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Diplomacy, Power Contest and Global Governance

by Sergey Smolinikov

Specializing in environmental diplomacy, the author of this study looked at the recent Copenhagen climate change conference from the perspective of power politics. -The Editor

Purportedly, to the outside world the climate negotiations in Copenhagen last December were what they were promulgated to be – multilateral talks with a noble objective to come to an agreement on climate change that would announce measures to prevent further deterioration of the global environment. This is why the inability of the negotiators from almost 200 countries to come to a meaningful solution appeared to be bewildering. However, the genuine essence of the diplomatic showdown in Copenhagen turned out to be somewhat elusive.

This article attempts to look into the international political and security dimensions of the talks, and explore the Copenhagen congress in terms of its ramifications for a number of popular International Relations (IR) notions and concepts: globalization, multilateralism, transition of power and global governance. The thrust of the paper is the thesis that the negotiations turned out to be a litmus test in measuring change in the world power order. Of course, the international climate talks are not the only detector of shifts in leverage among the major powers. The ongoing financial and economic recession has already revealed that the major world powers are unequally positioned to deal with its daunting implications.

Pointing to U.S. problems at home – unemployment and financial debt, as well as abroad – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and, most recently, Yemen – would it be fair to say that Copenhagen added to the list of factors that risk further downgrading of America’s international status?  Would it be correct to contend that the first – and apparently tumultuous – decade of this century has already produced an anticipated and prophesized rearrangement at the top of the world power hierarchy with the U.S. being cramped by “new superpowers” – the European Union and China?  And, in this context, has Copenhagen indeed exemplified that the power transition had already taken place? And, if so, what is the role of American diplomacy in arresting unfavorable trends and developments?

To address these questions, the paper will first explore the bargaining positions of the world’s major actors — the United States, the European Union, China and Russia during the negotiations in Copenhagen of December 7-18, 2009. [1] Next, the climate talks will be examined in terms of their impact on power transition and realignment in the international order. Finally, the validity of global government concepts will be analyzed in the context of the ensuing post-Copenhagen world system. The article will conclude by elucidating the role that self-interest plays in precluding formation of a constructivist democratic international order and the role that skillful diplomacy can play in arresting or mitigating external trends and processes that could otherwise damage an individual state’s status-quo.

The Constrained Bargaining Positions of the United States

In Copenhagen, the bargaining positions of the major players, except Europe, were ambiguous. Symptomatically, except for the EU no other participant had mitigation commitments written into their national legislation and nor was prepared to sacrifice their economic growth by curbing pollution. The U. S. delegation came to the conference with a mandate not to sign any legally binding document in the view of the specificity of the national legislative process. The U.S. position on any legally binding international agreement on greenhouse gas emission cuts, under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, is determined by a 1997 Senate decision known as S. Res. 98, the Byrd-Hagel resolution. The document outlines the Senate’s principle position on the issue by emphasizing that  “the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol to, or other agreement regarding, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992, at negotiations in Kyoto in December 1997, or thereafter, which would— (A) mandate new commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the Annex I Parties, unless the protocol or other agreement also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period, or (B) would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States.” [2]

The Senate, which has a final say in the national legislation, was an invisible but salient actor in Copenhagen and whose decisions were by no means supposed to be defied or challenged by any real or hypothetical supranational decision-making body. In the view of the document proposing an utmost 17 percent of carbon emission reductions under consideration in the upper house on the Capitol Hill, U.S. envoys simply could not bargain for any curbs that could exceed this threshold. This was a “secret” that all other delegations were aware of and that was significantly limiting the maneuverability and diplomatic leverage of the United States in Copenhagen. At the same time, unable to demand from other delegations more than America itself could deliver, U.S. negotiators had a task to compel the developing countries to take on definite mitigation obligations. On its part, the U.S. pledged an unspecified share in a $10-billion Western aid package by 2012 – an amount ridiculed by many as money “not even enough to buy coffins” in case of the impending global warming repercussions in the Third World. [3]

The U. S. delegation initially was implacably stuck to this figure. This policy appeared to be producing an undesired impression among other participants, as there could be only two rational explanations for America’s intransigence. The first supposition could be that the financial situation at home is really too bad (and in this case the U.S. would have to be written off as a serious international player at least in the realm of climate diplomacy). The second interpretation could be that the U.S. is trying to relocate the burden of donorship on other developed countries – the European states and Japan — a perception that risked diminishing Washington’s authority within the club of the rich nations.

As outlined by Todd Stern, the head of U.S. negotiators team, the United States intended to curb their green gas emissions by 17, 30 and 42 percent respectively by 2020, 2025, and 2030 in comparison with the 2005 level. These figures looked much less impressive if compared with the obligations of EU countries that insisted on a different basis of cuts — to be made in comparison with the 1990 level. Using the latter methodology, U.S. mitigation would be respectively around 4, 8 and 13 percent below the 1990 benchmark. [4]

Under these circumstances, the tactics of the U.S. delegation was to renounce claims of China and other major non-Western polluters that the United States had a historic and moral responsibility to finance the global anti-warming project in the developing world. To accept the morality argument and recognize the historic “guilt” of the U. S. in the global warming would mean that the United States would have to pay reparations to the Third World on the conditions of the latter. Therefore, from the very outset of the negotiations, the U. S. delegation had reasonably repelled any demands and accusations that could lead the talks to a contentious moral venue. Remembering that the best defense is offense, the U.S. diplomats pointed out that in 2009-2020, 98 percent of emissions would originate from the developing countries with China alone accounting for 50 percent of the global CO2 ejection. Moreover, they also emphasized that China’s refusal to allow verification of its mitigation pledges would be detrimental to any effective global climate change accord. [5]

The Sino-American showdown has revealed that all other participants of the conference were at some point in time de facto hostages of the two major contenders. The intransigence of the two was effectively blocking any attempt to reach a meaningful agreement. The Americans made it clear they were not intending to pay, while the Chinese stated that they were not going to agree to be verified. Negotiating their brinkmanship intentions as a currency in the diplomatic trade-off, the Americans and the Chinese were using the tactics of what I call negative diplomacy. By negative diplomacy I mean creation or utilization of obstacles to the ends of reaching an agreement, while positive diplomacy precipitates formation and trading of rewards.

Apparently, with an ambiguous mandate to propose to the others and limited funds to share, the U.S. had very moderate bargaining power in the negotiations. As soon as it was realized in Washington, the American delegation increased its stakes 10 –fold. As it was announced by Secretary of State Clinton just two days before the conference was supposed to be wrapped up, the U.S. would contribute to collecting $100 billion a year by 2020 — an impressive increase of the aid’s total amount from a projected $30 billion in 2010- 2012 to approximately one trillion dollars in 2020 -2030. [6] These specific obligations took the form of a collective commitment by the West that was included in the text of the final accord. In return, the U.S. succeeded in securing China’s reluctant consent to embody a rather vague wording on verification in the Copenhagen agreement. [7]

In Copenhagen, major world actors were pursuing different and sometimes substantially realigned foreign policy approaches. Thus, the United States, which, with the ascendance of Barack Obama, has abandoned its unilateralist neoconservative strategy, has resorted to a new foreign policy model that can be defined as “accommodationist realpolitik.” Not renouncing America’s strife to maintain strategic supremacy, its authors put forward open dialogue, acknowledgment of other powers’ interests and international cooperation. In other words, while preserving the components of U.S. hard power —its military might and resolve to use force, accommodationist realpolitik accentuates soft strength, authority and diplomatic bargaining. These changes in the policy pattern are an implicit recognition of the pernicious nature of the preceding approach that was practiced by the Bush administration with its focus on neo-realist interventionism as the first best option to ensure U.S. national security interests. While long-term implications of the Bush foreign and security policy, particularly with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan remain to be seen, its shorter — time ramifications are not difficult to notice — attrition of the country’s economic, financial and moral resources, erosion of international reputation and enhanced risks of hegemonic overreaching.

The Obama policy in the realm of climate change was by all accounts perceived by the administration and the State Department as an opportunity to demonstrate America’s willingness to accommodate the interests of the international community in the realm of sustainable development. Besides, the incumbent Democratic administration appears to better realize the security salience of the climate change issue than its predecessors.  Even if the United States per se might not be the most vulnerable country to be affected by global warming, the universal implications of the latter would definitely present a strategic challenge for the U.S. as a global securatizer. If not arrested, the evolving trend of climate change risks wreaking havoc to the world’s migration flows, and a tide of conflicts over water and other resources will become a gloomy reality of the next decades. Some experts rightly surmise that because of deterioration in the global climate conditions  “the United States will …certainly have to deal with a rapidly changing strategic picture which may challenge its efforts to preserve world-wide stability.” [8]

Yet, the actual bargaining capabilities of the U. S. diplomatic corps in pursuing a new kind of policy turned out to be restricted due to an unfavorable combination of circumstances ranging from the partisan struggle in the Congress to fading financial resources at the federal level, and to bureaucratic inertia in the departments involved in the negotiations.

Source: “Fewer Americans See Solid Evidence of Global Warming, Modest Support for “Cap and Trade” Policy” The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 22 October, 2009

While the format of this paper does not allow us to elaborate on every obstacle in making the United States a genuine world leader in combating climate change, it is necessary to emphasize here the lack of partisan consensus with respect to the seriousness of global warming and its causes. Indeed, as the data of the polls conducted by The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in October 2009 explicitly demonstrates, the problem appears to be highly (and ridiculously!) politicized. While 75 percent of Democrats see that there is solid evidence of the problem and 50 percent indicate human activity as its primary cause, Republicans are predominantly skeptical on both issues. Only 35 and 18 percent of Republicans respectively believe that there is solid evidence of global warming and that it is caused by human activity (see the table below).

Above all, the President-Senate schism in the realm of foreign policy continues to manifest itself in the Senate’s determination to maintain its institutional leverage by opposing the executive. The adamant stance of S.Res.98 exemplifies the legislature’s desire “to carry weight in negotiations” even at the expense of America’s bargaining power.[9]

The True Believer: The Policy of the European Union

In contrast with the United States, the European Union appears to be pursuing a consistently benign and benevolent approach to global security challenges including the climate change. EU neo-Liberal policy emphasizes civilian means and commitments: e.g., leadership by example, readiness to donate substantial financial aid to the world’s poor nations, and pledges to take binding cap obligations. Invariably, internationalism and multilateralism constitute underlying premises of the European Liberalpolitik.  Probably, the most important feature of EU policy is its attempt to replace unlimited consumerism and state self-interest by a self-restrained model of sustainability- a remarkable response to Hardin’s dilemma of the commons. [10] Among all, the salience of the Copenhagen conference for the European Union was in that it provided the Union with an opportunity to test the efficiency of its policy in comparison to peer contenders.

From the very onset of the climate change discourse, individual EU member countries and the European Union at large have put combating global warming at the core of their grand strategy. With the United States refraining from action in the framework of the Kyoto protocol, the Union has assumed the role of a global climate policy leader, and was instrumental in setting ambitious targets in fighting carbon emissions. Thus, in 2007 the European Council announced that the EU would commit itself to 30 percent caps from the 1990 level by 2020, provided other industrialized countries take the same obligation. But even regardless of others, the Union unilaterally undertook to reduce its emissions by 20 percent by 2020 in comparison with 1990. [11]

Objectively, the EU is the only international actor that has so far worked out a comprehensive strategy to contain global warming. Its action plan spans institutional accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; assistance to developing countries; measures to set up a global carbon market; financial, technological and capacity adjustments, and advancement of research and development in the realm of climate technologies. [12]

Accordingly, Brussels identified a conclusion of “a single, new, legally binding treaty…[with] all the essential elements of the Kyoto Protocol plus further emission commitments by all developed countries, including the US, and emission actions by developing countries” as its negotiation target. [13] But is this ambitious goal realistic? Does the EU have enough bargaining power to persuade the U.S., China and other key players to undertake carbon reduction commitments that would be necessary in keeping the world temperature below a 2°C increase by 2020?

This task is not easy as it implies specific binding obligations by all. EU estimates demonstrate that “to keep global warming below 2°C, industrialized countries must cut their emissions to 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 while developing countries need to hold their emissions growth at some 15-30% below projected levels in 2020.” [14] However, according to EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, “the aggregate offers from developed countries still fall well short of the level of ambition needed [as] a number of provisions in the current negotiating texts would have the effect of reducing developed countries’ targets in practice.”  The Commissioner emphasized that “these provisions must be tightened up in Copenhagen” and that “ensuring the environmental integrity of the future treaty is of paramount importance to the EU.” [15]

Not to fall short of its ambitious negotiation targets, the EU resorted to its traditional style of positive diplomacy that rests upon creation of political, normative and economic incentives with its partners. Notably, persuasion with respect to other developed actors, primarily the United States, and financial “bribing” with respect to the developing countries were among the most conspicuous instruments that European diplomats attempted to apply in Copenhagen. The latter were promised substantial financial aid packages for a  ‘fast start’ deal to “strengthen their capacities to tackle climate change in the short term (2010-2012)”, and for longer term needs. The Union alone pledged $10,6 billion for the first package. With respect to the second package, the EU committed itself to a fair share of  $50-100 billion of “the total international public finance required by developing countries to combat climate change per year by 2020 [as] estimated by the European Commission”. [16]

However, with respect to the U.S., Brussels appears to be embarking on a path of a “mission impossible” as the Europeans would ultimately have to persuade the most intransigent part of the American government — the legislature. To this end, they will have to lobby in forging a bipartisan alliance in the Congress, and, most importantly, make the majority on Capitol Hill believe that global warming does present a grave challenge to the U.S. It is more than doubtful that in these instances European politicians and lobbyists would be able to accomplish more than the U.S. President has so far been able to achieve.

As it will be shown below, the U. S.’s climate change caps outcome is in the hands of the Senate. In the view of the generally asymmetric power balance in the Euro-Atlantic relationship in favor of America, it is most unlikely that the EU will be able to compel the U.S. to raise its caps in line with the aforementioned 2°C measures. Should the EU be even eager to contribute the bulk of the international public money needed by the global South — the only seemingly tangible bargaining tool at Europe’s disposal, it would hardly suffice to prod the U.S. to any meaningful change in its domestic policy on carbon reductions.

Yet, let us return to Copenhagen. There, with tactics of initially negative diplomacy, which on a later stage was replaced with more positive diplomacy of a sort, the United States managed to capture the initiative from other influential players, and first and foremost from the European Union. It is worth repeating here that from the very beginning of the talks, the EU was using the tactics of positive diplomacy and avoided any hint of having coercion in the arsenal of its foreign policy.

Moreover, the EU, in line with its famous policy of leading by example, has undertaken the most progressive obligation caps. The Union was actually an initiator and a sponsor of the conference, and from the very start of  Copenhagen the Europeans undertook to carry the bulk of the financial aid burden to poor nations. The result was disillusion and frustration of its leaders, including the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council, manifested during their joint press conference on the conclusion of the Copenhagen talks. As it follows from the reaction of the EU leaders regarding the conduct of the U.S. and China, the Europeans were particularly upset that in the end they turned out to be sidelined by the Americans and the Chinese. [17] The eventual diplomatic outcome of the conference was that the entire world became convinced that these two powers are the only true global players, and that the future of the planet survival is decided not in Brussels or other European capitals, but in Washington and Beijing.

A Modest Charm of a Mercantilist Approach: Metamorphosis of Chinese Policy

The diplomatic posture of China in Copenhagen was quite remarkable, albeit generally consistent with its overall foreign policy stance that may be defined as neo-mercantilist realpolitik. The latter is a by-product of the country’s strategy that emphasizes high economic growth by all means. Domestically, these means include a combination of classic capitalist incentives with a total indoctrination of the people. Remarkably, communist slogans in the PRC succeed in coexisting with the dire reality of an avaricious pre-modern state that does not care to provide for welfare to its citizens through pensions (except the state bureaucracy), free health care or secondary education.

Understandably, relocation of social costs from the state to the population saves the Chinese government billions of dollars that it prefers instead invest in mega-projects like a space program, nuclear weapons, modernization of the armed forces, etc.  Accordingly, China’s diplomacy and its foreign economic policy are adjusted to foster accumulation of financial resources in the state to meet its ambitious objectives. The mercantilist state in China resorts, for example, to protectionism by maintaining an artificially low exchange rate of the national currency — a measure conducive to propelling exports and containing imports. In this context, it is hardly imaginable that the Chinese government would be eager to bear the costs of curbing carbon emissions — expenses that seem irrational both in a capitalist perspective and to the aforementioned ends of aggrandizement.

It is critical for China to keep up the pace of its economic growth that should match the development targets of the most populous country in the world. It should be underscored though that China’s GDP rates at the level of 8-10 percent in the last three decades, were achieved at high costs, and had a devastating impact on its ecology. With coal accounting for about 70 percent of its primary energy consumption and 80 percent in generating its electric power, China is considered to be the major pollutant in the world. [18] Though China is undertaking energetic attempts to decrease the level of fossil fuels in its energy structure; these attempts necessitate huge expenditures and would take long time to implement.

Indeed, according to some estimates, China will manage to increase the share of non-fossil energy to 15 percent by 2020 — less than a modest indicator, though an apparent breakthrough in comparison with 7 percent in 2006. [19] Yet, the bets are that China’s emissions are unlikely to decrease in the next decade, particularly given its plans to construct 562 coal-driven power stations by 2012. [20] Under these circumstances, it seems obviously unreasonable for the Chinese to take legally binding obligations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, as this would mean voluntarily restricting their development targets. Instead, China has widely publicized its intention to reduce the “energy intensity” of is industry by 40-45 percent per one unit of GDP. [21]

By and large, Chinese policy in Copenhagen can be described as generally well-thought and pursued with remarkable perseverance, yet, too often close to inflexibility. The latter though whatever vexing it might seem to opponents, should be treated with leniency, as it is an innate and invariable attribute of any rigid decision-making authority — an unsurprising feature of a non-democratic regime.

For China, Copenhagen presented an excellent venue to test its diplomatic salience in the new century. One of the major obstacles for Beijing to upgrade its political leverage globally was considered its lack of foreign policy experience that, among all, prompted it to behave in a benign way with respect to international heavyweights like the U.S. and Russia. [22] With these merits and drawbacks, China’s task in the Danish capital was at least fourfold. First of all, trying the tempting clothes of a new superpower, Beijing aspired to present itself as a responsible international player. Second, it aimed to increase its international leverage by forging and leading an alliance of non-Western participants. Third, still viewing the global politics in zero-sum game terms, the Chinese diplomats attempted to use the negotiations to demote the magnitude of their major global contender — the United States. Fourth, they sought to avoid any binding clauses in a prospective agreement that would legally oblige China to allow the West to monitor and verify its mitigation pledges. Accomplishing these tasks would have been quite problematic for Chinese diplomats should there have not been a serious transatlantic divergence on mitigation — a factor that eventually enabled China to cut a deal with the United States on terms generally favorable to meeting Beijing’s policy objectives.

Russia: Lagging Behind

At first sight, Russia’s position with respect to CO2 caps looked agreeable as Moscow has announced plans to curb emissions by 10 to 15 percent by 2020 from the 1990 level provided other countries undertake pertinent binding obligations. Essentially, however, this position is rather disingenuous, given Moscow’s awareness of an apparently low probability to agree on mandatory mitigation in Copenhagen. Above all, the projected 15 percent cuts figure, is tricky. In reality, as some experts rightly observe, it would allow Russia to increase emissions by 30 percent for the same period given the fact that the actual size of the Russian industry nowadays is significantly lower than it was before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. [23]

Russia’s conduct in Copenhagen was in line with Moscow’s foreign policy style that has evolved under Putin — an opportunist realpolitik aimed at preserving the incumbent political-business class in power by all costs, and restoration of Russia’s “greatness” in the fashion of the former Soviet Union. Two major tools — nuclear arms and energy exports — are viewed as indispensable “weapons” in meeting both goals. Accordingly, maintaining huge volumes of oil and gas deliveries abroad — to Europe and most recently to China is seen as critically needed to provide for elite further enrichment and modernizing Russia’s obsolete military force, particularly nuclear strategic arms.

In Russia, the top state bureaucracy and business are inseparable, and form a single power group whose revenues come largely from trade with the West.  The task of Russia’s foreign policy is, therefore, to promote relevant group interests by packing them in accommodative wording and at the same time using every opportunity to advance elitist self-interest. An important feature of Russia’s diplomacy is its submission to the domestic military and intelligence communities as they are reportedly playing a disproportionally big role in the country’s overall decision-making. This is due to the peculiarities of the elite in power many of whom are descendents from the Soviet KGB.

Notably, on the eve of the climate conference in Copenhagen, in the fashion of the “special operations” characteristic of Cold War-style methods, 160 MB of emails hacked from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia were posted on the Internet. Some of the emails written by British and U.S. climate experts defied the global warming concept. The hackers were reportedly financed by the Russian FSB (a successor to the KGB), and the alleged goal of the action was to mobilize the world’s public opinion against the global warming doctrine by exposing a “fraudulent” cause of the Copenhagen. [24] Symptomatically, the conspiracy stance was echoed by the epistemic community in Russia, as some distinguished members of the Russian Academy of Sciences voiced their opinion that the global climate warming campaign is inspired by the Western governments primarily to the detriment of Russian interests. [25]

The discrepancy between Moscow’s policy on climate change that officially recognizes the importance of the problem and declares eagerness to cooperate, and the cynical approach of its genuine decision-makers is explained by the fact that the target of any binding agreement on climate would be fossil fuels.  Since they are considered to be the major source of CO2 emissions (about 70 percent in the industrialized countries), this risks undermining Russia’s primary source of currency revenues and obstructs Moscow’s elitist and strategic goals. Moreover, for powerful Russian oil companies, the rise of the world’s temperature is not seen as hazardous, but, on the contrary, appears to provide a lucky opportunity as melting of ice would facilitate Russia’s access to lucrative energy reserves in the Arctic.

Interestingly, the diplomatic showdown among the world’s major powers in Copenhagen was marked by the absence of Russia’s dog in the fight. There were several reasons for that. First, Moscow by all accounts does not see climate change as its grand strategy priority at home and abroad primarily because its policy is focused on immediate targets. Secondly, obsessed with and spoiled by easy money from the oil bonanza of the last decade, the Russian rulers tend to treat investment in green technologies with neglect. Indeed, while in many Russian cities including Moscow the environmental situation is gloomy, the need to invest in its improvement is not so evident for the Russian top bureaucracy who live in relatively clean suburban or rural areas. Its unaccountability to the public at large is facilitated by the quasi-democratic nature of the Russian political system under the incumbent regime.

Next, the costs of going from dirty to clean industries, and particularly from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources is seen as too high for the Russian economy that has suffered from the ongoing economic recession and spans 1/7 of the world landmass. Thirdly, making some loud declarations on the eve of the conference, the Russian leaders preferred to keep a low profile when in Copenhagen, losing a chance to boost Russia’ international image. Lastly, Moscow’s substantive truancy in the conference reflected not only a narrow vision of the contemporary global agenda by Russian leaders, but also the fact that decisions in the realm of non-conventional security threats could be taken without Russia’s active engagement.

Moreover, Copenhagen can be described as an emerging global security structure outside of the UN’s Security Council. Notably, Russia, which inherited a permanent seat there from the Soviet Union, continues to see the UNSC as an indispensable bulwark that per se suffices for its international greatness. This stereotype neglects the significance of alternative or parallel forms of multilateral diplomacy. Russia’s narrow-minded unilateralist approach demonstrated in Copenhagen is increasingly risking this Eurasian nation to be overshadowed by other ascendant powers — China and India that are vigorously seeking every opportunity to realign the contemporary international system in their favor.

This said, it should be noted that Russia is most unfavorably positioned to make use of the new patterns of the global green development. This is because the country’s economic model is less navigated by global market incentives then by administrative decisions of its top bureaucracy. Unlike American businesses that have welcomed Copenhagen, the Russian industrialist oligarchs whose wealth is accumulated in the traditional sectors of the economy like petroleum, metal, etc., are rather defiant. This resistance stems from ineptitude, which, in turn, is a symptom of a deeper problem — Russia’s comprehensive systemic backwardness in the global postindustrial advancement.

Small wonder, their immediate competitors — Chinese and India’s entrepreneurs — are better positioned to benefit from the opening of a new age of green technologies, and together with U.S. and European technological powerhouses are likely to dominate the world’s high-tech markets of clean energy. The environmental-friendly pattern of universal development is about to open extraordinary business horizons for vibrant economies. It will be recognized sooner than later: the traditional model of CO2 emission cuts is too burdensome and economically not viable in contrast to an innovation model that will bring an 11-dollar profit for every dollar of green investment. [26]

Meanwhile, should a binding agreement on carbon emission reductions be reached eventually, Russia, who would receive no financial aid from the West as it is not considered a poor nation (and indeed it is not), would have to pay for mitigation from its national budget. This would put an additional financial burden on a generally paternalistic nation — the burden that neither the Russians, nor their rulers would be willing to accept.

Given its obsolete industrial structure and the overarching role of fossil fuels in its political economy, it looks likely that Russia will be further torn between the interests of its unreconstructed industrialist moguls and rationales of cleaner environment. Its necessity to modernize and inability to create systemic opportunities for innovation will continue to contest each other. As a result, Russia is (and will be) a reluctant and, implicitly, obstructive participant in a new model of global sustainable development that other major economies might on the contrary support and prosper from in the next decades.

A Diplomatic Battlefield
Copenhagen manifested something remarkable and worth exploring — an attempt of non-Western actors to alter the patterns of the international power structure that has so far been predominantly shaped by the United States and its Western allies. Was it an attempt to decisively overthrow the United States’ supremacy? To be sure, such a contention would be seditious as, according to the classical IR theory, power change takes place ONLY as a result of a large-scale war.

But what if the habitual violent pattern of toppling a hegemon has (and luckily!) become obsolete due to the very inability to alter power distribution nowadays forcefully because of inapplicability of a global war in the era of the nuclear arms? What if change will arrive not through a devastating (and uncivilized) application of hard power as it did happen in the past, but by a sophisticated (and progressive) utilization of its soft components?

Indeed, the last hypotheses may prove to be meaningful since image and symbols, as some scholars argue, are more important than the real state of affairs. In other words, an idea that has a potential to be emotionally compelling to people may become a more forceful tool of change than a mere reality. To this end, skillful diplomacy, if applied auspiciously, may become a more efficient and by all means a much less costly tool of change than rough power. Therefore, like any public gathering where a well-provoked scandal may downgrade its victim in the eyes of an appalled audience, any multilateral talks present an exceptionally favorable platform for raising self-scores and reducing that of an adversary.

Of course, realignment of international order is not an immediate process, and this paper does recognize the necessity of lengthy and large-scale variables that should predetermine any significant change in the global power hierarchy. In this sense, no Copenhagen participants could play a role of a revolutionary squad that was able to push Caesar down from the throne. Yet, it would be shortsighted to ignore the unique importance of Copenhagen as a diplomatic battlefield in checking and measuring the power scale of peer contenders. Most certainly, the summit was not an occasion for the participants to wing it. For ascending powers, like China and India, the talks provided a rare opportunity to score a number of points by diplomatically sidelining the U.S. and revealing America’s inability to sustain its universal leadership into the new century. Given the worldwide attention to the climate change talks, the Copenhagen provided an extraordinary opportunity for a sort of a tiny “coup d’ordre”.

Given anti-American and anti-Western sentiments around the world (and not only with respect to their ostensible historic ”guilt” in the global warming), many developing countries were seeking to settle scores with the North. But by no means every power was able to pursue efficiently an assertive policy of chasing and pressuring a still mighty opponent, given the lack of their bargaining power. Unlike the majority of its allies in the G-77 group, China found itself positioned well enough to pursue what may be called an offensive diplomacy — a policy aimed at pressing the United States along every possible line of contention. This policy was pursued along the following lines.

First of all, China acted as a “natural” leader of the overwhelming majority of the world’s population concentrated in the 130 developing countries that the G-77 group was seeking to represent. The discrepancies between the status and policies of the rich North and the poor South that have been the hallmarks of negotiations within the GATT/WTO rounds were used as precipices to unite the Third World in its opposition to the U.S.-led West.

Secondly, by refusing to allow verifications on its territory, China demonstrated that it can renounce U.S. pressure and has enough power leverage to pursue an independent policy. Thirdly, the United States was portrayed by Chinese diplomats as a simultaneously incapacitated and selfish imperial power, struck by the crisis that it nurtured and damaged by the protracted wars that it initiated to a degree that its international functionality as a world’s aid donor has become largely marginalised.

At the same time, the cutting edge of Chinese diplomacy was aimed at criticizing America as a selfish capitalist nation that is eager to mobilize enough resources when it needs to bail out its own economy and save its money-hungry banks and corporations. The criticism focused on Washington’s failure to find sufficient funds to share with the developing countries that are on the brink of devastation because of climate warming caused by 250 years of “thoughtless” industrialization in the West.

A conclusion that may be drawn from China’s assertive posture in Copenhagen is that the country appears to be revising its traditional policy of non-hegemony (“bu dang fu”) that was conceptualized by Deng Xiaoping three decades ago. [27] If analyzed in conjunction with other unfolding developments like creation of China’s sphere of influence in Asia and Africa, it would become apparent that Beijing is taking the momentum to bypolarize the ensuing international system at the background of Western fading potency. [28]

Interestingly enough, there were predictions that the U.S. and China might forge an alliance to jointly lead a group of countries in opposition to EU-proposed deep emission cuts. [29] This supposition looked improbable for realizing such a scenario for the United States would mean de facto succumbing to the Chinese hidden agenda, and would signify a U.S. power weakness – a situation that America would logically attempt to avoid.

Yet, cutting a deal with major economic powerhouses of the global South, BASIC- China, India and Brazil (plus South Africa), the United States implicitly contributed to fostering a new international configuration of power.

The China-led South — should the Chinese diplomats be skillful enough to formalize a new alliance — could from now on be considered a more influential player in global politics. Symptomatically, the United States and China sidelined the European Union, which was the only truly committed green player in the negotiations.  U. S. and Chinese diplomats played a brinkmanship card rather efficiently, and, after reaching what President Obama described as a “breakthrough” in the talks, can be seen as “rescuers” of the negotiations.

A Global Government?
Among many conclusions that may be drawn from analysis of Copenhagen, the issues of possible institutional contours and limits of multilateralism in the era of globalization stand out. The mainstream concepts of IR like conctructivism (Wendt and others) claim that the general trend of human evolution is socialization of states that will eventually lead to creation of global government. [30] The concept refers to the examples of G-8 and G-20 forums as undisputed evidence of this progressive trend.

But do multilateral associations necessarily derive benefit from globalization? Definitely not. Consider the Concert of Europe after the Congress of Vienna or Zollverein, German Customs Union, as examples of coalitions that date back to times when there was no talk of globalization, and durability of states was not given the benefit of a doubt. Imagine contemporary conditions under which a hypothetical global government could be created. Most certainly, one’s common sense would not allow imagining such an institution as an administration of a global empire.

After the “end of history” predicted by Fukuyama, the only viable scenario of humanity’s future could be a democratic international government. Given this overarching condition, consider a mechanism of decision-making in such a government that would act on behalf of 200 states accumulating almost 7 billion people of our planet. Let us then borrow decision-making principles that the most advanced multilateral and integrated group of sovereign nations — the European Union — applies. A qualified majority that implies consent of 55 percent of member states representing 65 percent of the total EU population takes decisions there. Apply this to a government that would decide on behalf of today’s world, and it will become clear that without the consent of China and India that jointly account for 40 percent of the world population the work of a global government would be paralyzed.

Copenhagen is an excellent illustration of the scope and significance of the issue. If the U.S., China and the European Union constitute different poles in approaching the issues of global survival like global warming, then how can one expect to achieve global consensus with respect to other security domains? Domains that would involve cultural, religious, ideological, social and economic interests that apparently diverge in the rich North and generally poor South?  Domains where consensus sometimes is barely (if at all) reached even between close allies like the U.S. and Europe? Would the Western “minority” agree to be ruled by decisions imposed by coordinated policies of the world’s democratic majority accumulated in the Global South? And, in their turn, would former colonies, given their national history full of humiliation brought by Western powers, submit to any form of international government that would infringe on their hard-won state sovereignty? Should common sense be applied in response to these questions, it would be not difficult to conceive that a constructivist model of global governance if utilized in practical terms appears not to be matching reality.

According to systemic theories of U.S. foreign policy, shifts in distribution of power in the international system are the major causes of change in America’s conduct abroad.

Copenhagen proved to be an important argument in favor of the realist concepts’ validity. Consider the changes in the dyadic distribution of power between the United States and China in the last decade. The financial crisis exacerbated by America’s costly meddling in the Middle Eastern affairs has aggravated U.S. capabilities to project its power to and control developments in other regions, including Asia-Pacific. Although America continues to maintain its military presence in South Korea and Japan, its relative impact on security situation in the region has been fading. Washington, for example, revealed its inability to prevent or counter North Korea’s policy of nuclear bullying. Although Beijing also has no record of real impact on the conduct of the belligerent regime in North Korea, the general expectations still are that China is the only international actor that is really able to turn the clock back.

The same expectations with respect to China’s ostensibly powerful pacifying diplomatic capabilities continue to exist with regard to other major rogue state —Iran. Some U.S. politicians concur that Beijing, which is a valuable consumer of Iranian energy resources, has enough leverage to make Tehran change its defiant nuclear cause. [31]

All these expectations may be, and, most likely, are not more than just wishful thinking. So far, China has been pursuing a very cautious and, in fact unhelpful, policy with respect to nuclear proliferation. Still, for our analysis it is important to underscore that the world’s general expectations in the realm of regional and global security are not anymore connected only with the United States. But are the ascending powers able to deliver? By all accounts, they will not in the foreseeable future. Notably, a famous “expectations-capability gap” exists not only with regard to the European Union — this acknowledgement of discrepancies between international demand in and national supply of soft power can be equally applied to China. What is important here is to understand that these expectations with respect to China and Europe as salient international players are, in essence, fostering a major realignment of the international order from the U.S.-centered to a more diversified global decision-making system.

Copenhagen became another important step in this direction, except that the contours of the ensuing international settlement after the climate talks came more to resemble the bipolar system in the second half of the last century. Yet, today’s world it is not a mere analogy of the former East-West Cold War divide, marked by definite schisms and undisputed co-leadership. Nowadays, the dividing lines are somewhat blurred and ambiguous, as the Second World has vanished and the Third World is desperately seeking to jumpfrog to the status of the First World. Today, demarcation lines are not innately antagonistic and insurmountable as they are passing between the developed North and developing South, and unlike the capitalist and socialist systems both sides are not irreconcilable adversaries, but partners strongly interconnected by myriad of commercial, technological and financial ties. Moreover, their economic systems are mostly similar with market being the dominant business ideology. Above all, while America of Eisenhower and Reagan was considered an incontestable boss in the post-WWII Western alliance, the U. S. of Bush and Obama is not. The same is true with respect to the global South where China definitely does not enjoy the status of an all-mighty hegemon as the Soviet Union did among its socialist vassals.

What we are dealing with is an ensuing complex system of a bipolar multipolarity where leadership is less pronounced and is more based on power sharing than it was the case in former alliances. Copenhagen appears to support the argument as the United States has made a deal not solely with China, but also with three other major developing nations — India, Brazil and South Africa. And, importantly, the deal was not accepted unanimously and without murmur by every country as it could be the case in the era of two superpowers — a definite indication of a more anarchic, yet, much more democratic world order in the present century than it was in the past.End.


1. The 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, from the 7th to the 18th of December 2009.

2. Congressional Record: July 25, 1997 (Senate), DOCID: cr25jy97-97, p. S8113-S8139 from the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [] Explaining rationales behind the resolution, one of its authors, Senator Charles Hagel from Nebraska, then argued that “Higher prices for all goods because of higher energy costs mean American goods cost more worldwide, making American products and services less competitive in the world market. And when you are allowing China and Mexico and Brazil and India, South Korea, and 130 other nations not to legally bind themselves to this, what do you think happens in the world marketplace? Our products cost more, our services cost more, and these other nations’ economies will thrive as their products cost less. Does that put us in a stronger competitive position worldwide? I don’t think so.”(Congressional Record: October 23, 1997 (Senate), DOCID:cr23oc97-159, p.  S11007-S11011 from the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [])

3. COP 15 Press Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark, 9 December 2009. Delegation of the United States of America

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. These figures were eventually fixed in the final document prepared by the U.S. plus BASIC delegations in Copenhagen (See “Copenhagen Accord”, Proposal by the President, Draft decision -/CP.15 UNFCCC. United Nations Framework Convention in Climate Change, CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES, Fifteenth session, Copenhagen, 7.18 December 2009, 1F8C CDCec/CemP/b2e0r0 290/0L9.7)

7. In this instance, the Copenhagen text reads as follows: “Mitigation actions taken by Non-Annex I Parties will be subject to their domestic measurement, reporting and verification …These supported nationally appropriate mitigation actions will be subject to international measurement, reporting and verification in accordance with guidelines adopted by the Conference of the Parties.”  “Copenhagen Accord”.

8. Carolyn Pumphrey. “Introduction” in Carolyn Pumphrey (ed) Global Climate Change: National Security Implications (Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2008) p.8

9. Noteworthy, when introducing S. Res. 98, Senator Hagel underscored that” the Framers of the Constitution gave the executive branch of our Government authority to negotiate treaties. But they also intended for the Senate’s voice to carry weight in negotiations.” (Congressional Record: July 25, 1997 (Senate), p. S8113-S8139.

10. As demonstrated in a brilliant essay by Garrett Hardin, the logic of rationality and self-interest of humans is devastating for the environment, a phenomenon that he defined “the tragedy of the commons”. “The rational man finds that his share of the cost of the wastes he discharges into the commons is less than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them. Since this is true for everyone, we are locked into a system of “fouling our own nest,” so long as we behave only as independent, rational, free enterprisers.” Garrett Hardin (1968) “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Garrett Hardin, Science, 162(1968): 1243-1248. This is exactly the logic behind global environmental hostility of all countries based on a classic capitalism model – a logic that puts self-interest of national wealth above imperatives of universal survival.

11. In its statement on post-2012 action, the European Council emphasized the EU’s commitment “to transforming Europe into a highly energy-efficient and low greenhouse-gas-emitting economy”. To these ends, it decided that, “until a global and comprehensive post-2012 agreement is concluded, and without prejudice to its position in international negotiations, the EU makes a firm commitment to achieve at least a 20% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990.”  “EU Action against climate change. Leading global action to 2020 and beyond.” Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2009, p 18.

12. See Ibid.

13. ‘The Copenhagen climate conference: key EU objectives.” MEMO/09/534, Brussels, 2 December, 2009. MEMO/09/534&format=HTML&aged= 0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

14. “Copenhagen conference must produce global, ambitious and comprehensive agreement to avert dangerous climate change.” IP/09/ 1867 Brussels, 2 December, 2009. reference=IP/09/1867&format= HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

15. Ibid.

16. [16] “The Copenhagen climate conference: key EU objectives”

17.During the press conference in Copenhagen on 19 December, 2009, the leaders of the European Union made it clear that their efforts to reach a binding and meaningful agreement on climate change were obstructed by other parties. Describing their sentiments with respect to the outcome of the conference as disappointment, the Europeans lamented that other major participants were against specific mitigation targets to be written in the accord including EU’s intention to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The reason for this stance was that neither the United States, nor China wanted the Union to raise the benchmark as this would have allegedly forced them to increase their individual reduction objectives. The latter are well below 50 percent that are needed for keeping the rise of the global temperature under 2 degrees. While the European Union was leading in proposing higher cuts, as it was emphasized in the press conference by José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, “others” (the U.S. and China) emerged as “leaders in reducing” international mitigation targets. European Union COP 15 Press Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark 19 December, 2009 kongresse/cop15/templ/play.php?id_kongresssession=2752&theme=unfccc

18. “China’s Energy Conditions and Policies.”(Xinhua)
China Daily 2007-12-26
Adam Aston “China and U.S. Energy Giants Team Up for ‘Clean Coal’.” Business Week, November 13, 2009, content/nov2009/gb20091113_905899.htm

19. See: Michael J. Economides and Xina Xie. “China and carbon emissions”, American Thinker, October 19, 2009.

20. Elizabeth C. Economy, Jennifer L. Turner, and Fengshi Wu. “China’s Growing Ecological Footprint: Global Threat or Opportunity to Collaboration?” in The United States, Russia and China: Confronting Global Terrorism and Security Challenges in the 21st Century. Paul J. Bolt, Su Changhe and Sharyl Cross (eds) Praeger: Westport, 2008, p. 72.

21. “China unveils emissions targets for Copenhagen.” Euronews 26 November 2009.

22, Marc Lanteigne. Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction. Routledge: London, 2009

24. The British newspaper “The Independent” that reported these allegations, refers to the vice chairman of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, who believes that the purpose of leaking the emails was to “fuel skepticism about climate change and …make agreement harder at Copenhagen.” Shaun Walker. “Was Russian secret service behind leak of climate-change emails?The Independent, 7 December 2009

25. At President’s Medvedev’s meeting with some top members of the Russian Academy of Sciences on the eve of his departure for the climate summit in Copenhagen, one of the participants claimed that the global warming campaign is, essentially, an attack on the oil and gas producing countries. See “Shorthand Report on the Meeting with the Top Executive of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Representatives of the Scientific Community” (in Russian), President of Russia, 15 December 2009.

26. Marc Lanteigne, p.64.

27. According to the Copenhagen Concensus Centre’s estimates, “every euro invested in new energy technology makes an 11-fold return on investment, whereas a euro spent on cutting CO2 actually loses three-quarters of its value.” “COP 15 ends one chapter, open another say critics.” Euronews 19/12/09

28. The most recent example of this trend is the inception of China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA) on January 1, 2010. Facilitating trade and investment between China and 10 South East Asian countries- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam – the China-led trade bloc will become the world’s third economic pillar after the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement. See “China, ASEAN to write new legend of cooperation”. People’s Daily Online.6 January 2010.

29. This propensity is outlined, for example, by Paul G. Harris, who believes that “US leadership in coming years could just as easily be about protecting entrenched industrial interests and mustering support among states opposed to robust action on cutting  GHGs. In this respect, the United States and China could become allies.” Paul G.Harris. “Beyond Bush: Environmental politics and prospects for US climate policy.” Energy Policy, 37 (2009) 966–971 p.971

30. Alexander Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)

31. On the issue see: Richard Fisher, Jr. “China’s Alliance With Iran Grows Contrary to U.S. Hopes.” International Assessment and Strategic Center, 20 May 2006

Sergey Smolnikov
Sergey Smolnikov

Professor Sergey Smolnikov teaches International Relations and Foreign Policy at York University, Canada.   He has published extensively on global security and geopolitical and political economy, with a focus on Europe and Eurasia. He holds a Habilitation degree and a Ph.D. in International Economic Relations from Moscow State Institute of International Relations, where he taught as a professor. He has also taught in the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Tokyo, Japan. He is a former fellow of the George Washington University.


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