Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How did it happen?

So just how did the most significant shift in international relations between states since the end of the Cold War actually occur? In my opinion, it is a perfect storm of four combined elements that helped the G20 Foreign Ministers Group to see the light of day.

First, the massive economic earthquake of 2008 shook every nation of the world, and it reminded nations’ leaders that states today were no longer fortresses, they were instead extremely interdependent villages which needed to build on each others’ strengths if they were to survive, and indeed, thrive. The G20 leaders’ summit came to the fore and helped in stopping the global economic onslaught. While the financial damage was severe, the world had not plunged in utter darkness, and while fundamental differences between powerful states linger still with regards to economics and political systems, the need for greater cooperation between powerful countries is now on every state’s mind, and in everyone’s interest.

Second, the new American foreign policy conducted by US President Barack and State Secretary Hillary Clinton aimed at re-establishing the United States of America’s post-Iraq reputation, through the use of what Clinton called “smart power”, which meant a penchant for multilateralism in America’s international relations. One of the main targets of this “reset” was Russia, which was engaged in a diplomatic barking war with the Bush administration over the European ballistic missile defense project. With Russia being a keystone in the neighbourhood of rogue states like Iran and North Korea, the Obama administration opted to build new bridges between West and East, to tackle paranoid and dangerous nations.

Third, the rise of Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa, Mexico (BRICSAM) and Turkey as economic powerhouses meant that these countries would become surprisingly influential in global diplomacy. One of the most explicit examples of this was the involvement of Brazil and Turkey in the Iranian nuclear crisis Spring 2010. These two countries attempted to establish a nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran, catching the Americans off guard. The deal did not pan out, and it lead to Brazil and Turkey breaking the consensus that had been building over a new round of sanctions at the United Nations Security Council. What was dismissed as a small tremor in the heart of South America and Asia Minor was in fact the very first chapter of a shift of political epicentres. The next tremor was the very calling of a G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting by Mexico. The Mexican proposal did not trigger public opposition from any of the G8 members, which is very surprising in itself.

Finally, the Arab Spring injected international relations with a sudden, concentrated and large dose of adrenalin, forcing a tabula rasa in the Middle East and forcing great and emerging powers, East and West, democrats to authoritarians alike to come together in condemning the brutal crackdowns on the civilian populace, for the sake of basic human rights, political stability and economic interests. The Libyan intervention of Spring 2011 that was a textbook case of the “responsibility to protect” had not been vetoed by China and Russia, and gave us a small glimpse of a world of relative cohesion against tyranny of the like we had not seen since the Gulf War.

While China and Russia condemned the extensive NATO operation soon after it began and closed the door to an encore with Syria, at least for the moment, it is my belief that the G20 Foreign Ministers group will help to bridge the differences between states with regards to international security matters, such as Syria, in the medium term. Even though the new branch of the organization has not yet been given a clear mandate to deal with war and peace, it is but a matter of time – a very short time – before its Foreign Ministers realise they have no other choice but to do so.

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