It remains to be seen how the agreements reached at the G-20 summit will be put into practice. The most important thing is the change in how things are viewed: the world can no longer be governed by a handful of Western countries. It would be premature to talk about a “new international order”, but there are indications that something has changed.
(From Santiago, Chile) GORDON BROWN, the British prime minister, proclaimed that we are standing before the dawn of “a new international order”. At the summit, the air was permeated with a feeling that the world could not continue to be governed by the same structures created in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Changes tend to occur as a result of wars or big crises. This is when the true power of States is revealed, because what it comes down to is that in the long run, the international order tends to reflect the correlation of strength among nations. The developing crisis has forced countries to step on the scale, and this has shown notable imbalances such as the fact that Belgium has the same voting rights in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as China.
THE END OF UNILATERALISM
What was made clear at the G-20 summit in London? In the first place, the United States could not maintain the unilateralist posture that characterized the Bush administration. As his successor Barack Obama pointed out, Washington is the world’s strongest economic and military power. No one doubts that. But interpreting that to mean that the United States has the power to lead without consulting other nations is quite a stretch.
The European Union, which carries a lot of weight as a whole, has still not coalesced into a unified political entity. It often expresses more than one point of view in response to complex situations. This reflects the complex realities of the countries that form the union. The G-20 summit was typical: Great Britain, standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States, advocated for more economic stimulus packages in order to get out of the crisis. In the end, they managed to get a big package with many zeros: more than a trillion dollars. France and Germany demanded more control over the runaway financial sector. They asked for supervision of high-risk funds and the abolition of tax havens, which have earned their names due to their banking systems’ keeping tax inspectors at bay with trails left by tax evasion. Old Europe –or as the English would say, Continental Europe– reached an agreement which in principle should keep States from being outwitted in the way that they have been up until this point in time. And while we are on the subject, a list of those countries that are in violation of the law and others that are in a gray area –meaning they aren’t technically breaking the law, but should have tabs kept on them nonetheless– was published: Chile is on that list, together with Guatemala, Luxembourg and Switzerland, who are in possession of more than a quarter of the so-called offshore capital, which falls out of reach in this context. The supervision tasks will fall on the shoulders of the recently formed Council of Financial Stability.
LULA, THE MOST POPULAR IN THE WORLD
As for China, it already had world power status, but Beijing is not projecting a desire to play a more prominent role in international politics. It prefers to remain an emerging country, confined to the strict defense of its national interests. The Chinese communists are more concerned with their “harmonious development” project in the country’s interior. That being said, it is still worth noting that the Chinese are fully aware of their international power. Here is some proof: they managed to keep Hong Kong and Macao off of the list of tax havens.
But perhaps the country that reaped the most from the meeting was Brazil. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the senior leader in terms of how long he has been in power, displayed his charismatic personality. This caused Obama to say of him: “That’s my man right here. Love this guy. He’s the most popular politician on earth”. Before the G-20 summit, Lula stopped by Paris to meet with President Nicolas Sarkozy, and from there he continued on his way, traveling to London, although making the voyage by train. This move elicited applause for the “environmental consciousness” he displayed in leaving the presidential plane on the ground. It doesn’t really matter that “AirLula”, as his plane is called, later flew to London without the Brazilian president in order to pick him up.
SOMETHING CHANGED IN LONDON
The images from London were eloquent: Lula was the center of attention and came into his own as a sort of leader of the emerging countries. The Brazilians, together with Argentina, India and others, have waged a campaign to change the two big organisms responsible for regulating the global economy: the IMF and the World Bank. Up until now, the former has always been run by a European and the latter by an American. There is agreement that, starting when the United States must give up its exclusive veto power in both institutions in 2011, it will no longer be like that.
It remains to be seen how the agreements achieved at the summit will be put into practice. Frequently, states commit lots of resources during conferences, which afterwards are not actually contributed by their Treasuries. Sarkozy spoke of the end of tax havens while Brown implied that it is the beginning of the end. But the most important thing is the change in how things are viewed, in order to achieve global governance.
The desire for more inclusion represents an important step towards achieving indispensable legitimacy. The planet cannot be governed by a handful of Western countries. It is the entire world’s task. The climactic and financial problems affect everyone and as such we must all contribute to their solution. It would be premature to talk about a new international order, but there are indications that something changed at the G-20 summit.