G20, Blinken and how US Exceptionalism is running out of time

The big story of the week is the G20 Summit in New Delhi and what it reveals about the new force fields of the multipolar world.

It is significant also since this new disposition of the world sets a different stage for next week’s UN General Assembly meeting. It will be interesting to observe the speeches of leaders at the UN next week. There may well be a few rhetorical and substantial steps away from the wrecked starship of US diplomacy, the USS Exceptionalism.

I published an article during the week in Pearls and Irritations using this metaphor. You can read it in full here. However, one key paragraph sets the scene for next week’s debates.

On reinvigorated multilateralism, the Declaration reaffirms UN General Assembly Resolution 75/1 (2020) on multilateralism, and appeals to “make global governance more representative, effective, transparent and accountable.” It insists the UN be responsive to all members, faithful to its founding principles, and effective in delivering its mandate. Regrettably, it seems there is no breakthrough on reform to membership and processes of the UN Security Council. But it is notable that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has spoken strongly recently in favour of adapting the UN to the realities of a multipolar world.

I ended with a call for the world to unite behind India, that is Bharat, to reform the United Nations, especially the membership and processes of the UN Security Council. To me that is the significance of the G20 meeting. The G20 has progressed, but been put in its place. It has been asked to stick to its knitting, and to let the UN do its job. The task now is to reinvigorate multilateralism where it should occur in the UN and in the UN Security Council. But for that to happen the US leaders must walk away from the wreck of the USS Exceptionalism, before it is too late.

I have followed a few reactions to the summit. Jeffrey Sachs praised the outcome. Indian commentators have rightly praised a triumph for India. Joe Biden appears just more confused. In a speech in Hanoi after the Summit he spoke about the Third World, and then corrected himself to speak of the countries of the Southern Hemisphere. All those briefings on the Global South just have not stuck, even though Willy Brandt coined the term in 1980. Joe Biden’s mind is powered by the outdated tech of the USS Exceptionalism.

It seems, moreover, that the head of US diplomacy has just not got my memo. Anthony Blinken delivered a speech at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) on “The Power and Purpose of American Diplomacy in a New Era”. This institution is consecrated to the memory of that Terrible Pope of American diplomacy, Zbigniew Brzezinski. The speech appears to have been timed to be the icing on the cake of an American diplomatic triumph at the New Delhi Summit. It reveals American leaders are still trapped in the tin can of their broken ideological assumptions.

It has been reported by some as an admission that the old world order has changed because of this remark.

“But there is a growing recognition that several of the core assumptions that shaped our approach to the post-Cold War era no longer hold.”

But Blinken really does not question why the US assumed the world was other than it was in reality, and proceeds to restate the same old grandiose catechism of US exceptionalism taught to generations by Dr Brzezinski.

We must act, and act decisively.

We must live history forward – as Acheson did, as Brzezinski did, as have all the other great strategists who’ve guided America through these hinge moments.

We must put our hand on the rudder of history and chart a path forward, guided by the things that are certain even in uncertain times – our principles, our partners, our vision for where we want to go – so that, when the fog lifts, the world that emerges tilts toward freedom, toward peace, toward an international community capable of rising to the challenges of its time.

No one understands this better than President Biden.  And America is in a significantly stronger position in the world than it was two and a half years ago because of the actions that he’s taken.

I’m convinced that, decades from now, when the history of this period is written – maybe by some of you – it will show that the way we acted – decisively, strategically, with humility and confidence to reimagine the power and purpose of U.S. diplomacy – we secured America’s future, we delivered for our people, we laid the foundation for a more free, a more open, a more prosperous era – for the American people and for people around the world.

The successful Indian diplomats who negotiated their triumph in New Delhi will, however, be scrutinising this speech carefully for this remark on the acid test issue of the UN Security Council.

That’s why we’ve put forward an affirmative vision for expanding the UN Security Council to incorporate more geographically diverse perspectives – including new permanent and non-permanent members from Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Such fuzzy vision ignores Bharat, and uses the revealing verb “to incorporate” to reflect the same old mindset that the other nations of the world will follow the US lead. But the delegates of the plural, multipolar world who will gather for the UN General Assembly next week are unlikely to be convinced that this vision displays US command of yet another “hinge moment.” They will have read the editorials in the New York Times and the Washington Post that urged the failing elderly US President to step down. They would have watched his arrogant, confused ignorance in New Delhi, Hanoi and around the world. They will know that the power and purpose of U.S. diplomacy are running out of time.

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