The decline of the American Empire?
The G-7 and G-20 summit meetings of world leaders for this year are over.
The first group represents the heads of government for the major democratic and industrial countries in the world – the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada.
The G-20 is the newer and more diverse grouping bringing together all the leaders of the G-7 as well as the heads of such countries as Russia, China, South Africa, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.
Next year Canada plays host to the G-7 meeting to be held in Charlevoix, Que. while the G-20 summit will take place in Buenos Aries, Argentina.
As host nation for the G-7 meeting, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau gets to set the agenda for the talks so rest assured that the development of international efforts to address climate change, to promote free and fair trade, to encourage global economic development, and to advance the social, political and economic interests of women and girls throughout the world will be front and centre of these talks.
The breadth of the foregoing agenda items, common at all such meetings, gives rise to the complaint that these meetings deal with issues that are way too general and abstract and that any “agreements” between world leaders to tackle these issues tend to be nothing more than “motherhood” statements designed to allow leaders to release “feel-good” media statements.
So, are these summits really worthwhile?
Yes, they are.
First off, it’s good for world leaders to meet and to talk about these big issues than not to meet and not to engage in these discussions and to share their thoughts, concerns and possible ways forward.
Secondly, these meetings are valuable in allowing the key political and economic leaders in the world to meet, to get to know one another, and to talk about major global issues and problems facing the entire world.
It’s always better to talk about these matters than not to talk about them, and while it’s maybe naïve to expect all such member states to develop common policies to address these issues, what we can see emerging from these meetings are some commonly perceived threats to the international system, some generally shared priorities for future policy actions, and the development of allied initiatives to address world problems.
And through their discussions, and the initiatives nations take flowing from these meetings, we can discern the rise and fall of political leadership and international influence.
At the most recent G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, 19 of the 20 heads of government agreed to support the Paris climate change agreement. Of course, the one isolationist holdout was American president Donald Trump.
But Trump cannot stop other nations from moving forward on moves to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to develop cleaner sources of energy and greener economies. Leadership in these efforts is now flowing to the European Union and Canada, and increasingly to China and India.
The same holds true for trade policy. While the Trump administration preaches isolationism at home, the European Union and China now stand as defenders of international systems of free and fair trade. Canada too will be tested on this front as we enter the process of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Mexico beginning this August.
Also at Hamburg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke of the importance of building peace and economic stability in Africa and the Middle East as a means of curbing mass migration as people flee from war and chaos. This issue will dominate international relations for decades to come.
And again, on this matter, Donald Trump shows a lack of leadership. As we see America retrench into itself these summit meetings trace the decline of the American Empire.