The G20 returns to earth

Sep 14, 2023
09.09.2023 - Abertura da Cúpula do G20 – Sessão I: “Uma Terra”

The American diplomatic starship, USS Exceptionalism, fell to earth at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in New Delhi.

Thankfully for the world, India, that is Bharat, successfully landed its earthbound diplomacy.

Only a few weeks ago, during the BRICS Leaders Summit, the Global South and its Eurasian partners had stood to applaud Prime Minister Modi because India had landed on the moon.

But Western commentators downplayed the likelihood of a similar triumph to crown India’s 2024 G20 Presidency. Throughout 2024, Western diplomats sought to declare their views on Ukraine as those of the world. Russia, China and the diplomatic host objected that the G20 was a forum for economic cooperation, not grandstanding on geopolitical issues. The dispute had marred every preliminary meeting, and blocked agreement to joint statements.

It was feared by some that the same would happen at the Leader’s Summit, so that PM Modi and India would be embarrassed by the failure of his diplomatic leadership, in which he had invested heavily. PM Modi had declared the theme of India’s G20 Presidency to be “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or “One Earth One Family One Future”, from the Sanskrit text of the Maha Upanishad. He chaired a conference of the Global South to bring their voices to the G20 table. He declared this G20 to be the “People’s G20” and engaged Indian citizens in a vision of their place in the world. Despite enormous logistical challenges, he hosted events in many cities to showcase new and ancient Bharat to delegates and diplomats. Yet at one point this week, it was reported that India’s reputation would suffer because of an argument over whether one of many military conflicts was occurring “against” or “in” Ukraine.

On the other hand, some hoped that PM Modi’s prestige would be taken down a notch at the G20 Summit, and American leadership of the world would be affirmed. A little knock to Modi might just restore a more pro-American regime in the 2024 elections, or even put another member of the Gandhi dynasty into power. There were local complaints about disruptions to life in Delhi, and émigré grumbles about the use of foreign affairs to enhance the prestige of the governing party, with large G20 billboards decorating the Delhi streetscape.

On Saturday, I tuned into Amanpour on CNN to get the American spin. There, I heard the USA offered India a role as “bulwark against China,” and that the New Delhi Summit would “showcase America as world leader.” They explained President Xi Jinping’s absence was due to this event being “more of an American show than a Chinese show.” Indeed, the American journalists all seemed to think the only parts of the world that counted were “psychologically decoupling” from China, whatever that means. These media performers displayed complete ignorance of the issues of substance being negotiated at the G20, and quickly moved onto Biden’s poor performance in the domestic polls, despite his foreign policy achievements.

Like most Western media, they fled from reality long ago, and were unreliable reporters of the world. Putin and Xi’s failure to attend would not cause Modi to fail. On the first day of the Summit, Indian diplomats circulated an alternative text to resolve the dispute to describe the Ukraine conflict. They proved themselves, again, remarkably skilled at real world diplomacy. This text secured the breakthrough, and resulted in the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration.

There are many issues discussed in the declaration, and I want to comment on only three: Ukraine, the role of the G20, and reinvigorated multilateralism.

On Ukraine, paragraphs 8 to 13 of the Declaration concern the war in Ukraine. The West wasted 10 months of dialogue over an inaccurate preposition. The declaration states the desirability of a “comprehensive, just and durable peace” that is consistent with the UN Charter principles and “peaceful, friendly and good neighbourly relations among nations.” Western elites might reflect on how to achieve such a peace before Ukraine is ruined.

On the role of the G20, the declaration makes clear that the G20 is not the forum to achieve that peace. It is the “premier global forum for international economic cooperation.” It has a limited, modest but important role. It is time Western leaders stopped treating the G20 as a stage to showcase their power and to display their geopolitical values. After New Delhi they should return to earth, and start doing more domestic chores in the world family.

On reinvigorated multilateralism, the Declaration reaffirms UN General Assembly Resolution 75/1 (2020) on multilateralism, and appeals to “make global governance more representative, effective, transparent and accountable.” It insists the UN be responsive to all members, faithful to its founding principles, and effective in delivering its mandate. Regrettably, it seems there is no breakthrough on reform to membership and processes of the UN Security Council. But it is notable that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has spoken strongly recently in favour of adapting the UN to the realities of a multipolar world.

“History has been created with the adoption of the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration,” PM Modi said. But declarations do not create history. They can, however, frame interpretations of history. So, the New Delhi declaration reveals there are more possibilities in world history than are dreamt of in the imagination of the American mind. It reveals a new plural, diverse world family has found its voice and is acting to change the world.

US leaders and strategists made a disastrous miscalculation about world history after 1989. They misunderstood the end of the Cold War, and their apparent hyper-power after 1991. They did not understand that globalisation emerged from formal and tacit agreements between more than one power. The USA declared independence from the international system in the early 1990s, and imposed its strategy of a flat Netflix world. They fled reality, and launched the American diplomatic starship, USS Exceptionalism. Some technologists even dreamed of a singularity to boost American exceptionalism, and so transcend the limits of being human. This misunderstanding of history led to domestic disasters in society, culture and politics, and to foreign catastrophes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and the looming war with China. It forced the breakdown of the world agreements that underpinned globalisation. Over the last two decades, the other world powers have begun to remake agreements for a more multilateral vision of one earth, culminating in the BRICS 2023 Summit. The USA, however, remains trapped in a tin can, far above the world.

But the American space odyssey is no longer viable. Russia has countered the Western economic sanctions and destroyed NATO’s assumptions of superiority. India has followed its dharma of dialogue and diplomacy, without regard to outcome. BRICS has expanded from 5 to 11, while Europe and the British Isles have exploded their own pipelines and imploded economically. There are now enough counterweights to force the USA, the G7 and hangers-on, like Australia, to return to the one earth we share, and to conduct genuine diplomatic dialogue on the future with the one human family that lives here.

I had prepared myself for more bad news from the Delhi Summit. In a gloomy world, however, this Summit has provided a glimmer of hope that the West might take a good hard look at itself, and walk from the ruins of the starship USS Exceptionalism in which it sought to remake reality. Diplomatic defeat might teach humility and respect for all cultures of the world. Deflated grandiosity might lead the West to walk with peers on this one, real earth.

That hope would strengthen if the world, including Australia, united behind the calls to reform global governance, starting with the UN Security Council. Is a new UN possible before the USA presides over the G20 in 2026? Australian elites would do well to redirect our efforts from the folly of AUKUS to that aim.

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