Sputnik: The talks of G20 leaders led to a possible breakthrough on the global trading system. How likely is any progress to be achieved? Will the US be onboard with this?
Richard Falk: I would be very surprised if there is any outcome of the G20 meeting that can be properly called a ‘breakthrough.' The leaders of these governments do not have a shared understanding of what would constitute a mutually beneficial world trade framework. Perhaps, such a consensus never existed, yet in the period after World War II, the United States leadership of the West was able to generate what has alternatively been call ‘the liberal economic order' or ‘the Washington consensus.'
The United States, in particular, during the Trump presidency regards world trade as sequence of transactions rather than systemically as a frame of institutions, rules, and procedures by which to regulate and facilitate trade relations. By this I mean, that the US wants now to proceed on the basis of economic advantage for itself in each policy context rather than promote an overall framework that benefits all participants in the world economy. Under Trump, the United States no longer perceives the more structural advantages of having a global trading system that provides a framework that binds together all countries that adhere to the principle of market economics.
Of course, such a framework is only a practical possibility if there is a strong political will on the part of leading governments to proceed in this manner. It is difficult to be confident about making assessments of government intentions, but I think most governments would like to retain a systemic framework for the world economy except for the United States that wants to be able to leverage its strength in a more flexible diplomatic atmosphere. We should await the final declaration from Buenos Aires before reaching firm conclusions as to whether this cleavage is as dramatic as it now appears to be.
Sputnik: Meanwhile, Trump is reportedly ready to hold talks with Putin after Russia releases Ukrainian sailors. How high are hopes that the two leaders will sit down for talks in the future given the development?
Richard Falk: It is important for Russian society to understand that Trump seems to be handling diplomacy with Russia and other countries mainly on the basis of his calculations of domestic politics in the United States. Anti-Trump forces have, wrongfully in my view, concentrated their criticism of Trump, including the apparent focus of the investigations of wrongdoing by the Special Counsel, on the supposedly improper relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential elections.
On the immediate prospects for productive relations following the Ukrainian incidents, I think it is likely that talks can be held in coming months, maybe even coming weeks. It should be realized, however, that the main American focus now is in resetting the economic relationship between the United States in China in ways that avoid a trade war and do not make either side appear to be the loser in this important confrontation. In actuality, most attention at the G20 meeting in the West is being given as to whether the US and China can agree on a political compromise, which would undoubtedly benefit the world as a whole.
The failure to reach such a compromise could have detrimental effects on the world economy, as well as raise political tensions and risks of regional, and even global warfare. Therefore, the so-called ‘truce' agreed upon by Trump and Xi Jinping were viewed positively, an agreement to defer American tariffs on Chinese metal exports and a Chinese agreement to purchase more exports from the United States.
Unfortunately, the relationship between Trump and Putin is seen by a broad spectrum of political opinion in the West as one where the challenge being posed is how to stand up to perceptions of renewed threats of Russian expansionism. This is why the Ukrainian incident is viewed as something more serious that the event itself. There is a fear, whether exaggerated or not, of Russian territorial ambitions that is used by militarist forces in the West to generate anti-Russian sentiments and expanded defence spending.
Unfortunately, President Putin did not help those seeking benevolent relations with Russia by his seemingly joyful meeting with Mohammed bin Salmon (MBS) at the G20 meetings, the images of which was widely viewed here in the United States and treated as a cynical indirect endorsement of the gruesome murder of the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. Trump has been under pressure to react to this murder, and widely criticized for reaffirming close alliance ties between Washington and Riyadh in the aftermath of the murder, but at least in the G20 context he has kept his distance from MBS at least where cameras were present, and avoided any personal display of friendship.
Sputnik: What is Trump's earlier move to cancel the meeting indicative of?
Richard Falk: As I have indicated, Trump's recent behaviour is responsive to growing pressures on his leadership from within the American political system, especially the opposition associated with low popularity with the public, the prospect of a damaging report by the Special Counsel investigating Trump's alleged improper behaviour, and loss of control of Congress as a result of the recent midterm election. He is no longer seems free to pursue a policy of accommodation with Russia even if this is what he would wish.
On the other side, it is not clear what Russia seeks to achieve during G20 meetings and relations with the United States at this point, although Moscow clearly seemed earlier to be receptive to the Trump approach, restoring normal peaceful relations with a positive political atmosphere and robust economic and cultural interactions.
Russia could achieve a more favourable image in the world if it made some constructive initiatives such as the renewal of nuclear disarmament negotiations or the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East or the establishment of a global migration compact. Perhaps, we in the West are not aware of Russian attempts to contribute to a more peaceful and just world order, in which case a greater effort needs to be made to set forth the positive content of Russian foreign policy.
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.