Germany has just hosted the latest summit of the G20, the global group of leading industrialized nations, held in Hamburg over July 7 and 8. Chancellor Angela Merkel can count this is another notable success in her now lengthy tenure leading not only a unified Germany, but much of Europe as well — within and beyond the European Union.
Much of the reporting on the summit, even in relatively serious media, focuses on the frustrating — and the frightening. President Donald Trump’s mere presence as well as pronouncements are described at length and in detail. Demonstrators against globalization receive center-stage priority, with photos and video featuring fires and physical violence.
To be sure, there are serious disagreements among G20 members. As one example, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accords complicates efforts to coordinate the world’s governments in addressing this challenge.
At the same time, there is absolutely no substantial effort within the U.S. or anywhere else to withdraw from the G20, or the other intergovernmental organizations that operate under the broad umbrella of the United Nations. On the contrary, Trump and President Vladimir Putin of Russia took the opportunity of the summit to announce a ceasefire agreement regarding southwest Syria. The U.N. was once a controversial topic in U.S. politics, but that is no longer the case.
Germany is a particularly appropriate venue for this summit. A prelude was the recent NATO gathering which featured dedication of memorials to the tragedy of 9/11 and the triumph of bringing down the Berlin Wall.
In profound terms, Germany possesses starkly contrasting dimensions, past and present. Extremist nationalism is one factor in the politics of the nation and region, drawing on a long history of German aggressive militarism. That culminated in the rise of the Third Reich, totalitarian dictatorship, and World War II in Europe. The Roman Empire never conquered the Germans, but instead largely coexisted.
Chancellor Merkel leads a different Germany. She continues to do a masterful job of maintaining political power, popular support, and broad political as well as economic leadership of the continent of Europe.
The G20 testifies to the remarkable durability of the United Nations family of organizations, launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the U.S. and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain. The U.N. concept emerged from the Newfoundland Summit between the leaders in Canada in August 1941. This was several months before the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. directly into World War II.
Today’s world confirms the long-term wisdom of Anglo-American support for relatively open global commerce and investment, assistance for poor countries, and working through the U.N. including the economic institutions. In strategic terms, the continued effectiveness and success of these organizations kept the recent international financial crash and severe recession, which was sparked by collapse of the U.S. housing market, from becoming vastly worse.
In recent years, G20 summits have been hosted by China, Mexico, South Korea and Turkey. The end of the Cold War has meant that we now have a truly global economy, with tremendous potential for continued long-term growth in truly comprehensive terms.
After Nazi Germany surrendered, General Dwight D. Eisenhower would correct people who said the war had been won. Not so — the Third Reich had been destroyed.
If the German people eventually embraced law and democracy, then the war would be won. As usual, Ike was far-sighted and right. Germany and the G20 reconfirm our collective victory.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact firstname.lastname@example.org