The Heiligendamm Meeting

Many expected climate change to be the main topic of the discussions taking place at the June 6-8 meeting in Heiligendamm. Yet recent White House statements and a radicalization of Moscow’s stance regarding U.S. plans to expand the missile defense shield to Central Europe may bring security issues to the fore.

Climate change

Germany, the current EU and G8 leader, proposed plans to cap global warming this century to 2 degrees Celsius. Experts estimate that meeting the German target requires a halving of the 1990 emissions levels by 2050. British and German officials also argued in favor of binding caps on carbon pollution for developed nations.

The White House is opposed to the German plan arguing that global temperature may increase due to other causes. It also opposes binding caps and the related notion of a global carbon-trading program, based on carbon credits, and proposes instead voluntary targets.

More generally, the White House rejects the notion of absolute targets which informs any European proposal. Arguing that a one-size-fits-all policy will damage U.S. economy, the Bush administration prefers to talk about targets for greenhouse intensity, i.e. the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to economic output expressed in Gross Domestic Product ( GDP).

One consequence of replacing absolute targets with relative standards is that if the U.S. GDP increased significantly in the future, the current U.S. climate policy would sanction an absolute increase in the GHGs level.

President G.W. Bush also threw doubts over the relevance of the Heiligendamm meeting or the UN-brokered December meeting on climate change in Bali. Bush stated that the U.S. would hold meetings this autumn with the 15 countries responsible for the production of most of the GHGs, including India and China. The White House refused to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, set to expire in 2012, arguing that China’s and India’s absence would make the agreement nugatory.

The Administration’s position is weakened not only by the approaching end of Bush’s mandate, but also by congressional opposition. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, led a bi-partisan congressional delegation to Germany to hold talks on this issue. After a meeting with Chancellor Merkel, Nancy Pelosi expressed her support for German plans.

Security concerns

Climate change looked set to dominate the G8 agenda at the Heiligendamm meeting. Yet security concerns have risen in the last months. Moscow’s increasingly jarring comments and barely veiled threats may reconfigure the G8 agenda.

  • February 10, 2007 President Putin startles the audience at the Munich Security Conference when he condemns the Bush administration’s “hyper use of military force in international relations”, which was “plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflict.”
  • April 26, 2007 President Putin threatens to suspend compliance with the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, a post-Cold War agreement which sets limits to military deployment across Europe. The comments aim at U.S. plans to expand Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) by deploying 10 interceptors in Poland and radar stations in the Czech Republic.
  • May 9, 2007 On Victory Day against Nazi Germany, President Putin draws a roundabout comparison between U.S. foreign policy and NATO expansion, on the one hand, and the Third Reich, on the other. "[New threats] are only transforming, changing their appearance. In these new threats - as during the time of the Third Reich - are the same contempt for human life and the same claims of exceptionality and diktat in the world", Putin says.
  • May 29, 2007 Russian military tests the new RS 24 ICBM capable of carrying multiple warheads. RS 24 is expected to replace the older RS-18 and RS-20 missiles, known in West throughout the Cold War as SS-19 Stiletto and SS-18 Satan. An improved R-500 cruise missile with a range of up to 310 miles was also tested. The tests are part of a drive to modernize the Russian army. Last November, President Putin announced he earmarked $200 billion for a 10-year modernization program.
  • May 30, 2007 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov exchanges barbs with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a Potsdam meeting of foreign ministers from the G8 countries. Although Condoleezza Rice had previously dismissed Russian fears that the missile defense shield would set off a new arms race as “ludicrous”, Sergey Lavrov warns that “the arms race is starting again.”
  • June 3, 2007 Putin threatens to aim Russian missiles at Europe if the U.S. goes ahead with BMD plans. President Putin must have hoped that, faced with mounting pressure, Brussels would try to dissuade Poland and the Czech Republic from opening talks with the U.S. He also made sure to include mitigating remarks in his statement. “We are told that it’s for the defence of Europe. Has anyone asked Europe? Was there some kind of general European decision or even a decision in NATO, even for appearance’s sake?” inquired Putin. “No. They didn’t want to ask anyone.” The comments were likely meant to do double duty:

1. highlight U.S. unilateralism and thus fuel opposition from the anti-U.S. camp in Europe

2. depict Russia as a country which feels cornered and has no other choice than to join the arms race

Nonetheless, the plan may go awry in more than one way.

It may put so much pressure that undecided NATO or EU members may end up supporting U.S. plans.

It may also give U.S. President G.W. Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Sarkozy a chance to showcase transatlantic unity in spite of the projected failure to reach a climate change agreement.