NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses the assembly during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on May 24, 2022.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses the assembly during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on May 24, 2022. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

World Leaders Tout Self-Reliance Amid Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

“Freedom is more important than free trade,” the NATO leader said at the conference.

European leaders are preaching a measure of self-reliance after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine revealed how the global trade architecture can leave countries reliant on bad actors or unstable regions.

Attendees of the World Economic Forum reckoned with a world that looked drastically different since 2020, the last time the conference was held in person. Sessions focused on a warming climate, the fallout of a global pandemic, and the changing workforce, but many world leaders focused their remarks on how nations must change their behavior because of the conflict in Europe that has raged for nearly 100 days. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that, while he is supportive of global trade and boosting the world’s economy, the war in Ukraine has made clear that “economic relationships with authoritarian regimes can create vulnerabilities.” He cited Europe’s reliance on Russia for energy and natural gas, but said the same lessons can also be applied to China, who develops 5G networks for the European Union. 

“We must recognize that our economic choices have consequences for our security,” Stoltenberg said in a keynote address on Tuesday. “Freedom is more important than free trade. The protection of values is more important than profit.” 

“I think we all have learned a lesson” from the NordStream 2 pipeline, the NATO chief said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country is taking steps to end its reliance on Russian oil and natural gas, with plans to phase out the use of Russian oil by year’s end and eventually abandon Russian gas by importing it from other countries through floating liquid natural gas terminals

“Of course we need to reduce some of our strategic dependencies,” Scholz said at a session on the closing day of the conference. “Our dependence on imports from Russia…falls into this category; that’s why we are putting an end to it.”

Germany is also joining Belgium, the Netherlands. and Denmark to build wind turbines in the North Sea by 2050.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen used her speech at Davos to call for the European Union to “end unhealthy dependencies,” and outlined why quickly moving to clean energy is imperative for both the climate crisis and national security. 

Countries are making these changes now, but the long-term impact on globalization and the European economy remains to be seen.

“All European countries are making irreversible choices related to energy supply. The impact of that takes time, but in the years to come, this is going to have a profound impact,” said Belgian Prime Minister ​​Alexander De Croo.

There was also much debate at the conference about whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the global response to it is launching a Cold War 2.0. 

“This is a new Cold War…and I think it is closer to a hot war than I’d like,” Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, said on a panel on Monday. Still, he pointed out some differences; for example, in the first Cold War, the Iron Curtain divided Europe, but today, Russia’s actions have united Europe. Bremmer also said the new Cold War is between Russia and the United States and allies, rather than being a global conflict. 

Others, however, argued that the threat of a global conflict is with China, not Russia.

“At the end of the day, it’s not the Ukraine issue that will decide the course of the 21st century,” said Kishore Mahbubani, a former diplomat for Singapore and former president of the United Nations Security Council. The real contest in this century will be between the world’s No. 1 power, the United States, and the world’s No. 1 emerging power, China. The big question there is: will this U.S.-China contest become Cold War 2.0?”