Eurasia Group | The Vulnerability of Elites: WEF Global Agenda Council publishes a report on geopolitical risk in 2013

The Vulnerability of Elites: WEF Global Agenda Council publishes a report on geopolitical risk in 2013

22 January 2013

World Economic Forum report: As regional concerns trump global challenges, elites are becoming increasingly vulnerable 

NEW YORK, JANUARY 22, 2013 - Governments worldwide are seemingly growing more and more fragile, and according to a report published today by the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council (GAC) on Geopolitical Risk, political actors as a result are more shackled by regional concerns and focused on their own domestic constituencies-at the expense of tackling larger-scale global issues that require collective leadership to solve. The report finds, in particular, that "underperformance erodes elites' legitimacy, making it that much harder for them to lead effectively. States captured by corruption or special interests, or that exhibit a lack of transparency, growing disparity of wealth, or a perceived indifference to the lives of the citizenry, will increasingly fall victim to this 'legitimacy deficit.'" 

The vulnerability of elites, one of the main topics to be discussed at the annual meeting in Davos this week, will be the backdrop for many potential risks and opportunities over the course of 2013, including:

-- China-Japan relations could worsen over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute as leadership in both countries may have more cause to shore up their popularity by stoking nationalist sentiment;

-- With no imminent political settlement of the conflict in Syria, the bloodshed will persist and may engulf more actors, thereby further destabilizing the region;

-- Diplomacy may stall and tensions could intensify in the Iran-Israel-US nuclear standoff;

-- As the US prepares to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by 2014, there could be a return of the turmoil that characterized the country prior to the 2001 invasion;

-- The mounting reliance of weakened European governments on the European Central Bank may backfire, and the ongoing crisis response could drive voters to embrace euro-skeptic or nationalist parties; 

-- A brighter structural outlook in the US and the continuity of leadership may create opportunities in 2013, such as progress on big-ticket trade deals;

-- Policymakers' growing understanding of a world without coordinated international leadership may enhance their ability to make progress at the local or regional level, however piecemeal it may be. 

Ian Bremmer, chairman of the GAC and president of Eurasia Group, says, "The eroding legitimacy of elites isn't confined to developed countries; in some instances, it's actually even more alarming for emerging markets, where the downside risks are less bounded. The trend also cuts across the public and private sectors, with elites of all kinds increasingly subject to new pressures." 

Leaders will face unique challenges as their legitimacy is called into question. According to GAC vice chair and Fudan University professor Wu Xinbo, "As some political leaders are so sensitive to popularity, they may be hijacked by nationalist, hawkish and right-wing opinions on foreign policy issues. Leadership with strategic vision and political courage is lacking today."

But with every risk comes opportunity. The outsized focus on regional and domestic issues may lead local actors to assume more responsibility for solving conflicts rather than waiting for outsiders to step in. Douglas Rediker, GAC vice chair and senior fellow at the New America Foundation, says, "It's true that strains on elites are growing and that there are serious shortcomings in international governance. But those in power are increasingly aware of this dynamic and are not waiting for others to solve problems. Rather, they are seeking out local solutions, even if somewhat piecemeal-a trend we call the 'new local.' It should improve their chances of finding local fixes and that's a modest positive. In this new global environment, finding more localized fixes may well prove the way forward." 

The full report may be found here: ( 

Part of the Network of Global Agenda Councils, the GAC on Geopolitical Risk comprises thought leaders from academia, government, business, and other fields to capture the best knowledge in the area of geopolitics and integrate it into global collaboration and decision-making processes. 

The group's members are:

Ahn Ho-Young, First Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Republic of Korea
Katinka Barysch, Deputy Director, Centre for European Reform (CER), United Kingdom
Ian Bremmer (GAC Chair), President, Eurasia Group, USA
John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), United Kingdom
Tina Fordham, Senior Global Political Analyst, Citi Global Markets, United Kingdom
Sumit Ganguly, Professor of Political Science, Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations, Indiana University, USA
Jin Canrong, Professor and Associate Dean, School of International Studies, Renmin University of China, People's Republic of China
Wadah Khanfar, Co-Founder, Al Sharq Forum, Qatar
Nader Mousavizadeh, Chief Executive Officer, Oxford Analytica, United Kingdom
Moises Naim, Senior Associate, International Economics, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, USA
Yoshiji Nogami, President, Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), Japan
Volker Perthes, Director, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), Germany
Douglas A. Rediker (Vice Chair), Senior Fellow, New America Foundation, USA
Stephen Walt, Robert & Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, USA
Wu Xinbo (Vice Chair), Professor, Fudan University, People's Republic of China
Nasim Zehra Akhlaque, Director, Current Affairs and Host, Policy Matters, Dunya, Pakistan

Shubhra Saxena Kabra, [email protected] 
Kate Tedesco, [email protected]
Carey Nickels, [email protected]