Bannon under fire at Kazakhstan media conference

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Steve Bannon as panelist at the Eurasian Media Forum in Almaty, Kazakhstan. 24 May 2019. [Eurasian Media Forum]

The Eurasian Media Forum is an annual international discussion platform that has gathered hundreds of delegates from across the world in Kazakhstan since 2002. But it never got such publicity as this year, because one of them was Steve Bannon, writes Eli Hadzhieva.

Eli Hadzhieva is the director of dialogue for Europe

Speaking at the Eurasian Media Forum in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on 24 May, the former White House Chief Strategist in the Trump administration Steve Bannon came under fire when he described the rise of nationalism as “positive”.

600 international experts from 50 countries gathered in Almaty for a three-day forum to discuss a number of key issues, ranging from de-globalisation and consumption crisis to digital reality of mass media and the effects of artificial intelligence on journalism.

Bannon described the rise of nationalism as a ‘reassertion of the Westphalian system’ and a ‘positive’ phenomenon ‘reuniting people and giving citizens the best level of control over politics.’

Mark Siegel, former deputy assistant to the US President Jimmy Carter, could not disagree more with Bannon, stating that nationalism is actually ‘dividing people by colour, ethnicity, religion etc. while creating an ‘us versus them’ narrative.

The Forum hosted a heated debate on the crisis of trust, addressing concerns, such as the rise of nationalism and populism, the changing international order and the risks imposed by trade wars from varying point of views.

“The rules-based world order since World War II is now over and we see the reinforcement and restructuring of the rules around nation-states all over the world,” argued Bannon.

The former Austrian EU Commissioner, now President of Euroamerica Foundation, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, described the loss of jobs, migration and terrorism as the root-causes of the rise of nationalism in Europe.

“While the nation-state is still relevant for social and economic policies, they cannot act alone to address other global challenges,” she underlined. “We have to look at the positive developments in the EU, such as the creation of a Security Union,” added the former EU Commissioner.

Jeremias Kettner, a foreign affairs expert at Kettner Advisory, supported this view by commenting: “We need a multilateral world in order to achieve results in our efforts to combat climate change, for instance. The most pressing topics in the world are too complex to be solved by countries alone”.

“The EU is supporting a rules-based order and not a jungle-based one. We recognise the need for reform at the EU and international level but the international law is the basis for everything. Otherwise, we have struggles and conflicts,” warned Ferrero-Waldner.

Criticising the US foreign policy for Trump administration’s ‘allergy to multilateralism’ and “walking away from agreements and international law”, Siegel emphasised that one could not build trust by ‘ripping up international agreements (i.e. Paris agreement on climate change, nuclear deal with Iran), spending 2 trillion dollars on a new nuclear programme or pardoning war criminals who violated the Geneva Convention.

“There is no real decision-making process in the White House,” he said. “A neo-isolationist President and his unilaterally interventionist national security advisor act by whim. Why would any country, such as North Korea, want to negotiate with them?”

Reacting to a question on the US-China trade war, Ferrero-Waldner said she feared an escalation towards a military conflict and reiterated that the EU supports peaceful solutions through negotiations.

According to Siegel, relations can be normalised by a US-China trade agreement focusing on competition rules and intellectual property rights, if there is political will.

Russian journalist Mikhail Gusman, on the other hand, highlighted the “strategic value” of relations between Russia and China, which go beyond trade relations. Reminding that “many years were required to solve the military conflict between the Soviet Union and China”, he pointed out to the shared border between Moscow and Beijing.

“Our strategic partner Kazakhstan, which also shares a long border with China, understands these considerations,” he added.

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