The G7 Summit, which took place in the French Biarritz in the late summer, gave observers many reasons to both laugh and think. To laugh, because the discussions at the summit and on its sidelines were a clear demonstration of the overall confusion among the winners in the Cold War with regard to the challenges they are now facing, along with the whole of humanity, which the Group of Seven had sought to dominate not so long ago. Now, its leaders are arguing among themselves either about tactical bilateral things, or they simply completely disagree on what is most important for them and the world. This laughter outside the G7 is in no way gloating.
The reason for this reaction, which was conventionally expressed in conservative assessments of the G7’s relative disconnect with regard to the modern world, is an understanding of how late the West is with a proper assessment of the rapidly changing world and, unfortunately, the price that the rest of the world must pay for this delay. After all, no one was initially against the “wise hegemony” of the United States and its allies after the keys to global governance fell into their hands following the demise of the alternative in the form of the Soviet Union. It is just that the Western countries themselves were unable to cope with this role, which is very sad for international stability and development.
At the same time, discussions during the G7 meeting give a pause for thought. The main question here is to what extent other major powers are willing to assume responsibility for global development and security. The issue is not about the all-so-familiar thesis of “responsible stakeholders,” which was used by the United States and its allies in Europe to try to shift a portion of the material responsibility for global governance onto new leaders while keeping the main levers of real power in their hands. Neither China, nor Russia, nor India are or ever will be willing to accept this option. The question is to what degree the strategic culture of these new leading states is adapted to addressing global challenges. Are they themselves willing to address these challenges in a democratic and responsible manner?
Frankly, each new power has a complicated history in terms of life and development in a world where the West has dominated militarily, politically, economically and morally. They are used to measuring their achievements and difficulties by the Western standards. Countries such as Russia are unique in this regard. Being a military superpower on a par with the United States, Russia is used to living amid a choice between the West and the East. This choice is still deeply rooted in Russian foreign policy thinking; therefore, it is so easy to provoke Moscow into discussing matters that can be construed as a desire to unite with the West. These include, for example, the question of Russia’s hypothetical return to the Group of Seven which was repeatedly raised during the G7 summit.
Each of them, especially the great powers of Asia, have formed their own strategic culture where the national, as a rule, dominates the global. In general, the world suffers from the fact that over the past decade and a half the problems have been becoming global at a time where the ways to address them have become national. With the advent of China or India to the major league of international politics, the proposed solutions have become even more nationally-oriented and deeply rooted in the unique culture of these two juggernaut nations. Whether this culture, in its practical embodiment, will ever be able to adapt to the demands and expectations of the whole of humanity is a big question. If it can, a more democratic and bright future awaits us all. If not, we should expect a return of Western dominance in determining the global agenda. This time, though, the West will be much more selfish and less oriented towards the “public good on a global scale” that everyone is familiar with. To wit, the situation will be different. The West will not have enough resources to pursue a policy that is comfortable for all. US foreign policy under President Trump is an example of the new West’s foreign policy behavior. If it makes its European allies grumpy, it’s only because they themselves have not yet managed to develop their own version of the new behavior.
There is little doubt that this is how it will play out. Weakened by its numerous mistakes and stupidities of the 1990s-2000s, the West has already made attempts to launch a counterattack. But they were sporadic and associated with the attempts to use old and spent tools. Most importantly, they were based on the psychological state of being in denial about the problems that the leading countries faced domestically and internationally. The situation is changing. The denial of the problems is being replaced by their recognition and, as an answer, the West has presented the rest of the world with a new challenge.
Therefore, the statements by the G7 summit host, French President Emmanuel Macron, made several days after the meeting ended were no less significant than the Biarritz summit itself. After being extremely successful, personally and nationally, in allocating candidates to key positions in the EU, Macron feels like he owns Europe, and this time he acted as a diplomatic envoy of the West to the rest of the world. His key message included words about the end of Western hegemony in international affairs, the need to realize this and to act according to the new circumstances. In a sense, Macron managed to express what many think and to formulate it in the form of specific instructions for action. The upshot?
First, there must be an understanding that the old world that existed as part of the “West and the rest” formula is leaving the stage as a political and economic reality, but is not vanishing as a cultural phenomenon. All countries are becoming much more flexible in building their systems of foreign policy relations; the West is no longer willing to first develop an intelligible position within itself, and then impose it on everyone else. Moreover, for its leader – the United States – practical relations with traditional allies are no longer important to the point where it would sacrifice its own national interests for their sake. However, due to historical circumstances of force majeure, the Western countries remain the most integral segment of the international community. This integrity ensures, if not the practical unity of the United States and its allies in Europe on a daily basis, then the spiritual unity of their views on the rest of the world and its role in their own plans for survival and development.
Second, recognizing the end of hegemony is not tantamount to giving up the struggle for such hegemony. Already during the G7 summit, the French president demonstrated that the traditional approach remained unchanged, using the example of relations with Brazil. While doing so, the European power, whose representatives usually urge us not to mix international cooperation and self-serving foreign policy interests, resolutely stated its intention to block the trade agreement between the EU and MERCOSUR if one of the member countries of this association – Brazil – did not change its behavior as regards combating forest fires in the Amazon area. Thus, the “new dog, old tricks” – speaking formally about the end of Western hegemony, the French president easily adopts the measures that fully fit the toolset of such a hegemony.
Finally, the new public recognition of the new international context by a leader of one of the leading Western countries is a good enough reason for new countries such as China, Russia, India, Brazil and others to take a critical look at their own foreign policy rhetoric and thinking. The faith of others in the power of the West is one of the sources of Western power. How soon the new leading countries can overcome this faith is of the greatest practical significance for the success of their foreign policy and, accordingly, the possibilities for democratizing the world in which we live.