action has to stop very quickly,” Mr Mustafa said. “There is no need for anyone to pursue their political career at the expense of the greater Palestinian people.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian blamed Israel for escalating tensions in the Middle East over the past several months. “If the massacre in Gaza stops, it will end other crises and attacks in the region,” he said.

In his Thursday speech, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog called Iran the center of an “evil empire” destabilizing the Middle East and displayed a photo of 1-year-old Kfir Bibas, a hostage in Gaza. “We have a very cruel, sadistic enemy who has decided to attempt to torture the Israeli national psyche as well as the hostages themselves,” Mr. Herzog said.

But they rarely speak on the sidelines of speaking engagements, at nightly private dinners after the day’s agenda is over, or at most of the storefronts that large corporations have paid to convert into branded event spaces along the main promenade in the city. Be dominant.

One possible explanation: The attendees and leaders here do not view any war as a significant threat to the global economy at this time. Neither Gaza nor Ukraine appear among top 10 near-term concerns global risk report – a survey of 1,500 global leaders – which the forum released on the eve of the gathering. a world economic forum Chief Economists Report The report released this week suggested that the growth forecast for the Middle East has “weakened slightly” amid uncertainties about the war between Israel and Hamas. There was no mention of Ukraine in this.

In private conversations around Davos this week, corporate leaders acknowledged the wars in Gaza and Ukraine as one of many concerns. But they became more bullish about other topics that they said they expect to impact their businesses in the near term — potentially in a big way, for better or worse.

AI is at the top of that list. In interviews, executives spoke, usually with significant enthusiasm, about the benefits and shortcomings of the technology. He also discussed politics in detail. During the dinner, he and other attendees debated whether former President Donald J. How Trump will win back the White House in November – and how his populist, protectionist policies could roil markets and upend their business models.

Some officials apparently ranked Gaza and Ukraine lower on their list of geopolitical concerns than the US elections.

Many attendees regretted that there was not more energy behind war discussions, or recognition of the risks that wars pose to the economy and global security. Last year, concerns about Ukraine made headlines at the gathering, along with a surge in AI interest.

“This year everyone is focusing on other topics,” Pascal Cagni, France’s ambassador for international exports, said in an interview. Economically and politically, Ukraine “is a serious issue,” he said.

There were some exceptions too. Ukrainian supporters opened their own storefront space on the main promenade and held several events each day to draw attention to the conflict. The technology company Palantir and its chief executive, Alex Karp, hosted Ms. Goldberg and other parents of the hostages for events and interviews.

Several governments sent leaders to Davos in an effort to quietly pursue back-channel diplomacy in Ukraine or Gaza. This was true for the Biden administration, which tapped Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan were sent to Davos.

In an interview on Wednesday, Ms. Goldberg said she was grateful for all the efforts to bring her son and the other hostages home. She wore “103” pinned to her sweater, denoting the number of days her son was taken.

In Davos, Ms. Goldberg was sharing a home with other parents of hostages. “I went out this morning and here, you know, you have beautiful views and beautiful mountains,” she said. She said she turned to the other mother and said: “It’s so beautiful. This is perverted.”

But, she said a moment later: “I’m so grateful I’m here. Because I’m reaching people I never would have had access to. And the goal is to save Harsh’s life and everyone present there. I can do this only when we have access to those who have power. And these are the people who are here.”

Contributed reporting Jordan Holman, Michael J. de la mercede, mark lacey And Matthew Mpoke Big,

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