Sunday, March 18, 2012

Los Cabos review and the way forward

It has been a month since the first G20 Foreign Ministers meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico. I have been wanting to write a “review” of the informal gathering but due to lack of time, I had to delay it until now. The good thing about this delay is that many articles have been written since late February on this subject, some of which will be referenced here.

A trial run

The gathering in Los Cabos last month was so informal, that the word “informal” had to be part of the official title of the meeting.

There are a few reasons for this, the first being that not all the decision-makers could make it to the meeting, so the crowd was a mix of Ministers, Secretaries and high-level deputies.

As I am unaware of exactly how Mexico managed to convince the bigger powers to attend the meeting and the timeframe related to its organization, I suspect it was short enough notice for some G20 nations to be caught off guard, and it also explains why there was no official communiqué as the meeting was more of a trial run.

Whether some states’ highest diplomats had previous engagements elsewhere, whether they in fact doubted the possibility of positive outcome of a Foreign Ministers gathering or whether they simply wanted to test the waters with through their deputies… these are all possible explanations to this sudden and somewhat low-key expansion of the G20.

However the presence of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, should be viewed as a sign of genuine interest in broadening the G20’s responsibilities.

A conservative agenda suddenly widened

The topics on the agenda were “green growth, poverty, job creation for people around the world, anti-corruption, global development, and global governance”, writes UK Human Rights Minister Jeremy Browne in the Huffington Post. These are topics related macro-economics, quite in the spirit of the G20’s foundation, but they remain nonetheless quite conservative. While it seemed the G20 would come shy of discussing global security matters, US State Secretary made a bold move when she declared in her opening remarks at the meeting:

I also look forward to speaking with many of you as this conference proceeds about how best to support the legitimate aspirations and humanitarian needs of the Syrian people despite the current deadlock at the United Nations Security Council, and about how the international community can persuade Iran to meet its obligations.”
This was particularly surprising coming from the United States. I absolutely commend Secretary Clinton for broadening the dialogue and hope that progress was made behind the scenes in Los Cabos.

The management of war and peace is one of the oldest functions of the state, and it is one that is jealously guarded by a state’s leaders, and a few close allies. Opening high-level dialogue on war and peace with countries in a different hemisphere, who may not be economic superpowers or shining beacons of democracy is one of the boldest foreign policy moves in recent years, and in my opinion, it is the right one.

Where it needs to go

The G20 Foreign Ministers will reconvene in Mexico on June 19 and 20. I believe this would be a good opportunity to officially make the global security dossier a G20 “jurisdiction”, especially in the light of rising tensions with Iran and the weird waltz with North Korea. The G20’s geographical and geopolitical representation as well as the influence of its emerging powers makes it a more suitable organisation than the G8 to tackle global security matters.

As Stewart Patrick from the Council on Foreign Relations writes:

“The forum provides a chance for the United States to erode the bloc mentalities that often thwart cooperation within the UN, forge new diplomatic alignments spanning developing and developed countries, and negotiate breakthroughs on longstanding global bottlenecks—solutions that can be taken up and implemented by more formal organizations, from the UN to the World Trade Organization to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Of course, the G20 will not provide a magic bullet to solve the most complex challenges, like growing tensions with Iran, for example. Still, the G20 offers a more fluid environment for the United States to seek political buy-in from a more diverse swath of the world’s most important players. Clinton and Espinoza were right to seize this opportunity.”

In that sense, the G20 should be a useful permanent platform for expanded dialogue on nuclear proliferation, as the five permanent members of the UNSC and countries sharing historical, cultural and geographical ties with the Iranian and North Korean nations also constitute the organisation’s membership. Foreign Ministers – having flexibility and authority – could come together on a common approach towards Iran and North Korea. Its high-level environment and its geopolitical representation would make it a potent organisation to address nuclear proliferation.

The Foreign Ministers’ G20 should not intend to be a substitute for the UN Security Council, nor for groups like the Six-Party talks. Its role should be to send the overarching positive signals of political will to technical discussions tables and organisations dealing with nuclear proliferation, or other security matters. That is what I believe the Mexican government should aim to establish come June.

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