My good colleague, Stewart Patrick at the Council of Foreign Relations, left us a “must-watch list” of global summits for 2015 before he disappeared for Christmas and the New Year. Prepared for the slightly pretentious Council of Councils, Stewart nevertheless left us a sensible “go-to” list. This list for 2015 is valuable if only to suggest the range of global governance meetings in what most commentators have described as a growing sense of disorder in contemporary global order.
Without question South Africa remains a vibrant, complicated and seemingly a growing troubled land. My colleagues from the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) one of the premiere think tanks in South Africa and the University of Pretoria, particularly the Department of Political Science there brought together some of their South African colleagues with experts from a number of countries for a conference (December 4th-5th) titled “Alliances Beyond BRICS: South Africa’s Role in Global Economic Governance”. Hats off to both Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, President of SAIIA and Maxi Schoeman Head of Political Science at the University of Pretoria and all their colleagues for a job well done.
A few surprises are worth mentioning – and then there were a lot of non-surprises. On the not a surprise side. Well start with headlines from most of the international press. Early headlines focused on the cool reception delivered to President Putin by various Western leaders and then the early exit of Russia’s President. Putin left before the collective lunch and before the release of the communique following the lunch. All-in-all reasonable political theatre but little to do with the G20 agenda.
After serious progress at APEC among the leaders, what can we expect from this weekend’s G20 leaders meeting in Brisbane. The continuing knock on the G20 as a “talkfest” continues. Chris Giles of the FT, no fan of the G20, declaring:
It leaves the G20 as something of a forum for grandstanding, bilateral meetings over geopolitics and impotence on world economic affairs.
There are repeated warning from media and other experts that the G20 has somehow reached a watershed. Ben Doherty at the Guardian has declared: “This week’s Brisbane meeting of the Group of 20 will be a crucial test: can it be a genuine agent for change, or just another tired horse on the merry-go-round of international confabs?”
The headline says it all. Just a quick look at the New York Times: “As Xi and Obama Stress Common Ground Stubborn Differences Persist“. Or an earlier headline from the same paper: “U.S. and China Agree to Cut Tariffs, but Vie for Trade Blocs“.
Let’s be clear, however. It’s been a good couple of days for global summitry. As Dan Drezner headlined in his Washington Post blog post this morning: “Best APEC Summit Ever“. As Dan suggested:
This year’s APEC summit that just wrapped up in Beijing is therefore highly unusual… because stuff got done. Seriously, a LOT of stuff got done.
It is energizing when strong diplomatic effort, results in a step away from confrontation and conflict. And so it seems to be with China and Japan over the confrontation between the two with respect to the islets in the East China Sea – known either as the Senkakus or the Diaoyu depending which side of the East China Sea you happen to be on.
So we are about to enter high season in the global summitry calendar. First up will be the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation scheduled for Yanqi Lake just outside Beijing proper on November 11 and 12, 2014. This is in turn followed by the ASEAN Summit (technically not a global summit) where the day following is the global summit meeting called the East Asia Summit (EAS). This Leaders Summit includes 18 Asia-Pacific leaders now that Russia and the United States have been added as of 2011. The meeting this year will take place in Naypyidaw the capital city of Myanmar. And with a final burst of energy Leaders will meet for the G20 Leaders Summit on November 14-15th in Brisbane this year. It is a tight schedule designed to allow leaders to attend all three and then to return to their home countries.
As Stewart Patrick reflected today at the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) on President Obama’s forthcoming remarks to the UN General Assembly, the President will be called upon to: “… convince both foreign and domestic audiences that the world is not spinning out of control and that the United States is determined to keep it that way. At home and abroad, pessimism about the state of the world runs high.” And then Patrick confirmed the bleak view that has come to dominate the analysis of global affairs:
Syria is collapsing, Iraq is fragmenting, and Libya is disintegrating. Authoritarian leaders are tightening their grips from Cairo to Moscow, while Palestinians and Israelis murder each other. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is running rampant over the debris.
Now Patrick is not with these remarks, by any sense out of the main stream, in his downbeat description of the course of global politics.
Well it certainly has not been ‘the best of times’ – particularly not if you’ve been reading the international pundits. And indeed there is a lot of tension, strife and conflict in the international system whether in the Middle East, or in Eastern Europe or in Asia in the South China and East China Seas. No matter where you look it seems you can find these nasty conflicts.
For liberal internationalists, this is a bitter pill to swallow—or even to accept. “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext,” Secretary of State John Kerry fulminated on CBS’s Face the Nation back in March. Ah, but you do, if you happen to have a mindset more in keeping with Otto von Bismarck than Woodrow Wilson (to say nothing of Barack Obama).
This is how my good colleague, Stewart Patrick, expressed his outrage – or at least his distaste – the other day at the admittedly aggressive and deceitful behavior by everyone’s favorite bad guy right now – Vladimir Putin. As Patrick describes Russia’s actions in his recent blog post “Russia Assaults Ukraine—and the Liberal World Order”: