In 1999, after the world faced a massive financial crisis, some sane thoughts prevailed to bring together finance ministers and bankers from the world’s top twenty countries to work towards ways to avoid such a crisis in the future. This group came to be known as G20. In its most recent, seventeenth head of State and Government summit held in Bali (Indonesia), the group was anything but a gathering of people to deliberate over financial matters. Even though the summit was held in Indonesia, which was ironically one of the centres of the 1997 financial crisis, the summit reflected its ultimate drift into a security bloc rather than an economic bloc established to prevent a massive economic/financial crisis. It was mainly about various geopolitical crises and challenges confronting the world. The summit declaration talked about the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine, “peace and stability”, and “challenges to global food and security exacerbated by current conflicts and tensions.”
Economy, in simple words, was only a subtext of the 52-point joint declaration. It explains why global leaders like China’s Xi, speaking at the summit held in the Asia-Pacific region to supposedly tackle economic issues confronting the world, was quick to point to the fact “The Asia-Pacific is no one’s backyard and should not become an arena for big power contest. No attempt to wage a new cold war will ever be allowed by the people or by the times.” In drawing attention to the western politics of conflict, Xi was mainly responding to a geopolitical agenda imposed by the West itself. This imposition, a potential hijacking of G20, was most evident in the presence of NATO and G7 alongside G20 in Bali. The NATO/G7 statement makes the mechanics of high jacking pretty clear. It said:
“We reaffirm our steadfast support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in the face of ongoing Russian aggression, as well as our continued readiness to hold Russia accountable for its brazen attacks on Ukrainian communities, even as the G20 meets to deal with the wider impacts of the war. We all express our condolences to the families of the victims in Poland and Ukraine.”
The most important question is not about this rhetoric. The West has been portraying the Russian military operations in Ukraine in this specific way ever since the conflict erupted. The important question is: why did G7 and NATO decide to meet in Bali and release such a statement at the same time as the G20 summit was held?
The above quote says that the G20 met “to deal with the wider impacts of the war.” It shows how G7 and NATO were able to impose a specific agenda of their liking on G20, leaving countries like China with no option but to respond in kind. In other words, G7 and NATO met in Bali on the sidelines of G20 only to set the wider geopolitical agenda and defeat other agendas, namely how western sanctions are directly exacerbating the global economic situation, how the Biden administration’s decision to ban exports of semiconductor chips to China is sowing seeds of wider conflict and ‘Cold War 2.0’, and how, for instance, the Western obsession with expanding NATO to Eastern Europe triggered the present conflict in the first place. This agenda-setting shows what the west told the non-western G20 countries: ‘follow our line of policy or we pull out.’
Why was this done? The core purpose of holding a G7 and NATO meeting was to change NATO’s regional profile to make it a global force. This was necessary, at least for the US, to keep the alliance together. Although the ongoing crisis in Europe did help the US make Europe fall in line and drop its ambitions to have its own security force independent of NATO, the US is finding it extremely difficult to keep the alliance intact in the face of the ongoing economic crisis.
“American officials based in Europe are issuing internal warnings to Washington colleagues that some countries with populations that support Russia are growing angry over sanctions and blame the U.S. for rising costs. That sentiment could put pressure on European leaders to pull back support for the sanctions, officials said in internal reports.”
Now, with support for the US politics of sanctions and the US politics of expanding NATO waning in Europe, it makes sense for the US and some of its friends in Europe, such as the UK, to push NATO out of Europe and win more and more allies. This will, the US and its allies seem to have calculated, continue to make the unhappy Europeans toe the US line.
But, not everyone in G20 agreed on that. The summit declaration itself makes it abundantly clear. It said that “most [and not all] members” condemned the “war in Ukraine”, but many members also “reiterated” their “national positions” recognising that “There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions.” Most of these divergent views were expressed by China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Where does this leave the US in the wider scheme of things? Whereas the US may have succeeded to some extent in keeping Europe tied to its own tail and forcing G20 into tackling a security issue outside of its domain, things are still not really encouraging for the US – and for Europe – outside of the Transatlantic Alliance, as powerful non-Western countries continue to drift away from Washington and even resisting its agenda.
In fact, if the core purpose of US geopolitics in the past few years has been to resist every effort to change the unilateral outlook of global politics and introduce a more multilateral world, the G20 summit shows this policy’s drastic failure as much as the world’s fast-changing outlook. The fact that the US had to bring NATO and G7 to Bali shows how narrow the US sphere of influence has become. It is confined to North America and Europe, and its appeal within Europe is also waning.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”