There are three different types of relations in the world of international politics.
First, there are those countries who are good neighbors, such as the Americans and Canadians, the Spanish and Portuguese, or the Germans and French.
Shared values can form the foundation to build true friendships, for instance between former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, German chancellor at the time.
When Mr. Schmidt tried to change his friend’s mind on an issue, for example in the fall of 1974 when they disagreed on how to reform the European Union’s treaties, he would just hop on the government jet, at the time on the way back from Washington, take a detour to land in Paris, and visit the Élysée Palace unexpectedly. That’s true friendship.
The second type of relations are the non-relations. Both sides hate and warily watch each other, but there’s basically nothing to talk about. The relations between Cuba and the United States had been frozen for decades. Relations between North and South Korea, or between Greece and Turkey, still are today.
When the Iranian president ranted against the United States at the United Nations general assembly, Americans and Israelis left the plenary. These non-relations are living off a balance of mutual contempt, which is why they are rather stabilizing for international relations.
Real problems emerge with those pairings that undergo emotional changes. An intimate connection, borne out of shared history and cultural proximity, is interrupted by frantic tantrums before another era of intimacy starts.
American psychologist John Gottman looked into the communication patterns of such conflict relationships among spouses and found the “four horsemen of apocalypse,” as he called them, who keep riding into battle.
As soon as conflict looms, the seemingly fully-automated program of accusations, contempt, ostracism and withdrawal springs into gear.
It all starts with accusations and assigning blame. In phase two, partners defend their own actions and deny their part in the problem, preparing the field for horseman No. 3: contempt and disdain for the spouse. To top things off, horseman No. 4, “stonewalling,” makes its appearance and the emotional withdrawal begins.
Astonishingly, this final phase can lead to a rapprochement again, and the whole drama starts over. That’s what we call an on-again, off-again relationship.
It is exactly the sort of relationship the West has with Russia. For a while, they kept very close relations, up to the point where one partner (Vladimir Putin) suggests to the other partner (Angela Merkel) to establish a free-trade area spanning the whole region, from Vladivostok to Rhodes.
But as soon as conflict looms, the seemingly fully-automated program of accusations, contempt, ostracism and withdrawal springs into gear.
For many months now, both sides have been passionately fighting about whether Crimea’s annexation, a breach of international law, or the Western-aided overthrow of Ukraine’s government are cause or consequence of the problem, up to a point where no one knows anymore what came first, the chicken or the egg. There’s just cackle everywhere.
In such cases, prudent politicians try to stop the horsemen of the apocalypse in order to preserve the highest of goods, world peace. But Western politicians haven’t shown such prudence at the moment.
The participants at Elmau call themselves the G7, the Magnificent Seven. They are united in their misconception that they can bring Russia to heel with their contempt and ostracism. It doesn’t work in a marriage. It doesn’t work in a company. And it surely won’t work with Mr. Putin and the Russian people. The horsemen of the apocalypse of both sides are headed straight for collision.
The G8 has been shrunk to G7. The dialog with Mr. Putin was cut off in favor of a social gathering of Westerners. The event at Schloss Elmau, or Castle Elmau in Bavaria, suddenly doesn’t represent the greatness and dignity of world politics anymore, but the mental constriction of a sworn religious community. Everyone is already pleased with keeping the balance of unsolved problems.
So there they are, surrounded by their own security apparatus. More security personnel (17,000) than rabbits are swirling around the forests and meadows around Schloss Elmau, which is remarkable considering the overpopulation of rabbits in the region.
The members of the “Western community of values,” as Ms. Merkel has called the circle, will probably reaffirm their dislike for Mr. Putin. The participants only differ in the nuances of this dislike: Ms. Merkel wants to punish and talk, U.S. President Barack Obama wants to punish and shoot. Arms deliveries to the Ukrainian army are considered the logical next step of escalation in Washington.
The participants might not even be aware of the dialectic of the process. They’re restricting Mr. Putin’s – and therefore our – economy. They’re isolating him – and therefore themselves. They’re sending the horsemen of the apocalypse after Moscow, not noticing that the riders are starting to strike against us as well.
That’s exactly the tricky thing about conflict relationships: There is no victory, only shared defeat. The injury we inflict on others affects us as well.
After all, one difference to a marriage is obvious: States cannot move out of the shared household. Russia cannot move out of Europe, just as Germany, Italy and France cannot leave. The peoples are condemned to live together.
That’s why the composition of the summit is a provocation already: Mr. Putin is missing, but other tenants of the house are absent too.
Why isn’t the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, part of the group? He represents 1.3 billion people and without him not one of the current world problems can be solved.
Where is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who represents the world’s largest democracy? He was elected by more people than Ms. Merkel, Mr. Obama, France’s President François Hollande, Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, and Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, won in votes all together.
Why were Mario Draghi and Janet Yellen not invited? Their banks, the European Central Bank and Federal Reserve, are the currently most effective players in international relations. Their loose monetary policy is what makes the Western community of values stick together economically. States rescue banks, banks rescue states and if both don’t know what to do anymore, they call for the central bank.
But instead of the Chinese, the Indians and the central bank chiefs, the Canadian prime minister, with the most bumptious expression on his face, is traveling to Elmau – even though his country plays no role in international politics, maybe aside from the topic of seal hunting in the polar sea.
The circle also includes a geographically confused Mr. Cameron, who doesn’t even know whether or not London is part of Europe. And what contribution can we expect from the heads of government from Rome and Paris, considering they’re already struggling to implement even the most miniscule reforms in their own countries?
Anyone looking at the figures of these seven countries will quickly conclude it is not a gathering of economic giants. The seven heads of government together represent not more than 10.6 percent of the world’s population and only 46.1 of global economic output. Only in terms of debt are they at the very top – a dubious honor.
Mr. Putin’s return to the group and an end to economic sanctions would be a start. Russia won’t be an easy partner after that either. The situation in eastern Ukraine is weighing heavily and is far from being resolved. But without Moscow, there won’t be peace. Russia is our partner for life. If there is one thing that’s without alternative on this planet, then it’s the Russian peoples’ membership in Europe.
This isn’t just about extending G7 to G8, or to G10. The world is no longer dominated by Caucasians and Christians. The West is one of several players in a multi-polar world. We can lament that, but we can’t change it.
Only when nostalgia grows silent, can realpolitik begin.
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