By Dirk Kurbjuweit
Democracy no longer counts for much. Neither does freedom. And human rights have lost their claim to universal validity.
That, in a nutshell, is one result of the G-8 summit in the Italian city of L'Aquila last week. It was a funeral ceremony: The G-8 is dead, at least as a global leadership forum. It has now been reduced to a mere talking shop for certain heads of state and government. The important decisions are made elsewhere -- at the G-20, for example.
The G-5 leaders pose for a photo in L'Aquila. From left: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, South African President Jacob Zuma and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo. The Chinese president, Hu Jintao, did not attend the meeting.
Admittedly that is fairer, because it means that the emerging countries of the world are also represented. But it is still sad. At its core, the G-8 represents the values of the West. The United States, Canada, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Japan all stand for the principle of democracy. Russia is dragged along. Despite all its weaknesses, it is a good club.
And in the future what counts is numbers, not values. Or, as an adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it in L'Aquila: "The new value is called 'common survival.'" The main themes of the summit were climate, water and nutrition.
The Earth has more people than it can support, and therefore the focus of world politics is shifting to people. They are no longer primarily seen as beings that deserve education, freedom, democracy and human rights. They are now seen as beings that use too much water and emit too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is no longer a question of liberation but of imposing limits. Consequently, the West no longer sees the Chinese mainly as victims of oppression, but rather as being partly responsible for the destruction of the climate.
When it comes to common survival, the Chinese are urgently needed, and this gives the government in Beijing a lot of power. An effective climate agreement is impossible without their support, and the global financial crisis can not be overcome without their help.
The same is true for Indians, Brazilians, South Africans and Mexicans. Together with China, these countries constitute the G-5, which met with the G-8 in L'Aquila. For the first time, the two groups issued a joint statement. However the words "democracy" and "human rights" do not appear in the document. The suffering of the Uighurs in China was also not discussed at the summit.
A Place at the Table
Traditionally, democracies have had a mission to spread democracy -- and with it freedom and human rights. L'Aquila has shown that this mission is currently in a pitiful state. It was the emerging countries that made the demands at the summit. The industrialized countries should kindly step up and adopt medium-term climate goals, they argued -- after all, it was these countries who were responsible for triggering the disaster in the first place. If the self-confidence of the Indians and Chinese continues to grow, even Germany could one day find itself being asked what it is doing at the summit table.
It is not enough to simply rely on the US. Its policies follow the laws of empires. Even US President Barack Obama is looking for equilibrium with the US's rival China, in the form of a G-2.
The European Union would be in a position to act against the dwindling of Western values and European influence in world politics -- if it was in a better condition. Until then, nation states have to take responsibility. The silence at L'Aquila on the question of the Uighurs was shameful -- but it is also not enough to exhort China to respect human rights, only occasionally and only hesitantly. If the West wants to spread its values, it must show they are worth having.
It is no longer a question of human rights per se, but of their utility. More than ever, the West needs to prove that people who enjoy freedom and who do not live in fear can create a better education system, better CO2-reduction programs and better technology. All told, they enjoy a better life while still guaranteeing the all-important goal: common survival.
That's something that could make the Chinese think twice -- and secure the Europeans a place at future summit tables.
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