Morality and Law
G20 or the World Without Institutions?

The G20 and many other international organizations have often been accused of issuing public communiqués that are too emasculated and polished, that their only message that can be distinguished there is the sacramental phrase We are for all good and against all bad. And now, when mankind has received the terrible shock of the pandemic, it is high time to ask: Maybe you shouldnt have done that?, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Oleg Barabanov.

In late November 2020, under the chairmanship of Saudi Arabia, a regular G20 summit was held. Like all key international meetings in the era of the coronavirus pandemic, this summit was not held live, but via video conferences. However, this was not the first summit in the year of Saudi Arabia's presidency. An emergency virtual summit was held in late March to coordinate the international response to the pandemic.

Earlier, in the previous years of the G20 summits, the key attention of the world media and public opinion was paid primarily to the bilateral meetings of world leaders that took place on the sidelines of the summits. During the Trump era, this imbalance towards bilateral meetings became completely dominant. This led to the conclusion that the content of the summits themselves had faded into the background and was actually marginalised. The Valdai Discussion Club has already written about this trend.
Who remembers that the 2019 Osaka summit was dedicated to the digital economy, and the 2018 Buenos Aires summit - to the future of employment?

In this regard, the absence of bilateral meetings because of the virtual format of the summit, paradoxically, has drawn more attention to the G20 as it is. Naturally, like the March emergency meeting, it was primarily devoted to the fight against the pandemic. At the same time, the  November summit was already more focused on defining the contours of the world "after the pandemic", what it will be like, how quickly the economic recovery will take place, and what steps should be taken at the national and international level.

At the same time, in keeping with the tradition of all past G20 summits, the participants of the last meeting, in their final communiqué, made many references to their previous decisions. In part, it looked like a persistent desire to demonstrate that everything was back to business as usual; that the pandemic had not completely ruined plans, and that life would go on. From a psychological point of view, such a calming of world public opinion may be correct. Although it cannot be denied that the entire socio-economic situation in the world has changed dramatically, and all previous recipes, no matter how effective they may have seemed before the pandemic, are now outdated. Suffice it to cite one quote from last year's G20 Osaka Leader's Declaration : “Global growth appears to be stabilising, and is generally projected to pick up moderately later this year and into 2020” (paragraph 4). It is obvious that nowadays, these hopeful past projections prompt little more than a bitter grin. Any prescribed measures which are based on this forecast should now be subject to a decisive revision.

The same reaction arises when one recounts the decisions of the Osaka summit on healthcare. A large section of the Declaration (paragraphs 30-33 is devoted to it. Let's see what the leading powers of the world thought, about six months before the pandemic. We will  quote these musings more extensively than usual, only because reflecting upon them now, after a year of the pandemic, is particularly illuminating, given that humanity has already accumulated a completely different experience. Here is one of the statements from last year's summit: “We look forward to the United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC).” Great, who would argue! And here are similar quotes: “Primary health care, including access to medicines, vaccination, nutrition, water and sanitation, health promotion and disease prevention is a cornerstone for advancing health and inclusion.” Sounds nice, doesn't it? And further: “We will strengthen health systems with a focus on quality including through enhancing health workforce and human resources for policy development and promoting public and private sector innovation, such as cost-effective and appropriate digital and other innovative technologies”; "We will promote healthy and active ageing through policy measures to address health promotion, prevention and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases, and through people-centred, multi-sectoral, community-based integrated health and long-term care over the life course in accordance with national context including demographic trends."

Finally, and most importantly: “We are committed to improving public health preparedness and response including strengthening our own core capacities and supporting capacities of other countries in compliance with the World Health Organisation (WHO) International Health Regulations (2005) ... We will work for the sustainability and efficiency of global health emergency financing mechanisms." This phrase from last year's summit: "We will work for the sustainability and efficiency of global health emergency financing mechanisms" explains everything. That is, there was an intention, but, as the events of the pandemic showed, it was far from reality.

 As a result of these Osaka dreams of health - a catchphrase: "We encourage international organisations and all stakeholders to collaborate effectively and we look forward to the upcoming presentation of the global action plan for healthy lives and well-being for all." It's a shame that the pandemic never made it possible to develop this beautiful global plan!
Why am I using all these quotes? To make fun of world politics? Not at all, of course. In normal "peaceful" conditions, step by step, the points of this global plan would begin to be implemented; the world health care system would gradually begin to become better and more effective. Naturally, no one, even the leaders of the most powerful countries and their intelligence service, was able to predict the emergence of a new virus and its expansion around the world. But the problem is different. The G20 and many other international organizations have often been accused of issuing public communiqués that are too emasculated and polished, that their only message that can be distinguished there is the sacramental phrase "We are for all good and against all bad." And now, when mankind has received the terrible shock of the pandemic, it is high time to ask: "Maybe you shouldn't have done that?" Have all these beautiful and undoubtedly correct phrases, repeated from year to year, only served as a source of complacency? If the discussions at international forums were sharper, if they did not achieve consensus on the minimum denominator at any cost, if they did not write and agree on the texts of the final communiqués in advance, even before the meeting, perhaps, humanity would approach a real emergency situation with a greater degree of readiness?

The communiqué of the current G20 summit, on the one hand, is slightly different. It recognises the magnitude of the challenges facing humanity. But, on the other hand, especially moving away from the very first pages of the text, where the negative aftermath from the pandemic is described, the subsequent part of the communiqué it increasingly returns to the old style. And again we see many beautiful phrases about an undoubtedly wonderful future. Does this mean that the global pandemic has not taught our international institutions anything? That despite all that has happened, they are again only capable of reproducing old dreams?

Within the framework of political expertise, the concept of a "world without institutions" is gradually starting to make its sense. It is controversial and provocative, there is no doubt about it. But if all that the existing international institutions are capable of is the non-stop reproduction of a narrative of abstract beautiful dreams, then can we agree that sooner or later, the obvious question will arise: "Why do we need such institutions at all?"

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.