Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Australia has been on the “speechifying path” recently – I guess that’s what comes with others running the show. He has been in North America and in the granddaddy of foreign policy journals – Foreign Affairs – he has provided an interesting addition to the examination of US-China relations – “Beyond the Pivot: A New Road Map for US-Chinese Relations“. But my suggestion is that rather than a road map his piece is more detour as he describes contemporary global summitry and how summitry today can be used to achieve both progress and stability in this most important of great power relations.
Now I must say I am a fan of Rudd – far more knowledgeable about, and interested in, international relations and international policy than most contemporary leaders. He has written a serious piece on US-China relations. Shining a light on the new leaders and what this new leadership should examine probably would have been enough for me but in addition he has become a strong proponent for advancing the US-China relationship by a regular series of summits between the leaders – Xi Jinping and Barack Obama. While I am never one to ‘pooh pooh’ summit advocacy, I think our former Australian leader has missed the contemporary structure of summitry and the effective means to influence contemporary regional and international stability.
The variety of actors – international organizations, transgovernmental networks, states and select non-state entities – involved in the organization and execution of global politics and policy. Global summitry is concerned with the architecture, the institutions and most critically the political and policy behavior and outcomes in global governance.
This is not your old style summitry. It is not primarily about the “great man” theory of summit leadership – you know key leaders gazing intently across from each other determined to avoid conflict, or advance a new strategic direction – be they Chamberlain and Hitler or Kennedy and Khrushchev or a little closer to Rudd’s theme – Mao and Nixon .
I have pressed the case in this Rising BRICSAM blog and will again in the new ejournal Global Summitry we are about to launch at the Munk School of Global Affairs that to look at these leaders summits alone, referring here particularly to the apex of such summitry today – the informal and now annual G20 Leaders Summit – misses the better part of the structure of international governance. Today a significant structure underpins and motivates summitry. I call this view the ‘Iceberg Theory of Global Governance‘. In the case of the G20 there are: the periodic meetings of the finance and central bank governors; the sherpa meetings – the personal representative of the leaders – where the agendas are put together, the meetings of the Working Groups – and there are more than a few, the meetings and reports from the traditional IFIs including, the IMF, World Bank, others, the transgovernmental regulatory organizations like the FSB, BCBS – you get the picture – a large largely unstructured structured institutional network that feeds the periodic meetings and moves the agenda forward to completion in many circumstances.
I think Rudd is rather too enamored with the old frame of global summitry. Rudd urges that the United States choose the following course:
A third possibility would be to change gears in the relationship altogether by introducing a new framework for cooperation with China that recognizes the reality of the two countries’ strategic competition, defines key areas of shared interests to work and act on, and thereby begins to narrow the yawning trust gap between the two countries. Executed properly, such a strategy would do no harm, run few risks, and deliver real results. … A crucial element of such a policy would have to be the commitment to regular summitry.
As he points out there are many informal initiatives between the two great powers, “[b]ut none of these can have a major impact on the relationship, since in dealing with China, there is no substitute for direct leader-to-leader engagement.” As a consequence Rudd urges:
The United States therefore has a profound interest in engaging Xi personally, with a summit in each capital each year, together with other working group meetings of reasonable duration, held in conjunction with meetings of the G20, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the East Asia Summit.
But the governments also need authoritative point people working on behalf of the national leaders, managing the agenda between summits and handling issues as the need arises. In other words, the United States needs someone to play the role that Henry Kissinger did in the early 1970s, and so does China.
Now Rudd suggests that for an agenda the leaders need to then take one or more issues that are currently bogged down and “work together to bring them to successful conclusions” and he suggets tackling the stalled Doha Round issues, climate-change negotiations, nuclear nonproliferation or specific outstanding items on the G20 agenda. Rudd concludes:
Progress on any of these fronts would demonstrate that with sufficient political will all around, the existing global order can be made to work to everyone’s advantage, including China’s.
Now Rudd doesn’t end there but has suggestions for the regional dimension including obviously the island disputes and a protocol to address incidents at sea; and on the bilateral matters Rudd urges that military-to-military contact be upgraded and the talks should be insulated from the ups and downs of the US-China relationship.
Now there is value in urging bilateral summits. But let’s not turn these current global summit efforts into a G2 – there is much suspicion already around the high table of an implicit bilateral power consortium. An explicit effort of this sort could only undermine collective summitry efforts. So let’s avoid China and the US dealing as a central agenda with the global agenda of the G20 or the EAS Summit. And let’s build this new summit network off of let’s say the bilateral S&ED (Strategic and Economic Dialogue). Here groups tackle bilaterally through a vast network of national officials and ministries the bilateral issues that raise tensions and conflict in US-China relations.
I have heard that President Obama, following the G20 Toronto Summit, complained that he was meeting all the same leaders from one summit to another. I hope his officials pointed out that that was exactly the point. So for both Obama and Xi, the G20 or APEC or EAS remains part of global governance structure that is needed for collective discussions and decision-making – leave the bilateral to the bilaterals.
And as for the military-to-military discussions I suspect it still a vain hope to expect these meetings to be insulated from the competitiveness and rivalry that remains an element of the great power relationship. However, I would think the building of a more structured and regularized network dedicated to the S&ED – its tasking and summit meetings – could in the long run insulate the military discussions from the displays of political displeasure.
There is clearly a case for global summitry for the US-China relationship it is just not the model Rudd suggests.
Image Credit: www.heraldsun.com.au