G7 and NATO summits reveal division between Russia, China and the West

Both summits were dominated by the war in Ukraine, and both pledged to continue supporting Ukraine for as long as necessary; but the direct effects of such statements are at best symbolic

G7 leaders with other leaders at the recent summit in Germany

Western leaders gathered recently for two major summits (G7 and NATO) amid unprecedented unrest caused by Europe’s first major war in three decades, the highest inflation rates in decades and a global food crisis which is rapidly getting worse.

The G7 met in Germany and NATO leaders met in Madrid. The results of these two events point to the limits of Western-dominated global governance and the deepening of polarization.

Both summits were dominated by the war in Ukraine, and both pledged to continue supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes. But the direct effects of such statements are symbolic at best.

On June 27, as G7 leaders met at a castle in Bavaria, a Russian attack destroyed a shopping center in Kremenchuk, central Ukraine, killing several people. And as NATO identified Russia as the most significant and direct threat to the security of the Allies as well as to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area in its new strategic concept, Russian forces have further intensified their offensive in eastern Ukraine and extended their campaign of destruction of populated areas across Ukraine.

It would be unrealistic to expect the declarations and pledges of the summits to result in immediate and lasting solutions to the deep crises currently facing the world. But the problem that the G7 and NATO meetings expose is deeper.

A fair world

The German G7 Presidency adopted progress towards a fair world as its goal in January 2022. This was before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which made any meaningful progress towards achieving such an ambitious goal virtually impossible.

Not even backtracking on climate change goals or mitigating, let alone reversing, the worst of the global food crisis seems beyond the reach of the leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies.

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This is despite the announcement of additional funding of $4.5bn (£3.7bn) to ensure global food security, taking G7 pledges so far this year to more than £14bn. dollars.

Even on more immediate challenges, like the cost-of-living crisis, G7 leaders have few effective responses to offer. This is partly, if not mainly, because the main drivers of the global economic crisis are simply beyond the control of a club of Western states.

They can’t do anything about Putin’s war in Ukraine, his blockade of Ukrainian food exports and his reduction of gas flows to the EU. The negative effects of these non-military tools of war will only increase over time, especially with the onset of winter.

Facing China

The G7 leaders also have no influence on China’s zero COVID policy. This poses a major challenge to global supply chains by disrupting the production of electronics and computer components and a range of other goods destined for global markets.

The continued absence of China, the world’s second-largest economy from the G7, is perhaps unsurprising given that, politically, the G7 democracies and a country ruled by a communist party have little in common. But there were few signs of a genuinely more cooperative approach with China rather than a list of criticisms and demands leveled at China in the G7 leaders’ communiqué. This does not bode well for the future.

And the announcement of a $600 billion partnership for global infrastructure and investment to compete with China’s Belt and Road initiative in developing countries is more of a desperation than a credible alternative. The partnership is significantly less ambitious than its failed predecessor, the Build Back Better World Partnership, announced at last year’s G7 summit.

Perhaps most indicative of the G7’s limitations in molding global governance in their image is the failure to reach agreement with other countries invited to the summit on the future direction of the international order. If there was any hope that the G7 and the EU would convince the leaders of Argentina, India, Indonesia, Senegal and South Africa to take a clear stand against attempts Russian and Chinese forces to destroy the current international order, the rather empty declaration on resilient democracies made short of them. He didn’t even mention the war in Ukraine once.

Divided world

This growing divide between a small group of wealthy liberal democracies and the rest of the world also showed up at the NATO summit in Madrid, albeit in a different way. Already in his opening statement, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made it clear that this summit would take important decisions to strengthen NATO in a more dangerous and competitive world where authoritarian regimes like Russia and China openly challenge the rules-based international order.

These have included adopting a new strategic concept, increasing high-readiness troops from the current 40,000 to 300,000 by next year, and an invitation to Finland and Sweden to join the alliance.

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Stoltenberg may have denied at a press conference that there had been talks of creating an Asia-Pacific equivalent of NATO. But the ambition for a more comprehensive defense and deterrence posture by NATO members is clear from the list of invited partner nations, which included Australia, Japan, Korea and New Zealand. According to the Madrid Summit Declaration, their participation demonstrated the value of our cooperation in addressing common security challenges.

Taken together, the diminishing ability of the G7 to address critical global economic issues and the retreat of NATO members into a Cold War-style defense and deterrence posture signal a fundamental shift in the international order. The post-Cold War illusion of US-led unipolarity may be long gone, but neither will it be replaced by a multipolar world.

As Russia’s last-ditch attempt to make the future tripolar stalls on Ukraine’s battlegrounds, all indications are that countries around the world will have to decide whether to side with China or the United States in a new bipolar future. The G7 and NATO summits could be the first signs that only a minority will opt for the latter.

(This article first appeared on The Conversation)

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