The International Order: Syria, UN and Canada

The road to a better world order begins in our own backyard

Special to The Globe and Mail Thursday, Sep. 12 2013

Arguments about intervention aside, the Syrian episode raises a bigger question: How do we restore trust in our elected governments, our domestic democratic institutions, and the liberal international order?

Angst in democracies is not new.

In the 1930s, the democracies were threatened by collectivist totalitarian movements and the international order withered away. This is not the problem today. Neither is it the kind of ungovernability – the ‘crisis of the state’ – that the Trilateral Commission worried about in the 1970s.

Survey after survey demonstrate a lack of public trust in government. This is mirrored by a similar disappointment in the United Nations.

It is not that we lack democratic energies.

On both sides of the Atlantic there is active citizen engagement on issues like climate change, gender equality and gay rights. But the formal institutions of government are in atrophy. There is no active movement for institutional reform or constitutional adjustment. UN reform is an oxymoron.

The Democratic Disconnect: Citizenship and Accountability in the Transatlantic Community’, recently released by the Transatlantic Academy, with contributors from Europe, the U.S. and Canada, assesses the economic, political and demographic challenges confronting the democracies.

Gridlock and polarization, say the authors, characterizes the United States. In Europe, institutional stalemate goes beyond the financial crisis. Canadians, they write “worry about the tendency of their political system to place largely unaccountable power in the hands of the prime minister.”

In terms of the international order, the report identifies three trends:

First, the increasing public disillusionment with military interventions and their conviction that problems at home should be the priority;

Second, the steady rise of, and co-ordination between, a group of new states, some democratic and others authoritarian. Often led by the BRICs, they enjoy the benefits of the liberal international order but they aren’t as ready to support its institutions;

Third, there is exhaustion with multilateralism in Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

All three phenomena were evident in the June meeting of the G8 and in last week’s St. Petersburg G20.

The upshot is disequilibrium within the international system. Fatigue grows. Isolationism beckons.

So what to do?

The first step, the authors argue, begins at home. Public Institutions have to reconnect with their citizens. The authors argue that political parties are the critical building block and that leaders need to spend more time in actively engaging their citizens.

Reinvigorating our democratic institutions, argues the report, will revitalize the liberal international order.

Liberal democracies have always promoted institutions of international co-operation and governance in tandem with domestic innovation because they are “profoundly interdependent”. Break this link and the authors describe a pivot away from universal and multilateral institutions toward forms of minilateralism and exclusivity.

It’s an interesting argument.

We know what happened when the liberal world order broke down in the first half of the last century. There are war graves across Europe and Asia that attest to our commitment and sacrifice to restore international order.

It took decades of careful statecraft to create the architecture designed to ensure peace and security. In creating the United Nations and its various agencies, Canadians were active and present because it reflected our values and served our interests.

The United Nations has never met the high expectations of its creators and efforts at reform have fallen short.

Yet we now look to UNICEF and the UNHCR to take leadership in dealing with the Syrian refugees. We turn to the Security Council for a peaceful solution. UN weapons inspectors are preparing the report that will guide their action. A little known UN agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, will take the lead in disposing of Syria’s chemical weapons. In time, the perpetrators of the crimes will face either divine justice or the International Criminal Court.

There will be bumps on the road to Damascus. Armed intervention is still on the table. In the meantime, the machinery of international order is at work.

As they draft Canada’s remarks to this year’s General Assembly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird should keep in mind the enduring utility of the UN and its institutions.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a senior advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.

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Discussions at the G20

Colin Robertson in discussion with Power and Politics Chris Hall on G20 in St. Petersburg: Syria, Canada-US relations, XL pipeline, value of G20

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Primer to the G20 in St. Petersburg

The Rumble in Russia: A G20 primer iPolitics Insight

By | Sep 5, 2013 2:02 pm | iPolitics Subscription Required | 0 Comments

A general view of the round table meeting at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Sergei Karpukhin, Pool)

Today and tomorrow, the leaders of the major economic nations, their finance ministers and central bankers will meet to discuss global economic and financial issues in St. Petersburg’s Constantine Palace.

The summit takes place against the backdrop of the Syrian crisis and the recent coup in Egypt; these issues inevitably will spill over into informal discussions. On the economic front leaders face the challenges of joblessness, especially youth unemployment in Europe, the relative slowdown in the Chinese economy with its attendant effects on other developing economies, and the sluggish recovery in developing nations. We are also witnessing competitive devaluations and the creeping rise of protection.

Meet the G20

The G20, originally a meeting of finance ministers, their deputies and central bankers, was formed in 1999 in the wake of the Asian and Russian financial crisis with then-Finance Minister Paul Martin playing a lead role. It was raised to the leaders level in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis when President George W. Bush convened a summit in Washington in November, 2008 to address the economic crisis.

G20 leaders reconvened in London (April, 2009) in Pittsburgh (October, 2009) in Toronto (August, 2010) in Seoul (November, 2010), in Cannes (November, 2011) and in Los Cabos, Mexico (June, 2012). Next year’s G20 will be hosted by Australia.

The leaders’ summit is the culmination of a year-long process of meetings which — in addition to the discussions of central bankers, finance ministers (whose meetings under Russian leadership also included labour ministers) and sherpas — includes sessions involving representatives of labour, business, think-tanks, youth, girls (Belinda Stronach was a driving force behind the Girls 20 summit) and civil society.

The member countries include the G8 nations — Canada, United States, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Russia — as well as Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. Their economies cover two-thirds of the world’s population and account for over 80 per cent for world trade and global production.

The heads of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank participate, as do the heads of the European Union and European Commission and the head of the European central bank. Other national leaders also have been invited to discuss specific topics, such as development.

The G20’s ‘standing’ agenda

The G20 has developed a de facto standing agenda. First item on that agenda is the restoration of a multitlateral trading system. Expect leaders to address the topic, but there is no sense the WTO Doha Round will be concluded soon. Today, movement on multilateral trade rests with the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a series of smaller regional groupings.

Another item on that agenda is protectionism. The 2013 Global Trade Alert observes that over 3,330 new government protectionist measures — trade remedies, local content requirements, discriminatory regulatory practices — have been reported since 2008. A record 431 measures were imposed in the last year in what the GTA calls “a quiet, artful, wide-ranging assault on free trade”.

The G20 nations account for 65 per cent of protectionist measures, notwithstanding their pledge for a ‘standstill’ at the London 2010 summit.

The agenda also includes international investment. Barriers to investment continue to plague G20 economies. Governments need to further open their economies.

Another agenda item: fiscal policy. This means saving in good times so you can spend in recession and then get back to balance as quickly as possible.

Finally, there is sustainable development. It is easy to look at the Millenium Development goals as a glass half-empty. However, significant progress has been made in increasing the resources of international financial institutions, building infrastructure, improving food security, financial inclusion and reducing the cost of remittances.

Developing countries now account for more than half of the world’s economic activity and more than half of global exports. China is now the number one world exporter. A recent report from the Lowy Institute argues that development and global economic issues must be ‘mainstreamed’ into the G20’s core agenda.

What does the St. Petersburg summit want to achieve?

On the website created for St. Petersubug, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he had two objectives for the summit: achieving balanced growth and job creation. The ‘watchwords’ of the meeting will be:

  • Growth through quality jobs and investment;
  • Growth through trust and transparency;
  • Growth through effective regulations.

Eight priority areas have been identified:

  1. A framework for strong, sustainable and balanced growth;
  2. Jobs and employment;
  3. International financial architecture reform;
  4. Strengthening financial regulation;
  5. Energy sustainability;
  6. Development for all;
  7. Enhancing multilateral trade;
  8. Fighting corruption.

What is it likely to achieve?

Don’t expect a lot. Watch for action on the following:

Implementation of the IMF’s 2010 Quota and Governance Reform. IMF Executive Director Christine Lagarde says that “completing the 2010 quota and governance reform is essential to the Fund’s legitimacy and effectiveness.” It requires a doubling of the IMF quota resources and reviewing the IMF quota formula in order to adequately reflect the current weights of its members.

Resurrecting the Doha Round. Currently on life support, a global agreement could result in GDP increases of approximately $960 billion and create over 18 million jobs worldwide, according to a study by the Peterson Institute’s Gary Huffbauer and Jeff Schott prepared for the International Chamber of Commerce. At their April meeting in Doha, the ICC argued for progress in five areas:

  • Concluding a trade facilitation agreement;
  • Implementing duty-free and quota-free market access for exports from least-developed countries;
  • Phasing out agricultural export subsidies;
  • Renouncing food export restrictions;
  • Expanding trade in IT products and encourage growth of e-commerce worldwide.

Exchange rate and incentives competition. The number of governments competing for foreign investment by lowering their tax rates has increased. As Martin Wolf recently observed, “policies aimed at export-led growth impose contractionary pressure on trading partners, particularly in times of deficient aggregate demand and ultra-low interest rates. In the last decade, we have seen the largest and most persistent exchange rate interventions ever.”

Structural reform. The OECD has encouraged the G20 to embrace structural reforms and a switch in emphasis from politically-charged current account rebalancing to labour product market reforms for medium-term growth and a growing consensus on fiscal frameworks.

The division over how to deal with debt-to-GDP. The U.S. and others favour a more flexible stance. They are not likely to agree on specific quantitative fiscal targets but likely will concentrate instead on reducing debt-to-GDP over the medium term.

What does Canada want?

Prime Minister Harper wants the summit to result “in commitments for further action on key issues such as financial regulation and trade liberalization.”

Our main objectives include commitments toward:

  • Greater transparency: Canada and Russia have co-chaired the G-20 Anti-Corruption Working Group.
  • Accountability: In tracking progress on commitments made at previous G-20 Summits and especially on the Development Working Group commitments established at the Toronto G-20 Summit.
  • Financial sector reform: G20 members have agreed to implement the regulatory requirements of Basel III, the international standard for stronger regulation of the banking sector.

Beyond the summit agenda, a great deal of other business gets done at these meetings. Mr. Harper can be expected to discuss the Canada-Europe trade agreement with European leaders, progress on the Trans Pacific Partnership and the always-important Canada-U.S. agenda with President Obama.

So do we really need a G20?

Yes. The G20 filled a gap in the architecture of top-table meetings.

The permanent members of the Security Council — Russia, China, France, Britain and the United States — represent the world of 1945 and the early Cold War. As we have seen over Syria and other crises, getting the Security Council to act constructively is very difficult. Reforming the Security Council to make it more representative of today’s geo-political situation has been an exercise in futility.

The G-8 group is Eurocentric and does not include China, India or Brazil. So the G-20 made sense.

Like the G8, much of the value of the G20 is in its process. More people will work on the draft of the final communiqué than will actually read it but the process of getting there is what really matters. The ongoing meetings between central bankers and finance ministers (the original G20) now include separate discussions with business, civil society and think-tanks.

What matters at these summits is not the prepared statements at the main table but the frank discussions and informal meetings that take place in the corridors and meeting rooms around the main conference. Winston Churchill, who popularized the word ‘summitry’, observed that ‘jaw-jaw’ between leaders is better than ‘war-war’.

Further reading

The best Canadian sources for G20 documentation with a chronology of past summits is at the University of Toronto’s G20 Information Centre, managed for years by John Kirton. The Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo has done excellent work on the G20, especially its priorities for the G20 published for the St. Petersburg summit. This primer owes much to the session recently held at the Rideau Club, moderated by CIGI’s Fen Hampson, with Canadian Council of Chief Executives CEO John Manley, Russian Ambassador Georgiy Mamedov and CIGI’s Domenico Lombardi and Rohinton Medhora.

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Canada and St. Petersburg G20

Harper needs to play the ‘reliable ally’ card at the G20


The Globe and Mail Wednesday, Sep. 04 2013

Prime Minister Stephen Harper goes to the Constantine Palace in St. Petersburg on Thursday for the G20 summit. He has three roles to play: To be a good friend; a reliable ally; and, always, to be our chief diplomat in advancing Canadian interests.

The backdrop to this summit is Syria, especially now that U.S. President Barack Obama has delayed an armed response until he has the sense of Congress.

In Britain, last week’s House of Commons defeat has left a diminished Prime Minister David Cameron. Mr. Cameron will appreciate the advice of the like-minded Mr. Harper, who also understands the challenges of parliamentary government.

Mr. Cameron and his foreign minister William Hague are Mr. Harper’s staunchest foreign friends and supporters. They are also our steadfast advocates within Europe for the stalled Canada-Europe trade agreement.

Mr. Obama is likewise afflicted by Syria. He comes to St. Petersburg seeking allies. He will welcome Mr. Harper’s assistance in building international support to enforce the norm against the regime of Bashar al-Assad for using poison gas.

When blunt language is required, Mr. Obama can count on Mr. Harper, especially during the almost-certain debate on Syrian intervention with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the lead-up to the Lough Erne G8 summit, Mr. Harper condemned Mr. Putin’s support of the “thugs of the Assad regime” and underlined the “G7 plus one” divide between the West and Russia.

The Harper-Obama relationship is not that of Harper-Cameron, but Mr. Harper understands that the dynamic of a successful Canada-US relationship depends on being a reliable ally.

The Keystone XL pipeline permit process is frustrating but Mr. Harper will recognize that the Canadian ‘ask’ has evolved into another pawn in the polarized world of Washington politics. Mr. Harper can help our cause by giving the President a preview of our forthcoming oil and gas regulations and their contribution to abating climate change.

A useful contribution to collective trade liberalization would see the two leaders recommit to their initiative on border access and regulatory alignment. We need to match the progress we have made on perimeter security with an expedited flow of people, goods and services.

Mr. Harper should push Mr. Obama on country-of-origin labelling, a noxious piece of U.S. protectionism that is effectively blocking Canadian beef and pork exports. It is also an issue on which he and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto can make common cause.

Curbing protectionism is a constant challenge. In the last year, the Global Trade Alert has catalogued a record 431 new protectionist measures with the majority imposed by G20 nations. With our economic growth dependent on trade, Canada has vital interests in further trade liberalization.

In his separate meetings with fellow leaders, Mr. Harper needs to advance the Canadian case for the Canada-Europe trade agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The Trans Pacific Partnership would cover 40 per cent of global economic output and about a third of world trade. It aims to become the gold standard for other trade pacts. With key leaders present in St. Petersburg, side conversations can help set up progress at the next round in Bali. Canada and the U.S. have both committed to concluding the TPP negotiations this year.

If only the Canada-Europe talks could progress that quickly: Now into their fifth year of negotiations, the Europeans are increasingly skeptical that Mr. Harper wants a deal.

The Europeans thought it would be done by the end of January. The British were ready to run interference for us in Lough Erne but the offer was apparently declined. The European leadership from Brussels will be in St. Petersburg.

Mr. Harper should seize the moment and conclude the deal. When it comes to trade liberalization, half a loaf is much better than none.

European attention is rapidly shifting to the potential deal with the United States, while the EU leadership who have invested in this deal, will change next May with the EU elections.

Credit Paul Martin, Mr. Harper’s predecessor, as the architect of the G20. As Finance Minister, Mr. Martin showed foresight in recognizing that globalization obliged a new, more inclusive forum to act as the clearing house for global financial and economic issues.

The worth of summits is rarely reflected in their communiqués. More will draft that document than will read it. The utility of summitry is the process of consultations leading into the summit and then in the frank talk between leaders when they meet. What happens at the main table is usually less relevant than in the corridor discussions. It is there that things get done.

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