The historical changes we are witnessing have never been so evident as in the last few days. The G7 summit highlighted the limits of the Atlantic alliance, while the SCO meeting opens up unprecedented possibilities for Eurasian integration.
At the G7 meeting in Canada in recent days, we witnessed unprecedented clashes between Trump and G7 leaders over the imposition of tariffs on trade. We must now conclude that the event has been relegated to irrelevance, as the G7 has heretofore derived its clout from speaking as one voice. Trump even went further, refusing to sign the final draft of the organization’s joint statement after Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau lashed out at Trump’s trade decisions. Trump showed how little he cares for his allies, leaving the summit a day early to arrive early for the meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore to make preparations for the long-awaited encounter between the two leaders.
In terms of geopolitical contrasts, it is easy to highlight the differences that have been seen between the G7 meeting and the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), held in China and, for the first time, including India and Pakistan as new members. While Putin and Xi met and exchanged praises and medals to celebrate the Sino-Russian strategic relationship as well as their personal friendship, Merkel and the various leaders of the G7 were in animated discussion with Trump over his “America first” policies hurting EU member states economically.
Returning for a moment to Trump’s escape from the G7 (also to avoid further clashes with his “allies”), it should be remembered that in this shifting puzzle of international relations, Assad was poised to meet with Kim Jong-un right on the eve of the US-DPRK summit. Whether or not the meeting between the leaders of Syria and the DPRK will go ahead, it nevertheless confirms the alliance between Pyongyang and Damascus, underlining how adversaries of the US still try to coordinate and manage between themselves their approaches to Washington’s policies of chaos.
Clearly both Putin and Xi have every interest in seeing Trump and Kim Jong-un reach an agreement. But at the same time, they are well aware of the situation in the Middle East and Iran that risks plunging the whole region into unprecedented chaos. Putin and Xi are clearly trying to manage the chaos emerging from Washington, as are Assad and Kim in their own own way. In this sense, the repeated aid of Russia and Iran to Qatar is part of a Sino-Russo-Iranian strategy to contain the chaos created by Washington, which has even extended to the Gulf states with the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar. In this regard, even Berlin is beginning to be enticed by the opportunities for the European Union beckoning from the east, this temptation made stronger by the reality that the Atlanticist relationship is hurting Europe through the tariffs and penalties imposed on American geopolitical opponents like Iran.
European companies have suffered major economic losses as a result of Trump’s suspension of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with European companies facing US sanctions should they continue to do business with Iran. This is only the latest example of undue pressure being placed on the energy strategy of sovereign countries that are theoretically allied to the US. In the same way, the sanctions placed on the Nord Stream 2 project are further widening the cracks in the Atlantic alliance.
To understand the level of disorder within Europe, the North Atlantic and the Middle East, it is enough to consider the attack on Mohammed bin Salman almost two months ago, with Israel on the one hand boasting about agreements with Iran for a mutual abstention in the Daraa affaire and Trump finding nothing better to do than to break every alliance in sight through his commencement of a trade war.
It is clear that the old unipolar order no longer exists and that we now find ourselves in a multipolar situation, courtesy of the isolationist direction of the United States. This enables the further smoothening of existing divergence between nations in Asia, the Middle East and part of Europe.
Europe has the opportunity to use Trump’s “America First” policy as a pivot to expand its network of relationships and convergence of interests with more countries outside of the EU or NATO. For once, the EU could use the weapon of its union of many moderately powerful countries to increase its negotiating power with the United States.
But the reality is very different at the moment, with Europe being in the middle of an internal struggle that has been ongoing for some time now. The wave of new “populist” parties, both of the right and left, has served as a repository for an inevitable transfer of votes following the disasters of the unipolar period (1989-2014). This has also upset the previous balance of power within the European elites.
The root causes of this “populist” political change lie in the new multipolar world order that has had a ripple effect on the policies of individual European countries.
The neoliberal ideology, broadly acquiesced to by the “left”, has remained anchored to the diktat of the “old” unipolar world order, which saw Washington as the only hegemonic force.
What remains in the European political landscape seems to be divided into two streams. On the one side, there is a minority clearly eyeing a sort of neoconservatism 2.0, a sort of rehash of Reaganism. On the other side, there is a complete rejection of any of the faces currently participating in the political system.
For Europe it is a question of seeing what this new political phase will produce with regard to international issues like the sanctions against Russia and Iran. The behavior of European governments will give an idea of the extent to which they intend to obtain some sort of independence in conducting multipolar relations that are not necessarily linked to Washington.
In a sense, Berlin, London, Paris and Rome are now at the center of the concept of multipolar relationships. It is interesting to look at how strategists and newspaper editorialists in China and Russia look at what is going on in Europe, particular in Italy. While there is trust, there is also the awareness that there is still a European reluctance to favor development towards the East at the expense of relations with the US.
The take-home message that Trump seems to be giving Europeans is that it is pointless for them to remain as butlers who wait on Washington. We are living in a defining moment that will shape the the near-term future of vast areas of the world. There are many situations that are moving forward, bringing us closer to the moment where the West will either find common ground or splinter. Factors hitherto appearing unrelated are now serving to have different countries coalesce into a common destiny.
The summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un will lay the groundwork that will reveal whether Washington really wants to start talking or is only buying for time. Given the recent behavior and attitude of Trump and the political figures around him, the summit, like the foreign policy of Trump’s administration in general, becomes unpredictable and difficult to decipher. If there is one thing that unites the leaders of the G7, the SCO and Kim Jong-un, it is precisely the difficulty of relating to a declining world power and a leader who has no strategic vision; the common suffering stemming from an internal struggle within the United States to impose upon the world its antiquated and declining strategic vision.