6
Sep

Europe’s posture in the face of Middle East unrest is best described as hiding under the bedcovers

By Philip Stephens

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Someone else can keep the peace. The west has had its fill of squaring up to tyrants. It is time for others to pick up the baton. So runs the shrug-of-the-shoulders response to the fires raging in the Middle East and the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. The snag, as can be seen from the paralysis in the UN Security Council, is that there is no “someone else”.

This week leaders of the Group of 20 leading nations are meeting in St Petersburg. Russia has proved a fitting venue for the gathering. The summit offers sight of a future for international relations in which competition prevails over co-operation and narrow national interests trump respect for rules. The host, President Vladimir Putin, counts such disarray a success. He sees the absence of global consensus as a cloak over inexorable Russian decline.

The purpose of the G20 was to broaden and strengthen the international system by reflecting the redistribution of power from west to east. Instead it holds up a mirror to the fractures and fissures in the emerging order. The rising nations cast themselves as guardians of state sovereignty against western imperialism. They may have history on their side: the established powers have anyway wearied of efforts to enforce international rules.

A vote in the Westminster parliament has seen Britain wash its hands of Bashar al-Assad’s crimes against the Syrian people. Were the looming decision in the US Congress to go against President Barack Obama’s call for intervention, the sole superpower would do the same. France, for all its Gallic self-regard, cannot go it alone.

The facts of globalisation have not changed. A glance at the present economic troubles faced by countries as distant as India and Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa, retells the story of inescapable interdependence.

The US Federal Reserve is reining back the extraordinary injection of liquidity into the US and world economies after the global crash. Cheap American credit fuelled growth in the emerging nations. Now they feel the pain of its withdrawal. These nations pretty much shrugged off the 2008 financial crash. It would be cruel irony indeed to be laid low by a recovery in the US. Read more…

As published in www.ft.com on September 5, 2013.

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