Time for Diplomacy Geopolitical Forum – Danube Institute
The Hiroshima G7 summit, the Vilnius NATO summit, the Ukraine conference in Jeddah, the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, the G20 summit in New Delhi: these are the recent events that rearranged the world’s momentary geopolitical landscape in 2023.
On Ukraine – and on many other issues, such as how to deal with China –, the G7 members showed unprecedented unity in the consultation process organized by the Japanese Presidency in the spring. It has become clear that the Western powers do not expect Ukraine to make territorial concessions to Russia in order to achieve a ceasefire, and are even prepared to support it not to do so. And they have also made it clear that China is seen as a rival and challenge in many areas, but not an enemy like Russia. The G7 underlined that they intend to work with China both economically and in building a new world order.
The Jeddah conference on the settlement in Ukraine was attended by a very wide range of countries from around the world. Including China, although not at the highest level, but officially. They collectively stated that the basis for a settlement in Ukraine should be the territorial integrity of states – that is, this very broad group of countries assured Ukraine that they would not expect territorial concessions in return for a ceasefire. So, in Jeddah, the world recognized the legitimacy of the Ukrainian counterattack, which was already taking place at that time. Although Hungary was not represented at this event, the conclusion of the conference is in line with the Hungarian position, as Hungary stands on the ground of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its right to self-defence.
After China’s participation in the Jeddah forum, it was no wonder that the BRICS did not stand up for Russia, a member of that grouping. Their closing statement said that “all reiterated their positions” on the war in Ukraine – i.e. they disagreed on the issue. The BRICS final statement was careful not to say anything that would have made it impossible for BRICS members to cooperate with the G7. Some of the members had already de facto cooperated with the Seven: note that India and Brazil were invited to the G7 summit in Hiroshima, which they accepted.
Based on all of this, it seemed at the end of the summer that a bipolar world order was emerging, with the G7 on one side and the BRICS on the other, both rivalling and engaging in dialogue with each other.
A bipolar world
At least that would have been the case if all the BRICS members had gone to the G20 summit in September at the highest level, at which the G7 were also present. However, Putin did not go: he sent Lavrov instead. Just as Xi did not go, only Premier Li Chiang did. The United States, on the other hand, was represented at the highest level in the person of President Biden.
The Indians did their best to have everyone from Putin to Xi to Biden there. They did this not only out of vanity, but also because it would essentially put them in the middle of the map of world politics. They would have become the great mediators of world politics. In other words, it would no longer have been the BRICS the opposite pole of the G7, but rather just a Chinese-Russian axis. While India would have been in a kind of comfortable, intermediary role – essentially together with Brazil and to some extent with the newly emerging African Union in the G20, so essentially the “global South” together.
This is what the Chinese didn’t sign up for. They probably didn’t go for it not only because the intermediary role would have greatly enhanced India, their old rival. More importantly, it seems that neither China nor Russia could have wanted a dialogue in which they would be marginalised, because it would have become clear that they have no substantive camp, while America has the relatively united G7 and allies such as South Korea and Australia.
It was perfectly understandable and logical for China and Russia to avoid this, but it was not without cost. The price is that the G20 has become effectively (at least temporarily) a joint platform of the democratic powers of the “global North” and the “global South” – but only the democratic ones – in which China and Russia have only a kind of outsider, somewhat distant, quasi “observer” status.
To the “onion world order”
A world order is emerging in which the G7 is the relatively unified and very tightly integrated but relatively narrow inner core. While the G20 is the much looser, much broader outer layer, with the Russians and the Chinese as quasi-observers, with the possibility of adapting to the collective decisions of the others. This emerging alternative world order will therefore not necessarily be bipolar, but concentric, like the onion. You could call it an “onion world order”.
How does all this relate to Ukraine’s freedom struggle? Unfavourably, according to the Ukrainians. They took it very badly that they were not invited to New Delhi and that the G20 final declaration did not condemn Russian aggression as openly as the G7 Hiroshima declaration.
However, this is again a strategic miscommunication on the part of Ukraine as after the Vilnius NATO summit. What the soft declaration achieved was to force Russia to marginalize itself. No one could say that the West had made its participation impossible. Putin himself had to consider it better to stay away. This is better for Ukraine than allowing Putin to blame others for his failure. Russia has passed another milestone on its way to losing superpower status.
Ukraine’s other strategic miscommunication was to exaggerate expectations of a counter-offensive. Because of this, the world sees the relatively slow progress of the counter-offensive as a failure. In fact, the minister of Defence was replaced in Ukraine because of this. All this is being exploited “brilliantly” by Russian propaganda to spread the idea that Ukraine is wasting human lives needlessly, when it has no chance against Russian military technology and superiority of resources.
Between diplomacy and counterattacks
However, the reality is that the counterattack is progressing, albeit slowly. That is, the trend has reversed. Until now, the Russians pushed the front from east to west, now the Ukrainians are pushing it from west to east. A possible momentum of opening serious diplomatic negotiations.
Therefore, we can say that the developments in geopolitical forums and the state of the freedom struggle in Ukraine complement each other. Both point in the direction of the development of the “onion” world order, in which, unless this process is reversed, there might be concentric circles rather than poles, dialogue rather than confrontation.
The big question for international peace and security is how sustainable such an “onion layered” world order is, i.e. above all whether China can find its place in this order or (now really cemented with Russia) will feel compelled (and able) to upset it. We can hope (and work on) that China will be able to find its place (which is likely to happen, in my view), as the price of the other option could indeed easily be a nuclear world war.
Photo source: PxHere.