The G20 summit this week, and the growing Syrian catastrophe, underscores the reality that we are living in a G-zero world.
The term, coined by two American political scientists, refers to the vacuum of geopolitical power as the west declines and emerging nations concentrate on their domestic problems. For fans of "strongman" politics, this is a disaster, but for most of humanity this could be a healthy development that will continue to force might to be replaced with collaboration and consensus.
Unfortunately, Russia's defence of Syria's regime, and nasty barbs at the U.S. and Britain, hijacked the G20 economic agenda. Matters more important than Syria were mostly subsumed, such as curbing international tax evasion, tweaking U.S. monetary policy to help emerging economies and dealing with banks as well as roiling markets, among others. Only slight progress was made on these fronts.
Syria is not a G20 issue but a United Nations matter. The problem is that UN governance allows Russia and China to veto any military action and they have threatened to do so.
President Obama remains adamant that Syria must be punished. He acknowledged that its civil war does not pose an "imminent direct threat" to the United States or its allies. If this was the case he would have acted immediately but instead, he says, Congress must review the evidence and determine a course of action.
He acknowledged American skepticism, centering on whether this could become another "slippery slope" toward war and whether limited bombing would accomplish anything strategic.
Russia, a weapons supplier to Syria, says the U.S. is wrong and chemicals were homemade and released by rebels. Other G20 members who agree with Russia that the UN must sanction bombing are Argentina, China, South Africa, and India.
The facts are that world public opinion, including polls in the U.S., is against military action in Syria. In America, opposition is roughly 80 per cent. The world is war weary, especially in the Middle East and Arab Street.
So there is no momentum or coalition as yet to join the Americans if they do act.
Britain's Parliament voted against military action, but Prime Minister David Cameron urged the U.S. to bomb Syria as a "deterrent" to stop its dictator and others.
France has voted to participate, despite significant public opposition, but will wait for the Congress decision before taking any action. Germany wants UN investigators to speed up their findings even though its espionage service this week found evidence that Syria's government was behind the chemical deployment.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso described Syria as a "stain on the world's conscience" but said that only a political solution would work.
The Arab League supported a military strike in Syria but stated they would not lend a hand. They would pay for the United States, France, or others to do so.
Lebanon and Jordan, most damaged by the Syrian crisis, are demanding action but unwilling or unable to participate. Nearly 5 per cent of Syria's population has fled to temporary refugee camps in the region. Turkey, also flooded with migrants, is the only G20 nation openly willing to join a coalition to militarily intervene in the Syrian civil war.
Russia supports the Syrian regime and supplies it with arms. It also benefits from higher oil prices due to the controversy. From the G20 international stage Putin and others have personally attacked American leaders and allies.
China, heading toward overtaking the United States economically by 2018, has shown absolutely no interest in throwing any weight around geopolitically. Instead, Beijing focuses on domestic challenges and local politics such as gasoline pump prices. In a statement, China stated its opposition to military action because oil prices would increase and hurt the world economy, namely theirs.
If there is consensus globally it's that people regard atrocities in Syria, like in a host of other countries, as alarming and illegal but believe that bombing and invasion cannot change bad political cultures.
Some, like the Washington Post, point out that the U.S. has not punished chemical warfare in the past.
"In 1988, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ordered chemical weapons attacks against [an estimated 5,000] Kurdish resistance fighters, but the relationship with Iraq at the time was deemed too important to rupture over the matter. The United States did not even impose sanctions," noted the Post.
Still others argue that North Korea is a better target because it is a more egregious example of murder, mayhem and the threat of weapons of mass destruction.
The point is the G-zero world is already here which means that Washington and its allies should spend their time uniting, not dividing the international community. They should join with Russia and others to organize sanctions, chemical bans, humanitarian relief and a peace process to stop Syrian violence or contain it.
So Congress has a difficult decision to make. There are reasons for and against bombing but, most importantly, there must be incontrovertible evidence as to who unleashed these chemical weapons. Western intelligence says Syria's army did, but the Russians say this is just like Iraq where unknown persons concocted information in order to draw the Americans into a Middle East quagmire.
American "evidence" of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was fiction but led to a $2-trillion war and occupation. Worse yet, Iraq is still a mess, albeit one that produces two million barrels a day of oil.
This week is the new normal: A U.S. forced to collaborate or go it alone. The G-zero world is about cooperation and coalitions, not cowboy-ism. If the U.S. is not in imminent danger, then Washington should stand down and use its enormous wealth, influence and military heft to find more appropriate multinational means to stop or unseat all the murderous regimes around the world.