Since its inception the G20 summit had been, on occasion, imposing rules of common decency through peer pressure.
8 Jul 2017 – Time
Among the more famous examples involved Russia’s decision in the spring of 2014 to seize the territory of its neighbor, Ukraine, and redraw the borders of Europe by force.
By the time the next G20 summit rolled around that November, nearly half of its members – including Europe’s largest economies, as well as the U.S., Canada, Japan and Australia – had imposed sanctions on Russia in response, and they made sure to emphasize their disgust over Ukraine’s dismemberment by making Russian President Vladimir Putin feel like an outcast.
“I guess I’ll shake your hand,” Stephen Harper, then the Prime Minister of Canada, told the Russian leader at that year’s G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia. “But I’ve only got one thing to say to you,” he added.
“You need to get out of Ukraine.” Later that day, Putin was filmed sitting apart from his peers during a formal luncheon, picking silently at his food with empty chairs on either side of him. He then decided to leave the summit early, citing his need to get some rest.
Skip ahead a few years to the current meeting of the G20, which began on Friday in the German city of Hamburg, and it seems hard to imagine that kind of ostracism taking place within the group. The conditions for it have evaporated. Even when it comes to the most fundamental rules of political conduct and international law, the leaders of the G20 have splintered into rival factions. None of them appears to have the moral authority – or the political will – to chide the others for breaking the rules.
That much was clear when the host of this year’s summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, gave her introductory remarks on Friday morning. Though she touched on the need to empower women and increase aid to Africa, she did not mention free speech, democracy, civil rights or the other ideals to which most of the group’s members have typically aspired. “Solutions can often only be found if we are willing to compromise, if we are flexible,” she said, while also urging her peers not to “bend too much.”