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Themes to watch December 2018

Brunswick Geopolitical helps companies understand the complexities and risk in key markets around the world, enabling them to better anticipate, prepare for and react to significant geopolitical events that affect their businesses. Authored by Dominick Donald, former foreign affairs and defence editorial writer at The Times, our “Events to Watch” looks at some of emerging global themes over the coming months.

Themes to watch The G20 Summit: The G20 shows the way?

It’s always been difficult to say exactly what the G20 is for, or what it can do; its gatherings seem to encompass so many ill-fitting themes and interests that it can be difficult to identify one big outcome. The Buenos Aires summit was no exception. The news headlines tended to focus on psycho-drama or meetings on the sidelines: the finalization of the NAFTA-replacing US-Mexico-Canada Agreement; a US-China dinner at which both sides seem to have agreed to hold off on levying new tariffs to give trade negotiations a little more time; the cheery greetings between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) of Saudi Arabia and President Vladimir Putin of Russia; French President Emmanuel Macron’s overheard insistence that MBS never listens to him. But experienced summit-watchers may have noticed one outcome, more miasma than hard fact; the shape of a new global geopolitical modus vivendi.

The Trump administration is an unhappy presence at multilateral gatherings, often at loggerheads with the spirit of the meeting. In the case of the APEC summit in Port Moresby in November, this tension made it impossible to agree a joint closing statement. But Buenos Aires was different. Not only did the G20 agree a closing communiqué, it accommodated US interests without sacrificing those of the other 19 members, creating wording (for instance on the Paris climate process) which politely acknowledged Washington’s dissent. Yet the other 19 states also stuck to their guns, refusing to abandon issues such as climate change, trade multilateralism and migration simply because of vehement US positions – even if the wording was weaker than many would have wished.

The G20's members range from the world's richest democracies to emerging market authoritarian states and single party regimes, as well as states sanctioned by other members (Russia), engaged in war by proxy (the US, Russia and Turkey), and embroiled in messy divorce (the UK from the rest of the EU). If they can achieve a critical mass on issues of mutual concern and push through – politely – in the face of US opposition, then they are reflecting the emergence of an order where the US is an option, not a necessity. The G20 may not have much binding logic, but in this instance it may be pointing at how multilateralism is adapting to the Trump administration.  

Sign up to read the full expert analysis on the G20 and the UNFCCC in this issue of Brunswick Geopolitical Themes to Watch.