From G20 to G19?

by Markus Engels, Secretary-General of the Global Solutions Initiative

With its exclusion from the UN Human Rights Council by the UN General Assembly, Russia’s diplomatic isolation has reached a temporary climax. Despite the U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s recently announced boycott of G20 meetings attended by representatives of Moscow and the calls of the U.S. President Joe Biden to exclude Moscow from the circle of the most powerful 20 states, Russia did present at the talks of finance ministers from the leading industrialized and emerging countries (G20) in April.

Isolation of Russia from international bodies, which continues to be hotly debated, aims to minimize communication platforms for Moscow and achieve a clear condemnation of the aggressor under international law via this route – in addition to hopefully effective sanctions regime, military and humanitarian support for Ukraine.

The diplomatic isolation and the worldwide condemnation of Russia is thus also a building block in the non-military confrontation – and by no means merely symbolic or trivial. It may be a significant element in subsequent war crimes trials. In addition, these steps are also motivated by the fact that previous attempts at diplomatic talks or referrals to relevant UN bodies have hardly been effective and have instead, been used by the Russian side to spread hair-raising war propaganda.

Thus, the calls for Russia’s exclusion from the G20 seem plausible at first. At the same time, it cannot be overlooked that it is not only China that has repeatedly voted against isolating Russia. Indonesia, which currently holds the G20 presidency, and India, which succeeds Indonesia in 2023, had also abstained from the relevant votes at the United Nations.

The cynical interview of the so-called Kremlin thought leader Sergei Karaganov in the New Statesman in early April, in which he framed the Ukraine incursion as a struggle for future world order, perfectly demonstrates the emerging propagandist narrative of a global East-West conflict. Karaganov argues that preventing the unchecked expansion of the so-called West is an important goal of this war, and the decadent and feeble liberal order must be pushed back. This narrative serves an anti-emancipatory reflex that condemns ecological, gender, and postcolonial discourses as libertarian grotesques and invokes a “masculine” triumphalism in opposition. Thus, it is easily adaptable to radical right-wing and populist currents in Europe and worldwide. Carl Schmittian friend-foe thinking sends its greetings, coupled with an unforgiving rigorism fuelled by the so-called “social” or state-directed media in parts of the world. In the analyses of some commentators, the narrative about “our one world” or a “world domestic policy” sounds like a forgotten childhood memory of Astrid Lindgren’s “Children’s Day in Bullerbü.”

Even if the inhuman narrative of  Sergei Karaganov denies the territorial integrity of sovereign states and the democratic self-determination of peoples, and if war is thus de facto legitimized for the sake of political goals, the evident reluctance of some Asian heavyweights to condemn the war of aggression seems to be an indication that such a narrative has an appeal. In addition to the humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine, which the global community must quickly resolve, the advancing climate change and shameful global injustice concerning wealth distribution demand an urgent global response. Not only are Indonesia, India, and China needed as partners, but global institutions and sustained formats of dialogue are also needed to find a lasting solution to these problems.

Moreover, it is not assured that excluding Russia from formats such as the G20, which do not have decision-making but rather consultative powers, can have any effect on ending the conflict. Similarly, the exclusion of Russia from the then G8 in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea did not have the desired effect. Therefore, excluding Russia from the G20 would be the wrong step. However, this does not preclude continuing to impose tough sanctions on the Russian aggressor and providing effective support to Ukraine.

Nevertheless, the duty must now focus on developing a broader range of options for action, including preventing a narrative and political practice that recognizes war as a legitimate political strategy, and in the process, discredits all soft power approaches and efforts to war prevention. The disparagement of détente is reminiscent of an unfortunate debate in Germany in the 1980s that involved the position that “It was 1930s pacifism that made Auschwitz possible.”

In the face of multiple global crises and the need for systemic transformation to more sustainable and resilient societies and economies, the role of the G20 is greater than ever!

An alternative to isolating Russia in international formats could be to use these formats to break down East-West antagonisms and thereby prevent a multipolar world order that relies on deals and the law of the strongest. Thus, the so-called West could take the initiative and, for example, approach important international players such as India, China, and Indonesia within the framework of the G7 to invite them to a ceasefire initiative for Ukraine, in which Kiev must, of course, participate. The current German G7 presidency could do this to broaden the international political framework for action to take the wind out of the sails of the dangerous narrative of a violent multipolar order – and thus, prevent a world conflagration caused by the clash of autocratic and democratic regimes. However, this also requires the so-called West to acknowledge contradictions in its own “camp”, which are evident not only in the context of authoritarian aberrations of a Trump administration or corresponding tendencies in Poland and Hungary but also, through a neoliberal growth fetish in which ecological and social progress has been sacrificed.

Thus, in the face of planetary challenges, we will not be able to afford to abolish the conversational formats for solving the great challenges facing humanity. Furthermore, a new Cold War in an age of tactical nuclear weapons, asymmetric warfare, and a renaissance of conspiracy narratives is not a strategy but a catastrophic mistake.

Originally, this article has been published in IPG Journal on 24th April 2022  (in German language). 


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