Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How did it happen?

So just how did the most significant shift in international relations between states since the end of the Cold War actually occur? In my opinion, it is a perfect storm of four combined elements that helped the G20 Foreign Ministers Group to see the light of day.

First, the massive economic earthquake of 2008 shook every nation of the world, and it reminded nations’ leaders that states today were no longer fortresses, they were instead extremely interdependent villages which needed to build on each others’ strengths if they were to survive, and indeed, thrive. The G20 leaders’ summit came to the fore and helped in stopping the global economic onslaught. While the financial damage was severe, the world had not plunged in utter darkness, and while fundamental differences between powerful states linger still with regards to economics and political systems, the need for greater cooperation between powerful countries is now on every state’s mind, and in everyone’s interest.

Second, the new American foreign policy conducted by US President Barack and State Secretary Hillary Clinton aimed at re-establishing the United States of America’s post-Iraq reputation, through the use of what Clinton called “smart power”, which meant a penchant for multilateralism in America’s international relations. One of the main targets of this “reset” was Russia, which was engaged in a diplomatic barking war with the Bush administration over the European ballistic missile defense project. With Russia being a keystone in the neighbourhood of rogue states like Iran and North Korea, the Obama administration opted to build new bridges between West and East, to tackle paranoid and dangerous nations.

Third, the rise of Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa, Mexico (BRICSAM) and Turkey as economic powerhouses meant that these countries would become surprisingly influential in global diplomacy. One of the most explicit examples of this was the involvement of Brazil and Turkey in the Iranian nuclear crisis Spring 2010. These two countries attempted to establish a nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran, catching the Americans off guard. The deal did not pan out, and it lead to Brazil and Turkey breaking the consensus that had been building over a new round of sanctions at the United Nations Security Council. What was dismissed as a small tremor in the heart of South America and Asia Minor was in fact the very first chapter of a shift of political epicentres. The next tremor was the very calling of a G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting by Mexico. The Mexican proposal did not trigger public opposition from any of the G8 members, which is very surprising in itself.

Finally, the Arab Spring injected international relations with a sudden, concentrated and large dose of adrenalin, forcing a tabula rasa in the Middle East and forcing great and emerging powers, East and West, democrats to authoritarians alike to come together in condemning the brutal crackdowns on the civilian populace, for the sake of basic human rights, political stability and economic interests. The Libyan intervention of Spring 2011 that was a textbook case of the “responsibility to protect” had not been vetoed by China and Russia, and gave us a small glimpse of a world of relative cohesion against tyranny of the like we had not seen since the Gulf War.

While China and Russia condemned the extensive NATO operation soon after it began and closed the door to an encore with Syria, at least for the moment, it is my belief that the G20 Foreign Ministers group will help to bridge the differences between states with regards to international security matters, such as Syria, in the medium term. Even though the new branch of the organization has not yet been given a clear mandate to deal with war and peace, it is but a matter of time – a very short time – before its Foreign Ministers realise they have no other choice but to do so.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Welcome to the G20 Foreign Ministers Monitor! This is the Internet’s first blog dedicated solely to the newly created branch of the Group of 20 chief diplomats. It will provide analysis, commentary, criticism and projections about the meetings and actions of the G20 Foreign Ministers.

A bit about me

My name is Alexandre T. Gingras and I will be writing on here in the coming months and hopefully years. I reside near Ottawa, Canada, and hold a Bachelors’ Degree in Political Science from the University of Ottawa and a Master’s Degree from the University of Uppsala in Sweden.

Discussing with Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei in Mauritius

My Master’s thesis entitled Pre-Emptive Peace: Collective Security and Rogue States in the 21st Century, written and published in 2010, advocated and articulated the need to expand the G20’s responsibilities in the fold of international security through the creation of a Foreign Ministers group, in order to assist the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in the disarmament talks over nuclear proliferation situations in Iran and North Korea. It was the first extensive discussion on the creation of a G20 Foreign Ministers group, which had been mentioned in passing previously by Professor John Kirton and former Finnish politician Risto Penttilä, and it has received the support of many academics, politicians, and diplomats, including former IAEA Director and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei.

A brief history

With former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin in Cameroon

Let’s quickly recap the G20’s history. Former Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin created and presided over the G20 Finance Ministers group, which initially met in Berlin in 1999, in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. When Martin became Prime Minister of Canada, he advocated expanding the G20 to also include the leaders of the nations represented: presidents, prime ministers and kings. However there was resistance from George W. Bush over the Martin plan between 2003 and 2006. Ultimately, because of the global economic crisis of 2008, Bush called for the first G20 leaders’ summit in 2008, which is largely credited with saving the world from an economic disaster of apocalyptic proportions.

A growing role

While its initial leaders’ meetings in Washington, London, Pittsburgh and Toronto initially focused on the global economic security and recovery, in November 2010 at the Seoul Summit, the G20 took on the issue of international development, which had been until then a G8 responsibility.

I proposed that this was the first of many responsibilities that would eventually shift to the G20. Indeed, between 2010 and 2011, the G20 Ministers of International Development, Labour, Energy and Agriculture held their first meetings, and I urged officials in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and Korea as well as policy experts in think-tanks advising G20 host nations to push for the same. On February 19 and 20, 2012, the G20 Foreign Ministers met for the first time in Los Cabos, Mexico, for an informal gathering.

The first-ever G20 Foreign Ministers meeting in February 2012

So the story begins…

In my opinion, the biggest shift in international relations in decades just took place in Mexico. That is what this blog will be about. While people might not realize it overnight, the discussions and eventual “alignment” of 20 most powerful countries’ foreign policies and their chief diplomats is likely to change the very nature of peace and conflict as we know them, in building a safer and more secure world.