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Here’s Why This G20 Meeting Doesn’t Really Matter

Politics / Global Economy Jul 06, 2017 - 06:41 PM GMT

By: John_Mauldin

Politics

BY GEORGE FRIEDMAN : Anyone who has ever been to a meeting knows that meetings are often confounding, frustrating affairs. Most of them are designed simply to be held. The people who attend them are unlikely to agree on anything except maybe the date of the next one.

The G-20 summit is no exception.

But that’s only because the people who attend it, the leaders of the countries with the world’s 20 largest economies, think of themselves as decision-makers when really they are hostages to history.


World leaders may not like Donald Trump. In fact, many do not. But since the US is still the world’s only superpower, they cannot avoid dealing with its president.

The US is linked to three major issues that will be addressed but probably not resolved at the G-20 summit.

The North Korea Issue

The first is the progression of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (read more about North Korea’s strategy here), an issue the United States and China simply cannot ignore or fully resolve without at least talking to each other.

On July 4, Pyongyang tested a missile it claims was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The North Koreans may be exaggerating, of course. The missile still needs guidance systems and a configured payload. But the United States can’t wait for North Korea to have a functional ICBM.

Here again, personalities matter less than imperatives.

The Trump administration had supposedly planned for an economic confrontation with China. But now that Washington needs Beijing to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, the reckoning has been put off.

So far the talks have been futile, and it’s unclear if China even wants them to succeed (read more about China’s strategy here). If the US attacks North Korea, China could get what it wants—North Korea without a nuclear weapon—without lifting a finger. Not only that, it would have an opportunity to play peacekeeper against the US afterward.

In the meantime, Chinese President Xi Jinping will promise to try harder to disarm North Korea. It will strengthen his case if the US attacks while he is “negotiating.”

Washington probably sees the setup but can’t really get around it; it will simply remember this later. After the North Korea issue is resolved one way or the other, it will shift its attention back to Beijing. After all, the US can damage the Chinese economy far more than China can harm the American economy.

Russian Interference

The second issue is Russian interference in other countries (read more about Russia’s strategy here). It’s a hot-button issue that omits some obvious facts: Nations interfere with other nations all the time, and the Russians have a long history of agitation and propaganda.

Moscow has interfered in the domestic affairs of former Soviet states that lay west of Russia. Although quietly, Russia claims these are justifiable responses to the “color revolutions” of Eastern Europe in the 2000s, funded by US nongovernmental organizations.

In any case, the bigger issue for Russia is that its oil is cheap, and that cheap oil will continue to hurt the Russian economy. Nothing coming out of the meeting will change that.

No Longer “Friends” with Germany

The third issue is US-German relations (read more about the crisis of exporters that plagues Germany here). The party of Chancellor Angela Merkel no longer uses the word “friend” to describe the United States in its platform. But in fact, Merkel has blamed Trump for a rupture he has little to do with.

At issue are the national interests of both countries. Germany needs for the European Union to be economically healthy enough to buy the exports on which its economy depends. But the US, which has little stake in the EU, sees its disintegration as a European problem.

And so Washington has been working with countries like the United Kingdom and Eastern European states on a bilateral basis to contain Russia, rather than going through Brussels.

Germany also wants to be in NATO and the EU, but both organizations have a hard time instituting policies that benefit all their members, because none of their members have identical national interests.

And then there is Russia.

The last thing Germany wants to do, in light of its other problems, is confront Russia, but blocking Russia is central to US policy, and it needs Europe united in that regard.

The divergence between the United States and Germany has been growing since 2008, and there is little Trump could have done to change things.

What Leaders Do Rarely Matters

World leaders take their relationships with other world leaders very seriously. To them, their relationships with their peers define their national interest.

Though this line of thinking is misguided, it has its benefits, given Trump’s apparent unpopularity. Xi will blame Trump for disrupting a nearly successful peace process in North Korea.

Putin, in an effort to dispel rumors of collusion, will blame Trump for conspiracies against Russia. Merkel will blame him for disrupting US-German relations.

Trump’s personality, however, will no more define what happens at the G-20 summit than his healthcare views will define what emerges from Congress.

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John Mauldin Archive

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