Confronting the End of the Transatlantic World Order?
By Will Banyan, Copyright © 16 October 2018
When the Bilderberg Group held its sixth conference, and first ever meeting in Italy back in 1957 in Fiuggi outside of Rome, there were just 45 participants after 18 attendees failed to make it because of “Asian influenza” (Bilderberg Group, Fiuggi Conference, 4-6 October 1957, p.7). Among this modest crowd of illuminated ones who did attend were: Italian mogul Giovanni Agnelli (1921-2003) described by the Financial Times as the “uncrowned king of Italy, and the pre-eminent European statesman-industrialist of the 1970s and 1980s”; a young and ambitious Henry Kissinger, invited to deliver a paper on nuclear weapons and foreign policy that he had been unable to present at the Bilderberg meeting earlier that year in St Simon’s Island in Georgia; the plutocrat David Rockefeller (1915-2017), recently eulogised by the New York Times as “a force in global financial affairs and in his country’s foreign policy” who “wielded vast influence around the world…”; President Eisenhower’s Assistant for Economic Affairs Gabriel Hauge (1914-1981); British Minister Reginald Maulding (1917-1979) and powerful Swedish banker Marcus Wallenberg Jr. (1899-1982) who attended no less than 19 Bilderberg meetings before his death.
The agenda for the Fiuggi conclave comprised just three items:
- Survey of developments since the last Bilderberg Conference.
- Modern weapons and disarmament in relation to Western security.
- The impact of technological progress in armaments on strategy and diplomacy.
- Limitations of armaments and the effect of it on NATO.
- Are existing political and economic mechanisms within the Western community adequate?
True to Bilderberg’s strategic objective of “achieving a better cohesion in international affairs between Western Europe and the United States…” (Bilderberg Conference, May 29th-31st 1954, p.54), the sixth meeting sought to find some transatlantic common ground. The results were mixed. On the issue of Europe’s push towards economic integration, for example, some American participants “welcomed the creation of a European Common Market”, though they cautioned that its success depended on it looking outward rather than inward; a united Europe should not become a “self-centered economic bloc.” Another speaker warned that if American corporations found it hard to compete in the Common Market, there was a “danger” this would inspire “protectionist elements” in the US. European participants, for their part, “were confident that the Common Market would be a step towards greater freedom in world trade as a whole.” That was, after all, “the purpose of the plan…” (Bilderberg Group, Fiuggi Conference, 4-6 October 1957, pp.14-15).
The other note of discord concerned the failure of the Western nations to counter the Communist bloc’s highly centralised strategic planning on the world stage with a comparable level of unity and policy coordination. A number of policy approaches were suggested including using a combination of military and economic pressure to compel the Soviets to adopt a “live-and-let-live” relationship with West (ibid, p.17). Others argued that the West’s “main task” was to “prevent an expansion of Soviet influence beyond its present geographical limits…” The West must be “ready to respond in kind” to Soviet threats and to “carry out any threats” it made as it “could never afford to bluff” (ibid, p.18).
There was also discussion about “consultation inside NATO” with concerns its institutional machinery could be paralysed whenever the interests of its members diverged. To resolve this some participants proposed strengthening NATO by transferring sovereignty of its members “along federal lines.” Not everyone agreed with this proposal, with other participants pointing out that those NATO members who dissented from the majority view were typically subjected to “strong moral pressure” to conform (ibid, p.19).
The meeting even had some minor professional drama with Kissinger confronting an antagonist, Paul Nitze, about his scathing review of Kissinger’s new book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (Walter Isaacson, Kissinger: A Biography, pp.89-90).
Even with a desultory four paragraph official press release, media coverage of the secret conclave was slight. The Times (Oct. 7, 1957), for example, issued a tiny one paragraph report noting that the “so-called Bilderberg group” had met at spa at Fiuggi “about 60 miles from Rome.” The participants were “businessmen, financiers and economists, as well as Government officials”, but because they “met as private persons”, “no official agreements or decisions were discussed.” And that was that.
The Italian Job
Bilderberg’s most recent excursion to Italy, it’s fifth to date, was held under quite different circumstances to the 1957 meeting. The location for the 66th Bilderberg meeting, held over 7 to 10 June, 2018, was the NH Torino Lingotto Congress hotel in Turin. Compared to the small crowd that had gathered at the spa at Fiuggi, the luxurious Hotel Lingotto in Turin had to accommodate some 131 confirmed attendees. This current crop of the illuminated included: John Elkann, grandson of Giovanni Agnelli, Chairman respectively of Fiat Chrysler, the Agnelli family holding company Exor, and the Giovanni Agnelli Foundation, board member of the Economist Group, and a member of the Bilderberg Steering Committee; a 95-year old now former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; Alex Karp, billionaire CEO of Palantir Technologies; Thomas Enders, CEO of Airbus and member of the German Industry Association; and Swedish banker Marcus Wallenberg, Chairman of Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB and of SAAB, and grandson of Marcus Wallenberg Jr.
This year’s gathering was also notable for the abundance of national government leaders who participated, including: the Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabic; the Prime Minister of Belgium, Charles Michel; the Prime Minister of Estonia, Jüri Ratas; the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Marke Rutte; Switzerland’s Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann; Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría; and Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek. They were joined by five national ministers:
- Jean-Michel Blanquer, France’s Minister of National Education, Youth and Community Life;
- François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s Minister of International Trade;
- Paschal Donohoe, Ireland’s Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform;
- Sigrid Kaag, the Netherlands’ Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation; and
- Ursula von der Leyen, the German Federal Minster of Defence attending her third Bilderberg meeting (she previously attended in 2015 and 2016).
There were also politicians from Britain, Greece, Austria, and Finland; plus Cathy Berx the Governor of the Province of Antwerp in Belgium, and from the US, John Hinkenlooper, Governor of Colorado and (confirmed) Democrat presidential aspirant.
And in a major coup, for the first time the Vatican had a representative at Bilderberg: Cardinal H.E. Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State. Cardinal Parolin’s participation, not surprisingly, caused some controversy. European MP Mario Borghezio, from Italy’s Northern League Party, indulged in some sinister speculation the Cardinal had been invited because he had some lessons to impart from his work on a recent Sino-Vatican agreement. Daniel McAdams, executive director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity told Lifesite News (Jun. 06, 2018) of his hope that Cardinal Parolin “would deliver an uncompromising defense of the Catholic position on matters such as life and the principles of subsidiarity, we should be pleased that he ‘flew the flag’ in otherwise hostile territory…” Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith in Britain’s Catholic Herald (Jun. 08, 2018) likewise expected that Cardinal Parolin would be “putting the case for the sanctity of life in the Bilderberg Group”, but otherwise discounted speculation the Turin meeting might aid his papal ambitions:
His participation in the Bilderberg meeting will certainly raise the cardinal’s profile internationally, but none of the people taking part will have a vote in the next papal election
Also attending this year’s meeting were representatives from international governmental bodies: Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO; Eamonn Brennan, Director General of Eurocontrol (responsible for air safety in Europe); and Günther H Oettinger, Commissioner for Budget & Human Resources at the European Commission. Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO was also included among these “International” participants, but the press release (Figure 1) on the official NATO website told a different story about the purpose of his impending trip to Italy.
Although some observers were convinced they had spotted Stoltenberg having an in-depth conversation during Bilderberg drinks with Goldman Sachs Chairman José M. Durão Barroso and the Estonian Prime Minister, a follow-up NATO press release seemed to suggest that Stoltenberg never made it to Turin. That instead he had “started” his visit to Italy, on the last day of the Bilderberg conference, having a meeting with Italy’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Enzo Moavero Milanesi (Figure 2). There is no mention of Bilderberg on the NATO website; but such omissions of Bilderberg participation from the public schedules of such notables is not without precedent.
Mingling with this esteemed crowd were two officials from the Trump Administration: James Baker, Director of the Office of Net Assessment from the US Department of Defense; and Matthew Turpin, Director of China from the staff of National Security Council. Former Deputy National Security Adviser Nadia Schadlow (also a 2017 participant) was on the list, but given that invitations went out at least six months before the meeting, she had obviously been invited before her resignation in April (precipitated by the appointment of John Bolton as her new boss). No doubt other Trump Administration officials were invited, but it seems unlikely they would have been available with Bilderberg clashing with the Group of Seven meeting and preparations for the Trump-Kim Jong Un summit in Singapore.
This legion of the damned were joined by former politicians turned lobbyists and consultants, former and serving officials, media moguls, tech billionaires, various corporate CEOs, financiers, bankers, academics, newspaper editors and even a few journalists. The latter group are of course the most controversial participants in the view of Bilderberg’s critics. The Guardian’s Skelton, for example, lamented that despite all the journalists, editors and media barons inside the meeting “we will learn little of what is said in Turin.”
Yet there was still plenty of media coverage of the event; considerably more than was the case in 1957. Many of the Italian newspapers – such as: il Giornale (The Journal); Blitz Quotidiano (Daily Blitz); Leggo (I Read); Torino Oggi (Turin Today); and CMI News – reported on Bilderberg. The Corriere Torino (Turin Courier) even had an (albeit less than informative) interview with Bilderberg Chairman, Henri de Castries. There were also numerous reports in the French, German, Serbian, Turkish, Estonian, and Russia media.
Coverage in the North American mainstream media, in contrast, was just short of non-existent. In the United States the Turin meeting was briefly mentioned by the Washington Times, the Business Insider, and CNBC. While in Canada, the National Post (Jun. 6, 2018) brazenly lampooned the event, claiming that the “best and most common theory” about Bilderberg was that it is “cover for a congress of the Lizard People, a reptile-human super race holding the balance of power in our world.” (Thanks again David Icke!)
A host of British newspapers –The Express, Daily Mail, The Daily Star, The Sun, The Telegraph and The Independent – all reported on the fact the meeting was taking place and speculated on its purpose. Charlie Skelton, one of a few British journalists in Turin, produced five highly critical articles: two in the Guardian, and then additional pieces in Newsweek, Spiked and for Transparency International UK. The Sunday Times (Jun. 10, 2018) wrote mockingly about this “devilishly elusive event”, reasoning that “[s]ince they are so good at keeping secrets, the worlds of politics, business, media and academia must be in excellent hands.” Among those outlets keeping Bilderberg’s secrets was The Evening Standard, which despite having reported on previous Bilderberg meetings, neglected to cover this one. By coincidence Evening Standard editor, former Conservative MP and former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, and frequent Bilderberg participant; was at Turin.
Arguably the only stand out piece of media reporting was the Daily Mail’s attempt to go undercover at Bilderberg (Figure 3).The Daily Mail’s “investigations reporter” Sian Boyle masqueraded as a hotel waitress at the NH Lingotto. For all her efforts, however, Boyle discovered little of note. Despite serving drinks to former European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, giving directions to former CIA Director David Petraeus and Demis Hassabis from Google’s DeepMind project, and providing room service to some delegates, Boyle was excluded from the main conference room. She did take pictures of the evaluation forms for each of the presentations, but as Boyle conceded at the end of her piece, she failed to discover what was actually said:
For three days I’ve stood on the periphery watching, listening. But ultimately the world’s most secretive meeting remains elusive; a distant babble of voices a few metres away from me along a corridor in a closed room. Near, but infuriatingly just too far away to discern.
So for another year Bilderberg has retained its mystique; its impenetrable secrecy; its elitism. And we mere mortals, unseen and unremarked, are none the wiser.
‘Ready for Use’
As is the custom, each Bilderberg meeting generates much speculation about what it actually all means. The Turin gathering was no exception attracting the usual smattering of expert analysis trying to divine Bilderberg’s true purpose. “The Bilderberg conference is the Super Bowl of corporate lobbying”, argued Charlie Skelton, noting that only at Bilderberg do “billionaire owners of colossal conglomerates get to mingle with ministers in glorious privacy.” According to German historian Thomas Gijswijt, Bilderberg “is not a secret world government, no decisions are made.” But there were, he added “important and interesting conversations that have indirect influence because [Bilderberg] influences international, transatlantic opinion formation” (Radio Bayern2, Jun. 07, 2018). Daniele Scalea, an analyst at the Machiavelli Center for Political and Strategic Studies, interviewed by Sputnik News (Jun. 09, 2018) also dismissed the idea Bilderberg was a “global ‘shadow government’”, but still cited Bilderberg as the “perfect example of a transnational and cosmopolitan elite, which has dictated its rules to politicians and media over the course of many years.”
A review of Bilderberg’s purpose, as told in its official statements and documents, though, reinforces the fact that despite the obvious networking and lobbying opportunities, the meeting itself is the main game and that Bilderberg is essentially a shaping and influencing operation. The main purpose of the meetings is to promote, discuss and ultimately, disseminate into the policy-making sphere new ideas through people who are either believed or known to be key influencers in their respective countries. This influencing objective is partly alluded to in Bilderberg’s public explanations of its activities. For example, Bilderberg’s spokesperson told Italian newspaper Leggo (Jun. 07, 2018) that:
The Bilderberg is responsible for gaining knowledge, promoting understanding and facilitating the exchange of views on the main problems afflicting the world. An open discussion on issues of mutual interest, a forum for informal discussions and ready for use. [Il Bilderberg si occupa di acquisire conoscenze, promuovere la comprensione e facilitare lo scambio di opinioni sui problemi principali che affliggono il mondo. Una discussione aperta su questioni di reciproco interesse, un forum per discussioni informali e pronte per l’uso.]
The insights gained at each meeting are “ready for use”, or as the official press release (Figure 4) puts it, participants are “free to use the information received” and are able to “take time to listen, reflect and gather insights.”
In these public formulations the objective seems benign, even boring. In the more explicit language of Bilderberg’s internal documentation and less discrete observations of some of its participants, the goal is more obvious: participants are encouraged to use their influence to inject the ideas discussed at the meeting into the policy-making sphere in their respective countries. The introduction to the official report of the Fiuggi meeting (Figure 5), for example, expected participants to be, as a consequence of the meeting, “better equipped to use their influence” in the service of improved trans-Atlantic relations.
A similar formulation was used in the 2016 annual financial report of the UK-based charity, “The Bilderberg Association”, when it sought to justify its efforts to ensure that “UK decision-makers and opinion-formers are not excluded from benefitting from, and contributing to the valuable exchanges which take place at annual conferences.” Notably the first of these public benefits (Figure 6) drew a direct link between Bilderberg participation and “subsequent national debate and decision taking.”
This was regarded as self-evident by a number of high-profile Bilderbergers. The late David Rockefeller, for example, in his Memoirs (2002) casually acknowledged that Bilderberg participants were “free to report on what they have heard to those who do wield official power in their respective countries…” (p.412). Former NATO Secretary General and Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs Willy Claes told Belgian radio in 2010 that Bilderberg participants were expected to “consider using the [Bilderberg] report in setting policies in their own environments…”
First-time and returning Bilderberg participants are therefore selected according to their ability to be influencers, while the speakers or panellists are chosen if the Steering Committee believes they have something profound to say that affects the trans-Atlantic agenda. Bilderberg is “very scrupulous [in its] selection of participants”, Bilderberg Chairman Henri de Castries told Les Echos (Jun. 06, 2018), they must be “people who have a thought.” “We better have something to say and speak excellent English, otherwise we are no longer invited” one anonymous participant confirmed to Les Echos.
Bilderberg in the “Post-Truth” Era
The 2018 Bilderberg Meeting concluded with the usual rush to the airport by many of the conference’s illustrious participants with the alternative media in hot pursuit. When it came to the outcome of the meeting there was, as Bilderberg Chairman de Castries had earlier told the Corriere Torino no need to report as there was “Nothing to communicate.” A response that infuriated Charlie Skelton, who claimed that Bilderberg
…has been instrumental in the creation of the EU and remains an important forum for the development and shaping of transatlantic economic and security policy. It’s not enough to say ‘nothing to see’. And anyway, we’ll be the judge of that (Spiked, Jun. 19, 2018)
The Bilderberg 2018 meeting in the beautiful city of Turin was a great success thanks to pleasant debates and a highly professional and warm hospitality that left a lasting impression on the participants. We wish to thank all the people and authorities who have made this experience possible. We are returning to our homes as ambassadors for the magnificent Piedmont territory and this wonderful country.
Very few participants had anything to say about their Bilderberg experience. One of the few exceptions was Governor Hickenlooper who told Colorado Public Radio (Jul. 19, 2018) that he was “surprised” to have been invited, given the calibre of the other people there:
These are the smartest people in Europe, and the smartest people [in the] United States talking about the economy, nationalism, they’re talking about trade.
Exactly what these “smartest people” said about these topics, Hickenlooper did not detail. As with previous such conferences, however, it is possible to reconstruct a sense of what transpired from an analysis of the participant list and agenda (Figure 7) as well as the writings of some of the first-time participants:
- Populism in Europe – In his keynote address before the Club of Three in February 2017, Bilderberg Chairman de Castries had noted that in the larger European states “populist and nationalistic” movements were attracting between 30 and 50 per cent of the vote. Pursuing this theme at Turin would be a natural fit for polling expert and first-time Bilderberg participant Renate Köcher, Managing Director of the Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research, a German opinion and market research institute recently described by De Zeit as “one of the most influential institutions” in Germany. Köcher’s polling work had tracked the popularity of Germany’s right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Offering a solution to the populist malaise was second-time Bilderberg participant (she last attended in 2010) Dambisa Moyo, an economist, author, and Barclays director. In her latest book Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy is Failing to Deliver Growth – and How to Fix It (2018) Moyo had made the controversial argument that “weighted voting”, where the educated had more votes than the uneducated, was the solution to voters making “poor electoral choices.” Another likely panellist is London School of Economics professor and frequent Bilderberg attendee Anne Applebaum who, citing Greece’s experience of populist government, has argued that “the only cure for populist rhetoric is the bitter, personal experience of its failure…” Although she had greeted Italy’s recent turn towards populism with the pessimistic prediction that the “elitist” status quo is unlikely to be restored as disgruntled voters will continue vote for “irresponsibility and irrationality.”
- The inequality challenge – It seems reasonable to assume that Cardinal Parolin spoke on this issue. An unidentified Vatican official told the National Catholic Register ( 15, 2018) that Parolin had attended the Turin meeting for a “short time — about an hour and three quarters”, but he had given a speech on the “social doctrine of the Church” followed by a question and answer session. This had been “very well received.” Ahead of the Bilderberg conference, Parolin had already articulated the Vatican’s view that the “fight against poverty” would require action against “unfair economic systems and uncontrolled financial institutions.” Other panellists would have included first-time Bilderberg participants Professor Ngaire Woods, Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government and Professor of Global Economic Governance at Oxford and Mariana Mazzucato, Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value, from the University College London. According to Woods, inequality is “very dangerous”; in 2016 she had told the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship that “If people can’t aspire to succeed within the system, they will aspire … outside the system, in ways that break the system.” Woods had advocated for “more active and effective government…to boost growth and expand opportunity.” Mazzucato has adopted a similar view; in her recent book The Value of Everything (2018), she has called companies that accept public investment to innovate, but then seek to avoid taxes “wealth extractors” rather than wealth creators. To fix this problem and ensure wealth is better distributed, Mazzucato has proposed increasing public spending “from 50 to 100 per cent” of GDP and increased taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
- The future of work – It seems obvious that main speaker for this agenda item was Benjamin Pring, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work and co-author of What To Do When Machines Do Everything (2017). Pring, who posted a cryptic tweet about his visit to Turin (Figure 8), has argued that automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will not lead to mass unemployment. On the contrary Pring contends that if the new technologies are utilized to do the boring “rote stuff” that “frees us up to do more interesting work…” “The jobs likely to survive and be essential in the future”, Pring argued in The Australian (a month after Turin), “will be the creative, highly emotionally intelligent and more profound roles involving critical thinking — all functions of which AI is not yet capable.”
- Artificial intelligence: political and security implications – The progress of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a growing topic of concern for the Bilderbergers. Cyber security and technological innovation were addressed at the 2016 meeting, and AI was on the agenda at the 2015 meeting. Writing in The Atlantic at the time of Turin meeting Henry Kissinger hinted that it was at the 2015 Bilderberg meeting[*] that a speaker, most certainly Google DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis, revealed the development of a computer program had trained itself to “master Go which is more complex than chess.”[†] The emergence of “self-learning machines” clearly alarmed Kissinger, prompting him to seek out and organize some “Informal dialogues” on the topic with relevant experts. There was no “guiding philosophy” to manage the impacts of AI on “human cognition” and society in general, Kissinger argued. The US needed a “presidential commission of eminent thinkers to help develop a national vision” to respond to this challenge. Kissinger’s concerns, though, would have competed with the more practical prognostications of other first-time contributors: John H. Baker III Director of the US Department of Defense’ Office of Net Assessments; Professor Michael Horowitz from the University of Pennsylvania; Jared Cohen, founder and CEO of Jigsaw (a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc) an adjunct fellow at Council on Foreign Relations, a Rhodes Scholar and former State Department official (Figure 9); and Tim Hwang, formerly of Google, currently Director of the Harvard-MIT Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative. Baker’s organization is charged with “identifying emerging or future threats and opportunities for the United States” and then assessing the implications for the US military, could have spoken about military applications of AI. While Horowitz came to Bilderberg having published a lengthy article in the Texas National Security Review on AI and national security, warning that China and other nations were investing heavily in AI to challenge US military superiority. Taking a positive view of AI revolution is Cohen’s Jigsaw which aims to “tackle some of the toughest global security challenges facing the world today” through the “lens of technology.” Hwang heads the mostly privately-funded Initiative, the primary aim of which is to “ensure that technologies of automation and machine learning are researched, developed, and deployed in a way which vindicate social values of fairness, human autonomy, and justice.”
- The US before midterms – Among the likely panellists for this topic would have been first-time participant Charles Cook, founder of the Washington DC-based Cook Political Report, (the Cook Political Report’s Editor, Amy Walter, had attended last year’s meeting), an online newsletter that specializes in political campaign analysis. In the lead-up to Bilderberg, Cook had already presented a range of analysis pointing to a strong Democrat showing for the mid-terms, the political impact of demographic shifts in the US, and the existence of a “large segment” of American voters who “feel alienated from the media and have, as a result, tuned out… What this means for elections in 2018 and 2020 is anyone’s guess.”
- Whither free trade? – At the time a contentious and highly relevant topic given Trump’s repeated trade war threats, the stalled NAFTA negotiations, and decision to impose tariffs against most of America’s trading partners. Among those likely to have been on that panel were: François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s ambitious (“I have a career plan, and I always aim for the top”, he told a Quebec publication in 2007) Minister of International Trade, public advocate of a “liberal trade regime”, the World Trade Organization, “modernizing NAFTA”, and opponent of Trump’s “unacceptable and unwarranted” tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminium; Sigrid Kaag, the Netherlands’ Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, who in May argued that the EU should have an “unlimited exemption” from Trump’s steel and aluminium tariffs; and Lawrence Summers, Secretary of Treasury under Bill Clinton and Head of the National Economic Council under Obama, now at Harvard, who had attacked Trump’s aggressive trade policy as “unstrategic and ineffective.”
- US world leadership – Clearly an important topic with numerous potential panellists, including first-time US participants: Walter Russell Mead a Distinguished Fellow at the Hudson Institute and a Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities at Bard College; James Fallows a national correspondent for The Atlantic; Matthew Turpin, the Director of China in Trump’s National Security Council staff; and from Europe Lucio Caracciolo, Director, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Limes: The Italian Review of Geopolitics and Head of Geopolitics at international advisory firm Macrogeo. Other likely panellists and contributors would have included Henry Kissinger, Nadia Schadlow, the various European prime ministers and ministers, and Professor Niall Ferguson, a Hoover Institution Senior Fellow and long-time Establishment hack. Not surprisingly there are signs that a robust debate ensued. On the second day of the conference, for example, Anne Applebaum tweeted (Figure 10) about an article in the New Yorker on the growing transatlantic rift as the Trump Administration pursued its “America First” foreign policy.
Then on the last day of the meeting, without directly mentioning he had been at Bilderberg, James Fallows tweeted (Figure 11) on the “deeper and more genuine outrage” of the Europeans in response to Trump’s push for tariffs, his performance at the G7 meeting and his courting of Russia and North Korea “while stiffing historical allies.”
Other participants, would have defended Trump’s approach. The opportunistic and deliberately contrarian Niall Ferguson, for example, made his position clear in a piece published in the Sunday Times (Jun. 10, 2018) on the last day of the Turin gathering (Figure 12). Ferguson had lamented that “many smart people persist in underestimating Trump…” On the contrary, he argued that Trump’s “intuitive, instinctive, impulsive way of operating” was “probably the last opportunity America has to stop or at least slow China’s ascendancy.” We can also assume Schadlow was in that camp. Just a few months after Turin, she had defended Trump’s transactional approach to NATO, arguing that “US partners must share the burdens and responsibilities of ensuring our societies remain free and open” (New York Post, Sep. 15, 2018).
- Russia – According to eccentric self-styled German academic Hermann Ploppa the actual subject of this session was the “planned war against Russia” (Sputnik, Jun. 07, 2018). In his comments to the media, however, Estonia’s Prime Minister Jüri Ratas suggested something more benign, revealing that his “favorite” session had been the “debate on Russia’s growing global role” [“debatiks oli arutelu Venemaa hetke rolli üle maailmakaardil”] (Postimees, Jun. 10, 2018). There were numerous potential speakers on this topic including: Stephen Kotkin, Professor in History and International Affairs at Princeton, the author of two celebrated biographical volumes about Stalin and a proponent of the view that Russia is in decline; and Giampiero Massolo, a former Italian diplomat, current Chairman of shipbuilding corporation Fincantieri, and President of the Institute for International Political Studies; who has argued that Russia is “no longer a credible enemy” and has endorsed a “new deal” between the US, the EU and Russia.
- Quantum computing – That this seemingly arcane subject was on the agenda at Bilderberg reflects not only a perceived need to understand the implications of quantum computing, but also the growing influence of the so-called “tech oligarchs” in Bilderberg’s leadership. The Steering Committee, for example, includes: Alex Karp, CEO of Palantir Technologies; Eric Schmidt former CEO and now a “technical advisor” of Alphabet Inc; and Peter Thiel of President of Thiel Capital and Chairman of Palantir. So it was perhaps no coincidence that this meeting included two first-time participants with quantum computing expertise who were closely linked to Steering Committee members: Professor Dana Kragic from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology who has recently been appointed to lead the research into “deep learning and machine learning” at the Sweden-based Wallenberg Center for Quantum Computing funded by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, which includes on its board long-time Bildeberg Steering Committee member and Swedish banker Marcus Wallenberg; and Hartmut Neven , the Engineering Director at Google and founder and manager of the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, and Google is now part of the “collection of companies” that make up Alphabet Inc, recently headed by Steering Committee member Schmidt.
- Saudi Arabia and Iran – Another contentious topic, particularly in the wake of Trump’s decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, and Saudi Arabia’s more aggressive role in the countering what it considers to be Iran’s hegemonic aspirations. Drawing a direct line from Richard Perle’s impassioned argument for the invasion of Iraq at the 2002 Bilderberg meeting in Chantilly through to Secretary of State Colin Powell’s infamous UN Security Council speech, Wall of Controversy blogger James Boswell expressed his fear that if the Turin meeting followed this precedent “we could soon be at war with Iran.” Boswell, though, misreads the Iraq debate at Chantilly, which descended into acrimony as many Europeans expressed their misgivings or opposition to the invasion. Likewise at Turin, with most of Europe still supporting the nuclear deal, it is hard to imagine there was any unanimity about confronting Iran. It was perhaps no coincidence among the participants at Turin (for his third Bilderberg outing) was Karim Sadjadpour, a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace where he “focuses on Iran and U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East.” Sadjapour, although a persistent critic of the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses and military support for Syria, came to Bilderberg having previously taken issue with the Trump Administration’s “reckless execution” of a strategy aimed at bringing about an “Iranian capitulation or political implosion.” Trump’s action had succeeded only in diverting attention “away from Iran’s internal repression and regional ambitions, to focus on America as the dangerous and untrustworthy superpower.” It seems more likely that Sadjapour’s gentler, longer-term approach towards regime change in Iran would have found an appreciative audience.
- The “post-truth” world – A contentious topic that aroused much bemused commentary from Bilderberg critics. Yet in this case we know that one of the speakers on this topic was Professor Rebecca Goldstein from New York University.[‡] Writing in the Wall Street Journal ( 18, 2018) ahead of Bilderberg, Goldstein had argued: “To dub ours the era of ‘post-truth’ is not to praise it…” She later added that “our readiness today to proudly defy evidence is very troubling. It undermines our commitment to the truth—and our capacity to reach any sort of middle ground or consensus.” Goldstein had also announced her forthcoming Bilderberg presentation on Twitter:
The other panellist is most likely to have been Philosophy Professor Onora O’Neill from the University of Cambridge. Unlike Goldstein, however, O’Neill disputes that the public has lost trust in experts; instead a “culture of suspicion” has emerged where people are “suspicious rather than trusting.” It was getting harder to trust, O’Neill told the Irish Times last year, not because of a “post-truth society” but because “it’s extremely hard to distinguish between genuine and fraudulent claims.” O’Neill, in an interview just before the Turin meeting, had warned that democracy was threatened by the “misuse of the public channels of communication” to spread falsehoods. “Perhaps”, she had suggested, “we will be pushed to do what the Chinese have done and use censorship.”
- Current events/‘Where are we?’ – “Current events” covers all manner of issues including the advances in medical technology most likely delivered by Canan Dagdeviren from MIT’s Media Lab on her medical innovation, “conformal decoders” or to be precise: implants and other “flexible” medical devices; and Elena Cattaneo, Director of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology at the University of Milan. Also present, presumably to speak about recent political developments in Turkey were: Behlül Özkan, an Associate Professor of International Relations at Marmara University, who has written extensively on this topic; and Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek.
‘A very, very grave period for the world’
Compared to the first time Bilderberg held a meeting in Italy 61 years ago, the story of world affairs told by the Bilderberg agenda at Turin is very grim. According to Bilderberg’s narrative, under Trump’s leadership, the US now seems on the verge of abandoning its critical role as the leader of the “international order”[§], straining relations with its European partners; while China and Russia look for opportunities to assert their own global power. Political alignments are changing in the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf States forge a sub rosa alliance with Israel against Iran. European integration is also under threat from a surge in populism, much of it a reaction to elite indifference to the economic pain of austerity and the cultural disruptions caused by mass migration. Finally emerging technologies, particularly in AI, seem destined to cause, not only mass unemployment, but a wide range of unparalleled political and strategic impacts. As Henry Kissinger told the Financial Times just over a month after Bilderberg: “I think we are in a very, very grave period for the world.”
In short, it seems the so-called “Liberal World Order”[**] that Bilderberg has sought based on European integration, US global leadership, and globalization, is now under threat from multiple scourges. Not surprisingly a number of Bilderberg critics have declared the secret conclave with its vision of a unified global polity to be in terminal decline: Bilderberg has “lost access to power and more importantly to money” (Daniel Estulin); and it “may be too late to save their globalist agenda” (Alex Newman); in fact, claims Alistair Crooke at the Strategic Culture Foundation, “The beginning of the end of the Bilderberg/Soros vision is in sight.” Such sentiments are not without merit, but it would be premature to call the end to Bilderberg based on this after all Bilderberg came about to overcome transatlantic differences and to forge a consensus.
That the Turin meeting even took place actually confirms that Bilderberg remains an important annual forum for the transatlantic power-elite. Indeed the participants at this year’s meeting shows that both elite support for the “globalist” agenda persists, and power and money remain within Bilderberg’s reach. Bilderberg’s agenda also shows its determination to be ahead of the curve, to focus the attention of elites on their mutual problems instead of ignoring them. The institutions of the “Liberal World Order”, though battered, remain intact, and proponents of multilateralism still retain power in many quarters. Further battles are likely, but Bilderberg has not been bested yet…
[†] Google did not publicly announce this feat until January 2016. Prior to this Google’s DeepMind project had been lambasted as “frustratingly silent”, but in a November 2015 interview with the Royal Society of London, Hassabis had hinted at a “big surprise” in regard to AI and Go. It seems that participants at the 2015 Bilderberg meeting were among the first to be apprised of this development.
[‡] This appears to be an error in the participant list as Professor Goldstein no longer appears as a member of the faculty at New York University and is instead listed a Visiting Professor of Philosophy and Literature at the New College of the Humanities in London.
[§] In the handwritten letter he left to Trump, outgoing President Obama offered a number of profound reflections on being President, including that “American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It’s up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend” (CNN, Sep. 5, 2017).
[**] According to the Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, this “liberal world order” was an “international system that was liberal in the sense that it was to be based on the rule of law and respect for countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.” This system was to be “applied to the entire planet”, though participation was “open to all and voluntary”. In addition: “Institutions were built to promote peace (the United Nations), economic development (the World Bank) and trade and investment (the International Monetary Fund and what years later became the World Trade Organization)” (Project Syndicate, Mar. 21, 2018).