Bild, Germany's equivalent of the Sun, proclaimed the country’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, “Miss World” at the end of last week’s Group of Eight summit. It’s hard to see why she is so popular.
When I travelled to Rostock, the city nearest to the summit at Heiligendamm, the train was packed with young demonstrators eager to join the protests against the G8.
Even the Financial Times felt forced to acknowledge the success of the mass blockades that overwhelmed the massive police operation around the summit.
The substance of the summit’s decisions was a disgrace even by the very low standard set by these events. Tony Blair’s final tour of Africa was meant to build up pressure for the G8 to live up to the commitment it made at the Gleneagles summit in July 2005 to increase development aid by $50 billion a year.
Governments started reneging on these promises as soon as their leaders had left Gleneagles. After Heiligendamm, the G8 may miss the $50 billion target by as much as $22 billion. The much publicised target of $60 billion for Aids treatment only represents a miserly $3 billion in new money.
Even Bob Geldof, who defended the Gleneagles agreement, denounced Heiligendamm as “a total farce”.
On climate change Merkel wanted the G8 to adopt a target of cutting carbon emissions by 50 percent of their 1990 levels by 2050.
Never mind that this target is hopelessly inadequate to achieve Merkel’s stated aim of stabilising the increase in temperature caused by greenhouse gases at no more than two degrees Celsius. Experts reckon that we need to cut emissions by 80 or 90 percent, and by 2030, to have any chance of keeping global warming at levels where damage can be minimised.
Even so George Bush wasn’t having any of it. He sought to sabotage the entire discussion by proposing new talks outside the United Nations framework for addressing climate change. Blair, who cuts an increasingly pathetic figure, of course proclaimed this as a breakthrough.
But Bush’s plan was transparently to create a cartel of states outside the 1997 Kyoto protocol – the US, Japan, Australia, China, India – who would veto any attempt to adopt a target for emissions cuts, however inadequate.
This stance is in line with that of big business. More than half the top British executives surveyed in a recent YouGov poll regarded climate change as their bottom priority, way behind such key issues as improving brand awareness.
At Heiligendamm itself the US and Russia blocked the 50 percent target. The G8 merely promised that its members would “seriously consider” some countries’ plans to cut emissions.
While Bush and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, cheerfully voted to let the planet burn, they also stoked up fires on other fronts.
Putin represents a Russian ruling class that, thanks to the high prices its huge energy reserves now sell for, is willing to flex its muscles. He has been making it clear that Moscow wasn’t joking when it said it was dead against the basing of part of Washington’s missile defence system in Poland.
For a decade now, the US has been drawing former Stalinist states in eastern and central Europe into the Western-dominated security and economic system centred on Nato and the European Union (EU). Bush rubbed in the resulting encirclement of Russia by visiting Bulgaria and Albania this past week.
The Russians don’t like this and they are confident enough to start doing things about it. The developing conflict isn’t anything resembling even the beginnings of a new Cold War. Thus Putin can play on the fact that missile defence may be popular with the hard right Polish government, but it isn’t with public opinion in Poland and indeed much of the rest of the EU.
The unchallenged global dominance the US enjoyed during the Cold War is crumbling. The shameful antics of the G8 last week show why this is a matter for celebration.