MOSCOW. (Ian Pryde for RIA Novosti) – Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has tried hard to concentrate on “Growth and Responsibility” as the theme for this week’s G8 summit in Heiligendamm on the Baltic coast.
Everyone wants growth, but as the summit begins, responsibility has been pushed aside and rhetoric and mutual recriminations are the order of the day.
Moreover, sovereignty understood as carte blanche to pursue narrow national interests cannot work in today’s world, for as Lenin said, “everything is connected to everything else.”
But while the United States and China, the two biggest polluters on the planet, feel at liberty to damage their own countries, they can hardly be expected to cooperate on implementing effective solutions on the environment.
And yet, despite the common threats of global warming, energy security and terrorism, there are countless common opportunities.
Russian rhetoric and nuclear weapons – a zero-sum game
The agreement in May between Russia and the West to tone down the rhetoric proved short-lived.
In a conference with several foreign journalists earlier this week, President Putin warned that if America stationed ABM systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia would retarget its nuclear weapons at Europe.
This is not difficult technically, so in that sense his comment changes nothing – but has Putin forgotten that Britain and France are also nuclear powers which could just as easily (re)target Russia?
This kind of approach, however, is obviously a zero-sum game, which the West is unlikely to play, and Putin’s threat unleashed a wave of international condemnation from Europe, Russia’s main trading partner, and the United States.
Although both Putin and the Russian elite claim their country is democratic and a member of the civilized (read Western) world, this kind of rhetoric merely serves to increase international distrust toward Russia and isolate it even more, giving it less leverage than it would like in international affairs.
While the Kremlin moved quickly in an attempt to defuse the situation by pointing out that the Russian president had replied to a hypothetical question, Putin had made clear his anger at the American plan to the Portuguese prime minister and the Greek president during their visits to Moscow last week.
In contrast to George W. Bush, however, Putin is bright, articulate and extremely well-briefed, but he is also forthright, irascible and “takes no prisoners.”
In other words, this was not the kind of lapse that Bush makes so often.
Contrary to the view of the more pro-American Western media, however, some of Putin’s claims are valid.
He is right to point out that NATO has expanded into Eastern Europe – something the Russians did not expect when they agreed to withdraw from the region and which they feel goes against the spirit of the negotiations at the time.
The Americans, however, claim they made no such commitments.
Yes, some of the countries in Eastern Europe are distrustful of Russia, but this is more for historical reasons than because of any threat Russia now poses, or is likely to pose.
As a result, NATO remains an organization in search of a mission since it was never designed for “out-of-area” action in places such as Afghanistan and faces no real threat from any comparable conventional forces, which are in any event woefully inadequate to cope with the “asymmetric threat” of terrorism by non-state actors.
Russia’s foreign policy – time for a new approach
Unfortunately, Russia’s new-found and much vaunted role as energy superpower has led it to overreach itself somewhat.
Moscow has still to understand the concept of interdependence – “everything is connected to everything else.”
While some observers believe that Russia is pursuing a “divide and rule” policy by trying to drive a wedge between European countries and/or between Europe and the United States, such tactics will fail if pushed to the limit.
The European Union and NATO rushed to support Estonia recently over the dispute with Russia and helped defend it against the recent attacks on its computer systems which apparently emanated from Russia.
And now Russia is complaining that Britain has internationalized the Litvinenko/Lugovoi affair by invoking EU support.
If Russia wishes to avoid this kind of concerted response, which was, after all, completely predictable, it needs to avoid rhetoric and actions that confirm the stereotype.
American unilateralism – a problem for itself, Europe, Russia and the world
One American official condemned Putin for his statement that Moscow would retarget nuclear weapons and rightly pointed out that the Russia-NATO Council provides a forum to discuss the issue.
However, it is no secret that on a wide range of issues such as energy, security, space and international justice, the United States prefers a unilateral approach.
This is perfectly acceptable – after all, the United States is a sovereign nation and can do as its likes – as can Russia, Estonia, China and all the other 190-odd countries in the world.
But in that case, the United States should not be surprised and disappointed to find that other countries disagree with its policies and will resist them.
A recent BBC poll showed that in many countries a majority believes the United Sates exerts a negative influence on global politics, which should be equally worrying to the American leadership.
No surprise, then, that America, like Russia, cannot get the support it wants when it finds it cannot go it alone – welcome to the real world.
America’s failed energy policies
Every American president since the first oil crisis in 1973 has tried to implement his own national energy policy.
Every policy, however, has been ineffective – countless Americans remain addicted to oil and continue to emulate the brief and largely mythical wild-west lifestyle by buying gas guzzling SUVs and pickups.
America has failed utterly to learn from the far more sensible Japanese.
When America passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, the Big Three Detroit carmakers called in their lawyers – the Japanese manufacturers brought in their engineers.
Now, nearly 40 years on, Toyota, one of the best companies in the world, is sweeping past Detroit’s lumbering giants, exposing their total lack of strategic vision and showing how industry and companies can benefit from environmentally sound products as increasing numbers of Americans become convinced of the need for action on global warming.
But despite this grass roots pressure and action at state level to reduce emissions, the administration continues to stall.
On the eve of the G8 summit, the United States announced its own counter-proposal on climate change.
Once again it refused to join the Kyoto process within the framework of the United Nations and accept limits on emissions.
The result? Like Russia, America finds itself rather isolated.
China and India – partners in crime
Against this background, it is hardly surprising to see countries such as China and India arguing that since the rich countries are responsible for most carbon emissions, they must bear the brunt of the efforts to reduce them.
China’s per capita production of carbon, for example, is only one fifth of America’s, but it produces 70% of its electricity from coal, so it is likely to become the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world this year, overtaking the United States.
Even so, China’s own climate plan announced on the eve of the G8 summit focuses on energy conservation measures rather than on reducing emissions.
China, like America, argues that caps on emissions would reduce growth at home (and in other emerging economies).
But the growing scientific consensus that the situation is becoming critical means action needs to be taken if sharply reduced economic growth and all sorts of unpleasant and unpredictable consequences are to be avoided.
The time for applying the precautionary principle “just in case” has therefore passed and inaction is a recipe for disaster – and that applies to the United States, China and India in equal measure.
China and India can insist as much as they want that the United States and Europe begin to reduce carbon emissions before they take action, but poor countries such as themselves will suffer far more from global warming than the rich and technologically advanced countries of the northern hemisphere.
Prospects and solutions
Russian rhetoric, America unilateralism and emerging countries bent on development – all these make it more difficult to achieve the concerted international action needed for Growth and Responsibility.
Too many countries are still insisting on their own “sovereignty” and “national interest,” and as a result do not always see the medium and long-term consequences of their actions.
Estonia, for, example, would have done better not to antagonize Russia, and Moscow would have done better not to indulge in silly rhetoric against Estonia as if such a small country represented a threat to one of the biggest and most populous countries on the planet.
Like America, Russia could learn much from Japan, which has taken countless Western ideas and improved upon them to build the second-largest economy in the world.
For much of its history, however, Russia has borrowed Western ideas and adapted them to Russian conditions, usually diluting and distorting them in the process.
Russia then proceeds to tell everyone that it is implementing these ideas just as well or even better than the West itself – the results are well-known.
Russia’s current position is curiously inconsistent and at odds with its stated goals – the desire to develop and be accepted as an equal member of the Western club and “civilized” world.
Constant talk of democracy and a market economy at home and of international friendship and partnership is intermingled with rhetoric and actions that are widely perceived both in Russia and abroad as proving the exact opposite.
At the same time, the West is often too quick to dismiss legitimate Russian grievances.
The American people at both state and grass-roots levels are increasingly concerned about global warming, while more and more companies in America (and Europe) see it as a business opportunity.
So with the Bush administration in denial and abdicating its responsibility and emerging countries keen to develop, it will be left to Europe and grass roots pressure in the United States to help bring about change and push for a concerted international effort, including the sale of advanced environmental technology to emerging countries.
This would in turn help to put real pressure on China and India.
Despite the views of the conspiracy theorists and the Cold Warriors in the United States and Russia, there are in fact no real conflicts of interests between the two sides despite all the unpleasant rhetoric of recent months.
In fact, the opportunities and potential benefits from joint action on the major issues facing the world are huge and include much closer economic ties.
Energy security, for example, has a rarely mentioned flipside – consumers such as Europe, the United States, China and India need more certainty, but so do suppliers such as Russia.
In order to break the current impasse – especially the differences between Russia and the West – far greater statesmanship, dialogue and mutual understanding are required.
Unfortunately, these seem sadly lacking at the moment as countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia, backed up by some of the sillier and often less informed serious media on both sides, insist on the default position that they – and they alone – are right.
Ian Pryde is CEO of Eurasia Strategy & Communications, Moscow.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Originally written for Ian Pryde’s weekly column for the Opinion & Analysis section of RIA-Novosti’s English-language website.
Now available at https://sputniknews.com/analysis/2007060666793496/, the site of the Sputnik news agency, the successor to Russian state-owned RIA Novosti’s international branch, which became defunct in 2013.