Eventually, the G20 must extend its mandate beyond global economy issues and work to influence political change in authoritarian regimes – particularly in the Middle East, argues Turkey’s Taha Özhan.
Both in terms of its legitimacy and the size of the populations it represents, the G20 has become one of the most important forums of our era. Although it is not an official forum, it has become an important decision-making mechanism that responds to global economic changes. In fact, the G20 emerged in response to the global economic crises of the last decade, particularly because the UN Security Council failed in its duties to respond to the far-reaching and wide-ranging changes after the Cold War. In this sense, the G20 should be expected to focus on global systemic issues that are not addressed on the Security Council floor.
A renewed focus on the Middle East
The structural changes taking place in the Middle East since December 2010 are particularly relevant to the workings of the G20. With its rich energy resources and its historical importance for three major religions, the Middle East holds the potential to be one of the most influential contributors to global peace, so the G20 economies’ support for positive change in the region can contribute to a better restructuring of the global system. The fact is, any support offered to these changing economies may be the grounds for long and mutually beneficial relationships. Strategic economic aid to the region will not only help these countries develop their economies at accelerated rates, but also transform their significant younger population ratios into dynamic new markets for the G20 economies.
Repercussions of a failure to respond
On the other hand, if G20 economies take a stance of obdurate indifference to the demands for democratisation and support the authoritarian regimes that suppress masses with violent tactics, the result would be the exact opposite. In the light of history, at a time when the walls of fear are being torn down and social dynamics become significant, any economic or political support for the authoritarian regimes that are resistant to change in the Middle East would only row against the current.
G20 economies must therefore become cognizant of the fact that they have the power to directly influence the global and regional transformations of our times. That decisions of such global importance are now made through unofficial forums such as the Davos and G20 summits, rather than through traditional official mechanisms such as the UN, is now an indisputable fact. This understanding not only renders the G20 more powerful, but vests it with more responsibility. This means that limiting the scope of its discussions to economic issues is no longer a luxury the G20 can afford.
Transcending regional preoccupations
Turkey has demonstrated its support for the changes toward democratisation in the region with policies that prioritise social dynamics. Nevertheless, issues that transcend the purview of the regional actors and that can have global impact – such as the ongoing Syrian crisis – should and must become an item on the G20’s agenda. As one of the hot spots of the rapidly changing international system, the Middle East needs the support of institutions with a high power of representation. Any support for the region’s changing dynamics today may, in the long run, lead to the foundation of the new global system made possible by the work of the G20. It is time for G20 to gradually expand its purview to include global political issues on its agenda.
Taha Özhan is President of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research.
This is an extract from G20: Words into Action Brisbane 2014, to be published by Faircount Media in association with the Australian Institute of International Affairs in October 2014.