Stabiliy. Order. Security. That is what these big multinational summits are meant to project. They are designed to reassure the lower orders (that’s you, me and a few billion others), that Planet Earth is in safe hands as it hurtles around the sun at 66,000 miles per hour.
I am not reassured. In fact, a look at the G20 Hamburg line-up has left me seriously worried.
North Korea now has an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, nuclear weapons, and a juvenile dictator with a bad haircut. But Russia, China and America cannot agree on how to deal with him.
Russia, the United States and its allies are on the cusp of coming to blows over Syria and Ukraine. India and China are the same over their border at the rooftop of the world.
Then there is China against everyone over the South and East China seas. Saudi Arabia is trying to squeeze Qatar into submission and under attack for human rights abuses in Yemen and support for Islamic extremism. Russia has a corruption problem, gay problem and human rights problem.
Italy has a potential bankruptcy problem. The UK has a Brexit problem compounded by a leadership vacuum.
South Africa’s Jacob Zuma fears a prison cell when he leaves office. Ditto for Brazil’s Michael Temer and South Korea has just sent their president to jail.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is unsuccessfully fighting a war against the drug cartels with an approval rating that has plunged from 53 to 17 percent.
Turkey is politically schizoid. It can’t decide whether it wants to be in or out of the EU, secular or Islamic, pro or anti-NATO, a democracy or a dictatorship. Indonesia is also fighting to save its secular political institutions in the face of a resurgent Islam.
A ray of hope has emerged from recent elections in France in the form of Emmanuel Macron. But he is saddled with a legacy of economic mismanagement which has led to poor national productivity, unemployment levels at 10 percent-plus, a $2 trillion debt and a public sense of entitlement that will be difficult to overcome.
It is a big problem for Macron, and if he wants confirmation he should chat with Argentina’s Mauricio Macri who has spent the past 18 months trying to come to grips with the results of 12 years of economic mismanagement by successive Kirchener governments.
Then there is Donald Trump—the leader of the Free World. His base in rural America is built on granite. Everywhere else in the US it is sinking into the sand. The result is a hopelessly divided country which weakens his position on the international stage.
Not that he had much support from the other world leaders to start with. They don’t know whether to laugh at his tweets or panic at his attacks on the press and any critic anywhere; or his anti-free trade America First policy; his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement; travel bans; attacks on the rule of law; his dislike of the EU; his military posturing; and/or his ghetto vocabulary. Normally, the attendees of these summits look to the President of the United States for leadership. Not this time.
There are a few bright spots. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is the mortar that has held the European cornerstone in place through successive crises. But her room for manoeuvre is circumscribed by federal elections in September. And, after 12 years at the top, Ms Merkel would be the first to argue that it is time for fresh blood.
There are some willing and able to take on the role. Macron has already been mentioned. There is also Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau, although his taste in socks leaves something to be desired and, although Canada is an important country—as is Australia, its economy is not big enough to fill the current leadership vacuum.
While the leaders are locked in their debating chamber, the streets of Hamburg will be filled with 100,000-plus angry demonstrators. The city fathers have recruited an additional 14,000 police to deal with them. They are a rainbow coalition of dissent that will be shouting about trade, gay rights, Israel, Brexit, austerity, Yemen, Syria, press freedom, Trump, Putin, Erdogan…. But what they are really demanding is reassuring leadership so that they go back to being butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.
Tom Arms is editor of lookaheadnews.com