Sigmar Gabriel: More instead of less cooperation

The author

Sigmar Gabriel is a publicist and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Thyssen-Krupp Steel. He was German Vice Chancellor from 2013 to 2018.

(Photo: Imago, AP)

If we are to survive the decade of instability and uncertainty that lies ahead of us reasonably unscathed, we need more, not less, international cooperation. And as much as we would like our vision of freedom, democracy and human rights to prevail around the world, that won’t be possible any time soon.

In order to solve global challenges, we must also work together with states and governments whose political and social order we reject.

Despite increasing global threats, however, the willingness to cooperate internationally seems to be declining. While at the height of the financial crisis in 2008 there was still a summit of the largest economic nations, which set in motion a successful fight against the crisis, there has not been a meeting of this kind to date either to fight the corona pandemic or to deal with the current dangers of global inflation and recession.

From the recently concluded world climate summit in Egypt, all that remains is a vague promise to help the countries most affected by poverty and climate change – albeit without finally providing the necessary funds.

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The “turn of the era” first brought about a world without order. It seems as if the big players have more to do with either securing their own stability – like the USA – or positioning themselves against each other in order to occupy the best possible starting positions in the struggle for a new global order. Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine may also have pursued this goal. As a result, by the end of this war, Russia will be a shadow of itself, dependent primarily on China.

An escalation only knows losers

It often seems that the only choice left is between doomsday as a result of the climate crisis and the next world war as tensions between the US and China rise. But the future of humanity may look very different, as the meeting between US President Joe Biden and China’s leader Xi Jinping and the subsequent G20 summit in Bali have signaled.

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Certainly, one should not overestimate either event. We are still a long way from overcoming the global challenges through global joint action. But a start has been made: Biden and Xi have condemned Moscow’s nuclear threats and are also looking for ways to avoid escalating their own conflicts.

Because both know that in view of the mutual dependencies – China, for example, is the largest foreign creditor of the USA after Japan – in the end there are only losers in an escalation, both economically and politically. Apparently both sides are preparing to keep the balance between confrontation, competition and cooperation. Europe and especially Germany would be well advised to also seek such a balance.

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The meeting of the 20 most important economic nations in Bali showed that Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz did well to invite countries like Indonesia, India and South Africa to the G7 summit in Germany – despite their initially ambivalent attitude towards the Ukraine war. The much-criticized encounter between Scholz and Xi in Beijing was also correct, because international politics is also about doing well – and not just about well-intentioned.

Developing countries expect something from us

Last but not least, the final declaration of the G20 summit raises hopes. While documents at such meetings are usually watered down beyond recognition under the pressure of unanimity, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo managed the feat of a clear majority decision: most states condemned Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

Putin must have sensed this mood and, as a precaution, did not travel at all. He left it to his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to accept this embarrassment.

Above all, the dramatic global food shortages and skyrocketing energy prices as a result of the Ukraine war may have motivated the countries of the “Global South” to condemn Putin’s aggression. However, they associate this vote with the expectation that the wealthy “Global North” will do significantly more than before to help the emerging and developing countries to overcome the crises.

As much as we must support Ukraine, we cannot turn our backs on the dramatic crises in the poorer parts of the world. The European Union must not allow itself nearly as much time for future free trade agreements such as the “Mercosur” treaty sealed in 2019 after almost 20 years of negotiations, even if the environmental and social standards that can be achieved in partner countries do not become the same as those in Europe in the short term.

If Bali is to remain more than a brief flicker of international willingness to cooperate, then we must no longer look at the world only through German or European eyes.
The author:
Sigmar Gabriel is a publicist and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Thyssen-Krupp Steel. He was German Vice Chancellor from 2013 to 2018.

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