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How the West was lost

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 15 June 2018

Almost a decade ago, I published an opinion piece that called for the abolition of what was then the G8, the group of the seven largest industrial nations and Russia.

After the dramatic conclusion of last weekend’s G7 summit in Canada, we may be a step closer towards this goal.

Except I am not happy about it.

Back in 2009, I was dismayed with the G8’s zealous ineffectiveness. “Time and again the G8 has shown itself unable to let action follow its finely crafted declarations,” I wrote in The Canberra Times and the New Straits Times. “But this has not stopped it from promising to eradicate poverty, stop climate change and bring peace to the Middle East. The list of good intentions declared at G8 summits is endless.”

Had I only known I would ever yearn back for such inconsequential idealism.

By withdrawing his support for the final communiqué via Twitter from his plane, US President Donald Trump has made a mockery of the summit. He showed his disregard for the meeting and its meagre results. And he questioned the need for any more such conferences.

The diplomatic debacle of La Malbaie may well signify the end of the G7 process, which had started in the 1970s. That by itself would not be such a deplorable outcome because other formats such as the G20 are better suited to 21st-century geopolitics. What is the point of a global summit that includes Italy but not India, and Canada but not China?

What hurts more than the demise of the G7 format is the end of the tacit arrangement between the leading Western democracies.

Until Trump, there was a rough Western position on most issues. It was based on commonly held values. This understanding had its formal expression in the G7 process, but it did not need the G7 to create it.

That certainty has gone, and now it is every nation for itself, starting with ‘America First’.

The G7 members, including the US, are the biggest losers of this development. And those opposing the values of democracy, freedom and trade are the winners.

The world’s autocrats no longer face a united bloc of Western leaders. Instead, they might regard the US President as one of theirs. At least Trump now looks more comfortable with Kim than with Trudeau, Merkel or May.

Over the years, the G7 had become a farcical folly. And yet our new geopolitical realities will make me miss it.

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