Derek H. Burney was Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. from 1989-1993. He was directly involved in negotiating the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S.; Fen Osler Hampson is a Distinguished Fellow and director of Global Security at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and Chancellor’s Professor (on leave) at Carleton University.
Whether the G7 will be any more effective as a global body now that Russia has been suspended from what used to be the G8 remains to be seen. In the run-up to the Brussels summit on Wednesday, “Old Europe” has been very much on display as it deals with Vladimir Putin’s “New Russia.”
There is little appetite in Europe for a new round of sanctions over Mr. Putin’s power putsch in Crimea. Rather, the focus has shifted to helping Ukraine and its newly elected president Petro Poroshenko with constitutional reforms, economic aid, and the “enhancement” of Ukraine’s energy security while turning a blind eye to Mr. Putin’s ongoing efforts to stir the nationalist pot in Ukraine.
Germany has made little secret of the fact that it prefers a return to business-as-usual in its dealings with Russia. It does not want the G7 to take Mr. Putin to the toolshed.
France and Britain are toeing the same line for their own self-interested reasons.
The United States also seems to have adopted the position that the previous round of limp sanctions “worked” because Mr. Putin did not invade eastern Ukraine or upset the applecart before Ukraine’s presidential elections and that no further sanctions are required.
However, Ukraine’s stabilization will not come easily if the conflict between government forces and pro-Russian rebels, who have Moscow’s support, intensifies following the shooting down of a helicopter near Sloviansk that killed a top army general. Mr. Putin’s cheap talk about co-operating with Ukraine’s new leadership belies realities on the ground.
That G7 leaders will share the stage with Mr. Putin to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the allied landings on D-Day the day after their meeting in Brussels makes a mockery of history reinforced by French President François Hollande’s decision to meet with Mr. Putin on the sidelines of the ceremonies in Normandy.
There is sad irony here. D-Day was all about allied unity, political will, and concerted resolve by the world’s democratic nations to push back against Hitler. It was also a story of American leadership during the modern world’s darkest hour. There is precious little of any that today.
From the outset of his presidency, Barack Obama chose to “lead from behind,” allowing others like the UN, EU, NATO, to take the lead. The result has been a steady deterioration in world events from the Arab Spring to Syria and beyond, the rise of Boka Haram and other metastasizing al-Qaeda elements in Africa and the Middle East, and now Ukraine.
Today, more than 50 per cent of Americans believe that the U.S. “plays a less important and less powerful role in world affairs than a decade ago.” For many, this is a sense of genuine relief, a shucking off of an enormously complex and costly, global burden. What it really reflects is a growing sense of futility following sour outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan, a general weariness with an increasingly unstable world and a lack of resolve to confront violations of international norms.
Democracies are succumbing slowly to the siren songs of cynicism, nationalism (as the outcome of the recent European Parliament elections attest) or worse. There is no new rallying cry for responsible internationalism or for the defense of liberal democratic and free market principles.
The hard reality of our young century is that, as the sole democratic superpower falters, partly by choice and partly from irresolute leadership, there is no democratic superpower to take its place. Nor is there any global institution capable of picking up the baton. As those in the ascendancy continue to exploit the power vacuum, there will likely be more disorder and instability ahead.
An administration that came to office brimming with hope and confidence and the promise of re-setting the global agenda has lost both traction and relevance and has become the target of unrelenting criticism at home and abroad. As Robert Kagan contends recently in The New Republic, “Unless Americans can be led back to an understanding of their enlightened self-interest, to see again how their fate is entangled with that of the world then the prospects for a peaceful 21st century in which Americans and American principles thrive will be bleak.”
Good intentions and constant “resets” expressed through speeches, including Mr. Obama’s most recent foreign policy commencement address at West Point, carry little real weight or relevance to what is actually happening in the world. Instead of leading from behind, the U.S., under Mr. Obama, is falling behind while others notably like Russia and China are eagerly filling the global strategic vacuum to their advantage.
Isolationism, regrettably a recurring theme of American foreign policy, is now very much in the ascendancy. More and more it will be an “every-nation-for-itself” world.