06.09.2019 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

G7: Caught in the Self-created Whirlwind


While a symbol of ‘western hegemony’, the recent G7 summit was in reality a dismal show of the West caught in and reaping a self-created whirlwind. This whirlwind has been in place since at least the last year summit in Canada when the US president Trump had left for home in the midst of the summit and refused to sign the joint communique. In France, in 2019, the French leader invented a solution to this conundrum by all together killing the tradition of issuing a joint communique, thus making the 2019 G7 summit so far the only summit in its history without a joint statement. The absence of joint communique not only shows the West reaping the whirlwind but also their inability to do so jointly. Even according to the Washington Post, the decision to scrap a joint statement was due mainly to the US , which has drifted from the rest of the G7 leaders on a number of issues, including the mots important issue of climate change.

And while Donald Trump was present in the rest of the summit, major disagreements were quite obvious. For instance, as for the US-China trade war, most European countries were explicit in stating how that war was hurting their interests. And while most of the Europeans said that China’s practises were “unacceptable”, they weren’t really in favour of following the US in its footsteps and take unilateral steps to impose their tariffs. The message, therefore, was clear: the Europeans wouldn’t join the US in every global adventure.

The US, perhaps, understood the mood, evident from the way the US president, who was only few days ago calling Chinese leader an “enemy” suddenly discovered a “great leader” in him and said that they were preparing for talks with China to ‘end the trade war.’ The intent here is not only to avoid further escalation but also to reassure the markets that have been badly shaken by unilateral US attempts at rewriting rules of business, an adventure that most of the traditional US allies oppose.

Another development that shows how the 2019 G7 summit, the symbol of ‘Western hegemony’, was mostly about reaping the whirlwind is the extremely unusual situation that took place when French president invited Iran’s foreign minister to the summit, showing again that Europe continues to look at the US-Iran tensions from a perspective that has little to no space for military adventures and significant space for dialogue.

While the invitation extended to Iran’s foreign minister did have US blessings, the fact that Zarif, who had only recently been sanctioned by the US and could otherwise not travel to Europe, was still present shows that even the European allies of the US seem hardly to care about unnecessary US sanctions and that they continue to detest prospects of military escalation in the Gulf.

French president disclosed that “a roadmap has sort of been set…” and that “in the next few weeks, based on our discussions (with Trump and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani), a meeting may take place between the two leaders, which he estimates “is going to lead to bringing an end to escalation and reaching a suitable solution to this (standoff).”

Another example of the West caught in its own created whirlwind is that of talk of bringing Russia back into the group. While both Trump and Macron have advocated including Russia during next year’s meeting, which will take place in the US, this has also drawn criticism both internationally, including from the UK, Canada, and the European Union, and from President Trump’s own domestic critics. But certain developments indicate that the West is trying hard to get Russia back into the group.

According to Kremlin spokesmen Dmitry Peskov, in the run-up to the summit at Biarritz, Russian President Vladimir Putin had visited France on August 19 where “the possibility of organising a Normandy-format summit was discussed in an expert and quite detailed way….”

While there seems to be some agreement on this between the US and its European allies, the fact remains that French position has been that Russia’s return to the G8 and “fully normalised relations” with the European Union “requires a solution to the Ukraine question.” Trump, on the other hand, is pushing the idea to invite Putin, regardless of the “Ukraine question”, to attend the next G7 summit at Miami.

As such, if Europe is pushing back on the US to end trade war with China and ease tensions with Iran, it appears to be the US pushing back on Europe to normalise relations with Russia and accept it as an equal partner in the group. To quote Trump, “A lot of people say having Russia, which is a power, having them inside the room is better than having them outside the room… My inclination is to say yes, they should be in… Would I invite him (Putin)? I would certainly invite him.”

The 2019 joint-statement-less G7 summit was, therefore, in many ways a house divided against itself with the US and Europe pushing back against each other for interests that both converge and diverge to certain degrees.

What, at the same time, is increasingly evident is that Europe has increasingly started to hold relatively independent position vis-à-vis the US on all major issues facing the world today: climate change, Iran, China trade war and Russian inclusion in G7. Interestingly enough, all of these issues are mostly the West’s own making rather than products of some rogue actors. Therefore, with the West trying to find ways to mend things, it is only reaping the whirlwind it had itself sown.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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