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M K Bhadrakumar |

The facts are impressive. The G20 represents 80 percent of global GDP, 75 percent of global trade, 65 percent of the world’s population and 80 percent of the global resources and consumption. Prima facie, the forum represents the collective opinion of the world community and the G20 process itself is the fountainhead of multilateralism. But at the end of the group’s summit in Hamburg, the nagging question that remains will be: Is G20 past its prime as the charioteer of the global agenda?

No doubt, the event in Hamburg has been a pale shadow of the last G20 summit in Hangzhou in 2015. Hangzhou succeeded in bringing the dual themes of development and inclusiveness more firmly into focus and by extending official consultations well beyond the circle of G20 members by inviting a record number of guests from the developing world. Hangzhou will be seen as the most inclusive G20 summit ever held, offering the promise of a new model for shared leadership.

Read more: A possible new makeover for US and Russia?

Hangzhou Consensus

The so-called “Hangzhou Consensus” called on the G20 to deliver more inclusive economic growth through coordinated macroeconomic policy, open trade, and innovation. In short, it reaffirmed the group’s core mandate: to make globalization work for the benefit of all. If diplomacy is at its core an incremental business, the G20 summit in Hamburg has fallen decidedly short on substance. Trade and climate change turned out to be hugely controversial and multilateralism itself suffered a grievous setback.

The common thread running through these developments is that the train is moving forward without the US. Perhaps, another way of looking at it is that the US’ global influence is steadily weakening.

The joint declaration released on Saturday in Hamburg said: “We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.” However, the leaders of the other G20 members agreed that the accord committing nations to restrict global temperature increases was “irreversible”. (Guardian) On the second sticking point – trade –while renewing a pledge against protectionism, the communiqué for the first time underlined the right of countries to protect their markets. Clearly, this has been a divisive summit in which the rest of the world has been struggling to come to terms with the US president’s “America first” policy.

Of course, the US stood alone on these key issues. Meanwhile, on the sidelines, Japan and the European Union announced that they had reached agreement in principle on a free trade agreement. The EU-Japan FTA is heavy with symbolism as well as a substance because it both signifies a signal resistance to ‘America First’ and is a political agreement between two economies accounting for a third of the global GDP. The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the FTA demonstrated  “our strong political will to fly the flag for free trade against a shift toward protectionism” and that it contained “a strong message to the world.” (Read a CNN analysis titled Why Trump may hate this new free trade deal.)

The EU and Canada had announced a similar FTA recently. Again, France will be hosting a summit on climate change in December. The common thread running through these developments is that the train is moving forward without the US. Perhaps, another way of looking at it is that the US’ global influence is steadily weakening.

Read more: USA-Russia-China triangle

Ultra-nationalism in Poland

Second, taken together with Trump’s new foreign-policy orientation that regards the EU as a major economic and strategic adversary dominated by Germany, Washington is making common cause with Poland, an EU member country which happens to be virulently antagonistic to Brussels. Third, Trump identified himself openly with the anti-immigrant policies of the ultra-right wing government in Poland.

The G20 at Hamburg becomes a defining moment since the US has been a leader in international institutions for the past 7 decades since World War II ended. Increasingly, we find the remaining countries working around the United States. In Hamburg, G20 stood diminished as ‘G19+1’. The bottom line is that the ability of the US to pursue its interests — and the evolution of its global leadership as such — depends on the variations that have appeared in its political will. The two key trends that cannot be overlooked here are one: the political and financial legacy of the 2000s; and, two, the US’ focus on ‘nation-building at home’.

Against this complex backdrop, from an ideological perspective, the public speech by US President Donald Trump on Krasinski Square at Warsaw on Thursday en route to Hamburg ought to have received far greater attention than it did. The speech was conspicuous for its blatant appeal to ultra-nationalism in Poland, a country with a tortured history trapped between Germany and Russia historically. Wasn’t there a not-so-subtle attempt to fan the flames of anti-German and anti-Russian sentiments in the Polish psyche? This is one thing.

Second, taken together with Trump’s new foreign-policy orientation that regards the EU as a major economic and strategic adversary dominated by Germany, Washington is making common cause with Poland, an EU member country which happens to be virulently antagonistic to Brussels. Third, Trump identified himself openly with the anti-immigrant policies of the ultra-right wing government in Poland.

In the process, he invoked (Christian) religion repeatedly, even glorifying it, in an attempt to demonize Muslims. The punch line came when Trump declared that “the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have. The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.” The glorification of the triumph of the “Will” is very disturbing — it harks back to Nuremberg… to fascism. Curiously, Trump urged Russia to join the Western powers “in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself.” Trump’s speech is here.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”.

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