As global executives and policymakers arrived in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, the portents seem to be good. The global economy continues to chug along, propelled by growth in emerging markets. The Europeans appear to have averted a break up of the euro and regained a measure of market confidence. There are even signs that sanity may be returning to the U.S. political system following this week’s decision by Republican leaders not to threaten a showdown over the debt ceiling.

If things are looking up, though, someone forgot to tell the Davos attendees. The global movers and shakers streamed into the Alpine resort in an uncertain and apprehensive mood. It was not quite like the dark days of 2009, when Davos played host as bankers and finance officials sought to stitch the global financial system back together, but it was no glad confident morning either.

A lack of global leadership lies at the heart of much of the nervousness. The Forum’s Global Agenda Council set the tone Tuesday by issuing a report warning of a growing list of threats, including worsening relations between China and Japan, the continued implosion of Syria and its destabilizing effect on the wider Middle East, and the risk of rising nationalism among Europeans weary of austerity. Council chairman Ian Bremmer, the president of the political consultancy Eurasia Group, who has coined the term G-0 to describe the apparent breakdown of global coordination, said an “eroding legitimacy of elites” is making the world a riskier place.

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