The frequency with which heads of state are meeting at the moment is crazy: for the past two months, they have all been meeting in New York at the United Nations; then the same people met in Egypt at the COP; and the most powerful of them will meet next week in Indonesia at the G20 (which I called the “G vain” from the very first time it was held); and then there are the summits of the regional, European, African and Asian blocs.
When you know the enormity of the logistics associated with these meetings, the time needed to get there, the amount of energy consumed and the money spent, you are sorry to hear only a juxtaposition of already known speeches, delivered one after the other, without any head of state listening to another, without any prospect of serious discussion, without any search for a real agreement.
Yet leaders rush to them, happy to play the powerful, to be admired by their troops, to pat themselves on the back in the corridors, to enjoy their ephemeral status for a moment, to forget abroad their domestic worries and the little power they actually have; happy to produce a joint communiqué at the end that is sufficiently meaningless to be acceptable to all; happy to broadcast new images of their glories to their public opinions, whether free or controlled.
These masquerades are particularly harmful because they make leaders believe that they are powerful, which they are not, and peoples believe that they are governed, which they are not either.
Moreover, these summits have now become a pretext for parallel meetings, where large companies, NGOs and various pressure groups come to present their views to the media, in dismantled caravanserais that can be moved from one place to another. Obscene diplomatic-media tourism.
This form of diplomacy is exhausting, and is getting exhausted. And the main heads of state are beginning to shun this kind of meeting: neither the American, nor the Chinese, nor the Russian, nor the Indian, nor the Brazilian were seen at the COP. And the next G20 is likely to be a sparse meeting of a few middle powers playing at being big.
And yet, never has the need for international coordination been greater. Never has the world been more threatened with fragmentation: China is closing in on itself; the United States, even if it has escaped the worst for the moment, is heading in the direction of the isolationism that has attracted it since its creation. Russia has excluded itself from the world. And the European powers, unable to define a common geopolitical vision, are reverting at great speed to the suicidal egoism of past centuries. While events demonstrate more and more that borders do not protect against the main threats: pandemics, global warming, inflation, the mad accumulation of wealth, population movements.
Perhaps only the current Secretary General of the United Nations, in speeches that are always of a very high standard and implacably lucid, speaks the truth, without any wooden language. But he does not dare to tell the heads of state who appointed him that they are for the most part nothing more than pathetic actors without an audience, and that diplomacy is nothing more than the decadent show put on by a few powerful people. A show that will soon end. Badly. For them.
It is urgent to put an end to these masquerades; we must get out of the diplomacy of appearances. We must return to its essence: to negotiate seriously, competently, confidentially, in order to truly seek compromises, without displaying extreme initial positions, which make any conciliation impossible.
In particular, the most serious presidents should not go to the next G20, where nothing will be decided.
Where nothing will be discussed that cannot be discussed otherwise.
Because, as Covid has shown, technology now makes it possible to hold serious, well-considered, organised, discreet, efficient and brief conferences every day.
We could, for example, imagine a virtual monthly meeting at the highest level of the United Nations Security Council, extended to India, Brazil, Nigeria and a few other countries, to gradually take in hand, off camera, the issues of the moment, without the obligation to produce a final communiqué. Similar meetings between ministers from all areas could monitor common affairs and seek compromises.
However, the men in power must remember that the reality of their role is not to show off but to do.
Image: The Paris Congress, 25 February to 30 March 1856, by Édouard-Louis Dubufe, 1856