Concert diplomacy regains importance amid today’s global challenges
As the world struggled with the effects of the 1973 oil crisis, finance ministers from six of the world’s leading economies — France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US — formalized their cooperation amid the instability they were experiencing. Disruptions to energy supplies had led to widespread job losses, soaring inflation and collapsing trade. Meeting in the French town of Rambouillet in 1975, this “Group of Six” (later eight and now seven) has met regularly to discuss global solutions to global challenges.
The group met again last week to discuss the conflict in Ukraine, rocketing food prices and inflation. This gathering of the world’s wealthiest countries came in the same week as a NATO summit, underscoring the enduring importance of such gatherings in an increasingly insecure world.
The purpose of diplomacy is to strengthen a state, nation or grouping and the interests they serve through diplomatic activity without the risk and expense of using force. As modern technology makes war extremely costly and indeed lethal, concerted negotiations are becoming increasingly important. An increasingly multipolar world has created the circumstances whereby the protocols and rules of engagement between states are becoming compromised.
This is not least in regards to the concept of “pacta sunt servanda” (Latin for “agreements must be kept”), which is a fundamental principle of law that is increasingly being ignored as nation states pursue independent agendas. The return of large-scale conflict to Europe has highlighted this trend, as the international community has failed to grasp the war’s potential to fundamentally change the world order.
Environmental concerns, preferential trading terms for wealthy countries, increased food insecurity and the rise of China have raised the question of whether the world is experiencing a crisis of capitalism, as the West seems to have lost its intellectual capacity and moral authority to offer solutions to global challenges.
For almost two decades, the annual G7 meetings have been dismissed as talking shops, resulting in too little. The “Build Back Better World” initiative announced at last year’s summit, for example, was swiftly filed away in the organization’s extensive annals of unfulfilled ideas. Similarly, in the past decade, NATO has continually failed to arm itself, despite the prospect of new conflicts, meaning it found itself caught short amid the recent crisis. Today, however, emergencies have pushed leaders to reembrace the importance of acting in concert to face the world’s challenges.
Violent conflicts, the pandemic and climate change have meant that the world is experiencing a cluster of crises that risks reversing the significant progress made in recent decades toward ending extreme poverty. According to Oxfam, more than 250 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty this year due to these crises. So urgent are these circumstances that there is no greater impetus for international consensus. The world food crisis is spreading as a result of a blockade on Ukrainian grain — supplies that are desperately needed in Africa and the Middle East. Economies and families worldwide are being hit, spiriting global gatherings back into action.
So urgent are these circumstances that there is no greater impetus for international consensus.
Zaid M. Belbagi
Because of their wealth and power, the G7 and NATO are well positioned to make things happen around the world. Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that while NATO can set the top-line agenda for a large group of countries, coupling it with the G7 allows “greater flexibility” and lets “leaders roll up their sleeves and have frank conversations with each other.”
Whereas the NATO summit was able to consider traditional matters of continental security, the G7 provided an opportunity to follow up on issues outside of the military alliance’s remit. “There’s also food security. There is the energy piece of this. There’s climate change. There’s a lot of stuff that is more geoeconomic in nature than geostrategic in nature and I think it’s therefore fortunate that there is this G7/NATO tag team setup,” said Kupchan.
The G7’s announcement of a $600 billion infrastructure fund that will counter China’s growing influence through its Belt and Road Initiative is an example of the power of the bloc when its members combine resources.
The joint visit of EU leaders to Ukraine, along with the back-to-back G7 and NATO summits, shows that the very concert diplomacy that a globalizing world was fast making redundant seems to have reemerged. Just as the Napoleonic Wars led to the Congress of Vienna that dictated great-power interaction over the next century, today’s resurgent rivalries, hegemonic ambitions and existential global challenges require summits that provide a platform to shape political responses worldwide.
The G7 has helped save 27 million lives from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and has supported the education of tens millions of children in the world’s poorest countries. NATO, meanwhile, has prohibited the escalation of great-power conflicts in Europe for more than 70 years. Despite these achievements, however, it is their management of the effects of the war on the global economy, inflation and the increased regularity of conflict that the success of these groupings will be measured.
Current challenges pale in comparison to what lies ahead in terms of countering China, for example. Such an undertaking will require a diplomatic, informational, military and economic effort. And bold policies invariably lead to the potential for political fallout, disagreements with allies both large and small and the likelihood of a Chinese response at any stage. Only cooperation, dialogue and negotiations can meet today’s growing challenges.
• Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator and an adviser to private clients between London and the GCC.