Meeting the Challenge of War
Meeting the Challenge of War
Toward a Common Set of Signals from the G20 about Russia’s War in Ukraine
Toward a Common Set of Signals from the G20 about Russia’s War in Ukraine
Op-Ed / Global

Meeting the Challenge of War

Security issues dominated Davos 2003. The prospect of war with Iraq, and its implications for the global economy and the stability of the international security order, overshadowed every discussion. There was anxiety that an assault on Baghdad, and even more the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, would fuel even deadlier global terrorism. There was concern about the continuing prevalence of wars within states in many regions. There was despondency - with North Korea the immediate focal point -about the resurging proliferation and potential use of weapons of mass destruction. There were doubts about the international community’s capacity to prevent and resolve conflict. And, deeply discomfiting for American participants, there was much sharp questioning of the way the United States has been choosing to exercise its colossal and unrivalled power.

The unified front that the world presented in the wake of 11 September strikes has been strained in the year since by the hard realities of shaping an operational and broader strategic response to the security problems those attacks so rawly exposed. Trust by publics in the capacity of governments and international institutions to get things right, and by governments in each other, has been in short supply. Given shared strategic interests – particularly within the transatlantic community – there is no reason that a new strategic consensus cannot emerge. But for that to happen, the international community will need to both conduct a clear-eyed analysis of the security challenges it faces and reach a basic understanding as to the most effective and intelligent means it possesses to respond to common threats and shared opportunities. The discussions at Davos 2003 did much to clarify these issues.

The Challenge of War Between States

Any complacency that wars between states were a thing of the past has been swept away by the prospect of a U.S.-led confrontation with Iraq. But the fragile standoff between India and Pakistan, with the continued high risk of nuclear miscalculation by one side or the other, has also concentrated minds; so too has North Korea’s brinkmanship in recent months. Tensions between many states in Africa remain very close to the surface, and while the Taiwan Strait (a contest interstate in character de facto if not de jure) remains quiet for the moment, it will need much effort to remain so. And there is always the prospect that – as with Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo in the last decade, to name only the most obvious cases - a conscience-shocking human security catastrophe will erupt somewhere generating calls for ‘humanitarian intervention’ by external military forces.

All these risks – and above all Washington’s willingness to go it alone in disarming Iraq (made abundantly clear by Secretary of State Powell in his plenary speech at Davos 2003, a powerful message immortalised by the Secretary’s inadvertent reference to the ‘United States Security Council’) - focused close attention on the need to agree again on the basic ground-rules governing the use of military force in a world where the distribution of power remains largely lopsided, with the United States enjoying a position of unique military as well as economic, political and cultural dominance.

There was general acceptance that wars can be just, and especially so wars for human protection purposes – of the kind that the U.S. led in Bosnia and Kosovo (and that the international community should have waged to crush the Rwandan genocide). Nor were doubts expressed about either the legality or legitimacy of the UN Security Council-mandated Gulf War against Iraq for its indefensible invasion of Kuwait. Nor was there any evident sentiment that the U.S. had been wrong to wage punitive war against Afghanistan for the Taliban’s harbouring of Al-Qaeda terrorists – although there was a very strong view that the right to destroy carried with it an obligation to reconstruct, and a widespread concern that the necessary commitment to state-building, here and elsewhere, might not be all it should be.

There was also general acknowledgment, albeit more finely balanced, that a case could be made for states to engage in anticipatory self-defence if the threat of an attack was sufficiently real. But this was accompanied by intense concern about the particular doctrine of pre-emptive defence articulated by the U.S. in its 2002 National Security Strategy - as given its first application to Iraq in the context of the claimed high risk of that state sooner or later making available nuclear, biological or chemical weapons to terrorist organisations. The answer that seemed to satisfy most Davos 2003 participants was that, in the dangerous new world we know we now occupy, it may be legitimate to take pre-emptive or preventive military action against even non-imminent threats -provided the evidence justifying such attack is clear beyond argument and that proper process is followed. The less imminent the danger, the greater the necessity for very hard evidence of threat, and the greater the need for Security Council legitimisation if the whole international security order so painstakingly constructed after 1945 is not to crumble away. What troubled many participants was that the U.S. seemed to be not only unwilling to accept the Security Council’s final authority, but was also either unable or unwilling to produce compelling evidence that Iraq still possessed relevant weapons capability of a kind that would make the exercise of that UN authority much more likely.

The debate on this issue was further sharpened by the perception that the risks of waging war against Iraq were very high – in terms of the use of chemical or biological warfare in retaliation, disruption of oil supply, regional political instability and new momentum for terrorism from within the Arab-Islamic world (with the latter two risks particularly acute if war were to be waged without UN authority). A just war needs not only a just cause to trigger it, but likely consequences that will not be worse than the cure. The case for dealing with Saddam Hussein by a combination of deterrence and inspections-aided containment is one that a great many Davos participants believed could still be made, deeply pessimistic though they were that this would happen.

The Challenge of War Within States

Conflicts within states remain very much the most likely cause of continuing death, destruction, economic dislocation and general human misery. In the last decade, 53 of the 56 major armed conflicts were of this kind – whether driven by grievance, greed, state failure or all of the above. From Colombia to Zimbabwe to Somalia to Macedonia to the Caucasus to Central and South Asia to Indonesia and parts of the South Pacific - and many places in between - there continues to be a very real risk of major conflict breaking out, escalating, recurring or continuing.

But there are grounds for optimism, as became apparent in the discussion of regional issues in a number of Davos 2003 panels and workshops. Over the last year a number of hitherto intractable conflicts have moved a long way toward resolution: Sri Lanka, Aceh, Congo (though serious violence persists in the Kivus) and Sudan to name just the most prominent. Progress has also been made – though peace remains very fragile - in Burundi, Somalia and the Ivory Coast. What is intriguing about these cases is that nearly all of them have been characterised by serious efforts to come to grips with the underlying causes of conflict in each case – most often a sense of political exclusion associated with ethnic identity - and not just to continue blasting away on the battlefield.

By contrast, those conflicts that have defied any move toward resolution in the last year – such as those in Nepal, Kashmir, Chechnya and Colombia - have all been characterised by a continued overwhelming focus on resolution of the issue by force: dealing with the capability of the enemy rather than its motivation. The same is overwhelmingly, and unhappily, true of the Arab-Israeli conflict – although this conflict cannot strictly be characterised as either internal or, until Palestine is recognised, as interstate. The lesson for the international community, here as elsewhere, is that if we are serious about conflict resolution there is no substitute for intelligent policy (focusing on the right issues), effective negotiation (applying time honoured principles and strategies, above all listening carefully and understanding the issue as the other side sees it) and, where appropriate, intelligent external leverage by those governments and international institutions in a position to constructively exercise it.

There is equally no substitute for effective peacebuilding action, with the full support of the international community, in post-conflict environments: what more needs to be done at all levels – bottom up as well as top down - to rebuild the political, economic and social infrastructure of countries and entities like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda, and in the process prevent the recurrence of war, was a recurring theme during the Forum. Nor can there any slackening in the new momentum behind conflict prevention efforts generally which has been evident internationally in recent years: the causes of conflict are many and varied, as are the strategies - political, legal, economic and military – available to address them in both the long and short term.

The Challenge of Terrorism

The security challenge on which the world has focused most since 11 September 2001 has been not war within states or even between states, but war on states. Terrorism is hardly a new phenomenon – used as it has been as a weapon by the weak against the strong since time immemorial – but the scale, audacity and location of the 911 attacks instantly moved the notion of “asymmetric” security threats from abstraction to alarming reality. The recent ‘soft target’ assaults in Mombasa and Bali have compounded global anxiety. And many fear the worst is yet to come. At least one expert assessment at Davos 2003 put the likelihood of another major terrorist event in the U.S. in the next year at 75 per cent. And we may have to come to terms in the future with casualties measured not just in the thousands, but in the tens or hundreds of thousands or even millions. The possibility of a nuclear device in a delivery van – or even a suitcase – is no longer science fiction.

Terrorism is alarming enough even without weapons of mass destruction being employed. Conventional weapons – or proxy weapons of the 911 kind - can wreak horrifying carnage. And we are becomingly ever more aware, in this ever more technology-dependent, networked age, of what are now being called ‘Weapons of Mass Disruption’. Nightmare scenarios abound, including for example highly strategically focused simultaneous physical attacks on key electrical stations, causing cascading power failure throughout an entire country, even one like the U.S. of continental size. Cyber attacks are feared most of all: one computer-company CEO at Davos estimated that there were now some 19 million people world-wide with the know-how to mount the kind of network attack that could bring any developed country to its knees through the dislocation of public utilities, business and government capacity.

To meet the challenge of terrorism will demand addressing, in the language used above, both capability and motivation. There is no substitute for immediate military and law enforcement action, supported by intelligence and political cooperation, to directly counter those waging terrorist war; but nor is there any alternative but to simultaneously address what are usually described as the ‘root causes’ of terrorism - the political grievances (not least the Palestinian issue, which inflames sentiment throughout the Arab-Islamic world); the perceived humiliations; the economic anxieties; the social and cultural issues that breed discontent. A point made many times at the Forum was that the motivations that matter here are not so much those of individual terrorists, which are often mixed, personal and hard to relate to the more obvious sources of unrest. The point is rather to improve the capacity and will to act of the governments of those countries where terrorists or would-be terrorists are most likely to be found. By presenting a positive vision of international engagement with the Muslim world, and addressing seriously the many sources of grievance in that world, the international community can give the governments of those states some feathers to fly - making active cooperation seem to be more clearly in the national interest and far easier to defend politically.

No grievance in this respect is more important for the West to address than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The point was made repeatedly throughout Davos 2003. There was no belief that either side could win by violence; no perception that the sequential, incremental process of the Oslo agreement any longer had legs; a great deal of sympathy for the argument that the final settlement political issues (borders, Jerusalem and refugees pre-eminent among them) had to now be seriously negotiated if any way out of the present horror is to be found; but no evident confidence in the capacity of the present leaderships of either the Israeli or Palestinian side to generate, without strong international pressure, the necessary momentum. There is broad consensus on what the contours of a final two-state solution should look like, considerable confidence that it could be sold to the exhausted and despairing populations on both sides, and plenty of political will in Europe and among Israel’s neighbours to make it happen. What has been missing has been, critically, the necessary political commitment from the White House. Many Forum participants made clear their view that, as between Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict, the U.S. had its priorities wrong.

One further theme ran through the debates on terrorism: ensuring that the war on terrorism is conducted in keeping with international law, and domestic constitutional standards, will be crucial in maintaining broader international support for these efforts. To fail to do so will end a disturbing message to large parts of the world that the Western community practises a distinctly double standard, that its commitment to the rule of law and international human rights standards is more rhetorical than real. In those cases where the U.S., European Union or other actors find international covenants insufficient to guarantee their security, they should actively engage in further revising and strengthening the body of international law rather than seeking to circumvent it.

The Challenge of Weapons of Mass Destruction

The crises in Iraq and North Korea, and the continuing fragile standoff between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, all ensured that the issue of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons came under scrutiny at Davos 2003, although perhaps not to the extent that the critical importance of the issue deserved. The unhappy reality is that non-proliferation regimes are under considerable stress, with the collapse last year of efforts to introduce a biological weapons inspection regime, the existing chemical weapons inspection regime under financial stress, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty proving increasingly ineffectual - at least partly because the original nuclear weapons powers have failed to take seriously their obligation under that treaty to commit themselves to the ultimate complete elimination of their nuclear armouries. The nub of the problem is that so long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will want them, and as long as anyone has them there is every chance that they will eventually be used, by accident or design, to catastrophic effect. Double standards, here as elsewhere, are the enemy of good policy.

It is no longer an effective argument, if it ever was, for any state to claim that it needs to retain some nuclear – or chemical or biological – weapons to deter rogue states producing or using them, or making them available to terrorist groups, when the current generation of conventional weapons give all the deterrent or retaliatory muscle that could ever possibly be required. Beyond deterrence, however, much more can be done to make life more difficult for terrorists and those who would supply them. The critical need, as argued by nuclear security specialists in several Forum sessions, is to better secure – particularly in the former Soviet Union - existing nuclear weapons and, above all, large and vulnerable stocks of fissile material: plutonium and highly enriched uranium. What is required, here as elsewhere, is strong international cooperation, and the allocation of the necessary resources to give that cooperation substance.

The Role and Responsibility of Governments

Effective conflict prevention and resolution requires understanding of what is at stake, imagination in crafting solutions, institutions able to translate ideas into action, and above all strong leadership to mobilise the necessary will and resources. It was broadly acknowledged in the course of many sessions at Davos 2003 that supply on all these fronts has been long short of need, and that it is a challenge for every actor on the international stage – international institutions, the business community, civil society organisations, but above all governments - to find ways of bridging the gap.

The U.S. – perhaps inevitably because of its size and current global dominance, but also because of the perceived unilateralist instincts and priorities of the present administration – came in for most of the criticism on offer. And the message was heard: Congressman Rob Portman put it succinctly when asked in a key plenary what he would take back to Washington from this Forum: “The need to listen”. But many American participants gave as good as they got, suggesting that practical solutions to real problems would be more helpful than posturing, and that the heated debate over the role of the United States had often made it all too easy for European and other leaders to avoid hard questions about their own policy choices. For example, while offering stinging criticism of Washington, the European Union and its member states had largely failed to present any credible policy platform for eliminating or limiting weapons of mass destruction; European businesses, uncontrolled by their governments, had often been at the forefront of the export policies that have helped encourage proliferation in this area. Again, while U.S. human rights practices in fighting the war on terrorism had been a lightning rod, European policies on immigration and the treatment of Muslim groups within their own borders deserved equally tough scrutiny.

Some broader themes emerged through the crossfire. If we are to deal more rationally and effectively with deadly conflict in the future, it is necessary is for governments to act comprehensively, cooperatively and above all intelligently. Acting comprehensively means addressing security problems in a way that recognises they are not one-dimensional, and that social, economic and cultural factors can be at least as important as political and military ones in explaining why people, groups and governments act as they do, and in persuading them to act otherwise. Acting cooperatively means recognising that in the real contemporary world, however big a country may be, most international problems are only solvable with the help of others. In the case of security threats it means recognising that acting together rather than in splendid isolation is also what for the most part is required by the UN Charter – the only dominant system of security law that we have, and which we would have to invent if it didn’t exist. Acting intelligently means, in addition, acting preventively before the event – on the basis that nothing is so cost effective in terms of dollars, lives, property destruction and misery; acting productively during the event - not solving one problem by creating others; and acting sustainably after the event - being prepared to devote many resources to post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding as to the initial military intervention.

Business has always operated in an environment of risk – commercial risk from the market, legislative and regulatory risk from government, legal risk from the courts, and social risk from ever more active civil society. But risk from conflict or politically motivated violence, at least for developed country businesses, has been until recently largely confined to certain sectors – resources, transport and tourism, insurance, and to those choosing to make risky offshore investments. Post-11 September, as we now know to our cost, everyone can be massively affected by the impact of terrorist or other violence on everything from employee security and recruitment to consumer purchasing, stock market prices, insurance costs and internal security costs . And as the ripple effects from 911 spread ever wider the unease is compounded: the prospect of war with Iraq, and in particular the business impact of its conduct being neither quick nor clean, added profoundly to the mood of uncertainty and pessimism so apparent at Davos 2003.

Part of the frustration is for business in all of this is that it tends to see itself as a passive bystander, a prisoner of events, unable in any way to determine their course. But during the course of Forum discussions it became apparent that there are many contributions the business community, and in particular the major multinationals, can in fact make to the prevention and resolution of conflict, both on the negative side of not contributing to the problems and on the positive side of doing something to directly aid their resolution.

The imperative to “do no harm” has many dimensions. It means not acting in a way that directly or indirectly supports the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or the illegal distribution of conventional weapons; not trading or investing in circumstances that directly generate revenue for those engaged in illegal armed conflict (e.g. “blood diamonds”); not investing in activities which directly reinforce or perpetuating a grievance-based conflict (e.g. oil in Sudan); avoiding environmentally and socially insensitive resource exploitation, which so often creates grievance-based despair and hostility; and not giving encouragement, whatever the temptation, to corrupt practices that undermine the effectiveness of local governance. All these strictures are, of course, easier to state than to observe in highly competitive commercial environments. One way of making them easier to observe is to support the passage of strong and enforceable regulatory codes, both domestically and internationally, on the principle that relying on the legal obligations of one’s competitors is a little more comforting than relying just on their better instincts. Support for this kind of regulation may be at odds with the traditional instinct of business to reduce government intervention to an absolute minimum, but it is growing, and needs to grow further.

What other positive roles can business play in conflict prevention and resolution? The most obvious, but perhaps most neglected, is for business – individually and through industry aassociations - simply to be a more assertive voice on these issues. Governments, not least in the U.S., are always looking nervously over their shoulder at their key domestic constituencies: and these days global security tensions and crises are business’s business as much as anyone else’s. More specifically, business entities can help by being a voice for intelligent, cost-effective, before-the-event preventive action; by being an active and helpful voice in the building of non-proliferation regimes for weapons of mass destruction, even if that support has commercial implications, as tough chemical and biological inspection regimes certainly do for chemical and pharmaceutical companies; by being prepared to exercise such leverage as they have – not small in many conflict ridden countries – to bring governments and other parties to the negotiating table; and by being prepared, if there is the capacity to do so, to put effort and resources into the rebuilding of shattered post-conflict societies, to help them get on their feet, functioning, consuming and trading again. Investment is often about choices at the margin – this country or that, this safer or that more volatile location within a country, this employment-intensive or that capital-intensive construction method - and it would help if businesses regarded the making of constructive choices on security issues as part of their larger corporate social responsibility.

The bottom line in all of this, for business as for government, is leadership. Deeper underlying currents and causes matter enormously, and must be addressed, but in security issues as elsewhere making a difference, making something happen, depends ultimately on the capacity and will of individuals in key positions. The international community has entered another period of both tremendous turbulence and opportunity. In successfully navigating this strategic environment it will be essential that it be guided by a clear long-term vision for expanding a community of nations sharing essentially the same bedrock human values. Leadership by intelligent and committed individuals in all sectors has always been critical in articulating and implementing this kind of vision, and Davos 2003 played an important and useful role in helping those leaders see more clearly what they have to do.

Members of the police stand in front of banners of the G20 summit near a venue for the G20 Finance Ministers Meeting in Nusa Dua on Indonesia's resort island of Bali, on July 14, 2022. Sonny Tumbelaka/Pool via REUTERS
Commentary / Global

Toward a Common Set of Signals from the G20 about Russia’s War in Ukraine

The G20 countries’ positions on the war in Ukraine contrast starkly, yet the conflict raises issues of global concern – economic shocks and nuclear risks – that the leaders cannot pass over in silence.

When the Group of Twenty (G20) leaders gather in Bali, Indonesia, on 15 November, one head of state who belongs to the Group will be notable by his absence. Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided not to attend the event. This news will be a relief for Western participants, who hardly want to share photo opportunities with Putin while he pursues his war in Ukraine. The Kremlin’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, will be in Bali, but he may not be relishing the prospect. Lavrov walked out of a G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in July after his Western counterparts accused Russia of sparking the global food price crisis by invading its grain-producing neighbour.

Putin’s absence will not relieve the leaders who go to Bali of the challenge of how to address the war. The G20 is primarily an economic coordination mechanism, which was thrust into the limelight during the global financial crisis in 2008. Unlike the G7, which brings together like-minded Western countries with shared political interests, the G20 encompasses geopolitical rivals – the U.S. and China foremost among them – that are not apt to adopt strong common positions on international affairs. Yet Russia’s assault on Ukraine raises issues of global concern, including the widespread food and energy price shocks and the risks of nuclear weapons use, that the world’s most powerful politicians cannot pass over in silence.

The G20 meeting is, therefore, an opportunity for leaders to signal common positions about the war. Their primary focus should be on concrete commitments by the G20 countries to help poorer ones navigate economic turmoil. But the powers present in Bali could also use the occasion to underscore that they all expect Russia to refrain from nuclear use, in word as well as deed. Ideally, they would be as clear as possible that if Moscow does cross the nuclear threshold, it will face consequences not only from the West, but globally. A joint statement condemning Russia’s prosecution of the war or setting out potential peace terms will likely be impossible, given G20 members’ widely divergent positions on the war. But if G20 members can find common ground on economic issues and the nuclear taboo, the Bali summit will be a worthwhile diplomatic endeavour.

Diverse Ukraine Policies

The G20 members’ positions on the war differ starkly. The U.S. and most of its allies in the Group have imposed sanctions on Moscow and voted to condemn the invasion in the UN General Assembly. Most of the other members have at least condemned Russia’s aggression and illegal efforts to annex Ukrainian territory at the UN, but not resorted to sanctions (see map). Yet three weighty non-Western G20 members – China, India and South Africa – have not only declined to place sanctions on Russia but also abstained in UN votes on the war.

This map shows which G20 members have sanctioned Russia, and which voted to condemn its illegal "annexations" in Ukraine at the UN in October.

Various non-Western members of the G20 have at times tried to establish a diplomatic role in the war, although the results have mainly been negligible. South Africa attempted to take a lead at the UN in March by tabling a General Assembly resolution on humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. Western and Ukrainian diplomats rejected the draft out of hand because it made no reference to Moscow’s responsibility for the war (in contrast to an alternative UN text worked up by France and Mexico), although South African officials insisted to Crisis Group that theirs was a good-faith initiative to bolster multilateral cooperation.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited both Kyiv and Moscow over the summer, promising to facilitate communication between the warring capitals. Many observers suspected that his main concern was to make sure that the war would not stop the G20 summit from going ahead. Indonesia has raised the possibility of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attending the summit, although Kyiv has indicated he will most likely only intervene via video link.

Other G20 members have also dipped their toes in Ukraine diplomacy. Mexico surprised and confused UN officials at September’s high-level UN General Assembly week by tabling a proposal for the Pope, the UN secretary-general and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lead a ceasefire effort. This idea has not taken off to date. There has also been a sporadic flow of speculation among Western commentators that India – which has increased trade with Russia since the February assault – could eventually prove a useful facilitator of Russian-Ukrainian diplomacy, and Modi urged President Putin to take a “path to peace” at September’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit.

In contrast to these fledgling and tentative peace efforts, Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has emerged as one of the main diplomatic actors in the crisis. Türkiye hosted early, fruitless Russian-Ukrainian peace talks, but had success when it worked with the UN over the summer to broker the Black Sea grain deal. This deal permitted Ukraine to export its harvest by sea without Russian military interference. Türkiye and another G20 member, Saudi Arabia, also facilitated a sizeable prisoner swap – involving some 215 Ukrainians and 55 Russians – in September. Behind closed doors, G20 participants will surely probe Erdoğan as to whether his frequent interlocutor Putin is ready to compromise. But there is no sign in advance of the Bali summit that Ankara sees a breakthrough coming.


For the U.S. and Ukraine’s other allies, Beijing’s view of the war has been a constant source of anxiety.

But, however much attention Erdoğan garners in Bali, leaders may focus even more closely on what China’s President Xi Jinping has to say. For the U.S. and Ukraine’s other allies, Beijing’s view of the war has been a constant source of anxiety since February. In recent months, Western observers believe they have seen increasing signs of frustration in China with the course of the conflict. Beijing has indicated its concern that Moscow’s nuclear sabre-rattling, bad enough in itself, might be more than dangerous talk. This concern was heightened by the Kremlin’s vague, erroneous intimations that Ukraine, not Russia, wants to raise the nuclear stakes with a “dirty bomb”. Xi articulated these issues most clearly in a joint statement with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz opposing the “threat or use of nuclear weapons” in Ukraine.

Points of Agreement

While G20 members have, therefore, no shortage of opinions about Russia’s war in Ukraine, it is difficult to see how they could reconcile their divergent views in Bali. It is hard, for example, to square Mexico’s advocacy for an early ceasefire (which Brazil and Argentina also advocated for at the UN in September) with Western powers’ worries that Moscow could use a pause in hostilities to consolidate control over parts of Ukraine even as it rearms and repositions for the next phase of conflict.

Rather than focus on the specifics of how to end the war, G20 leaders may be better advised to identify broad areas of agreement about how to contain the war and its fallout. The most obvious would be for those G20 leaders who are in Bali to endorse the Xi-Scholz condemnation of nuclear threats and nuclear use. Alternatively, or additionally, they could reiterate the basic principle that a “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”, which the five nuclear weapons states (the UK, China, France, Russia and the U.S.) affirmed in a statement to the UN in January. Such a declaration might be complicated by the G20’s incompatible positions on non-proliferation issues (Brazil, for example, has lobbied for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, whereas India is not even a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty). Given Russia’s recurrent allusions to nuclear use in Ukraine, however, the leaders should at least be able to agree they are opposed to nuclear threats and nuclear war.

The goal of such a declaration, however minimal or vague, would be to signal to Moscow that it will face global diplomatic and other penalties, rather than just consequences from the West, if its nuclear rhetoric turns to action in any way. Russia has shown some interest in how its moves in Ukraine – such as its agreement to the Black Sea grain deal – are seen in the non-Western world. G20 leaders are not likely to spell out in concrete terms what steps they would take if Russia does cross the nuclear threshold – indeed, it might be better they do not try to be too explicit, as doing so might only highlight their differences. But some sort of common signalling, especially one that by definition has both U.S. and Chinese buy-in, could help strengthen the nuclear taboo.

G20 members can offer common support to efforts to reduce the global economic damage the conflict is doing.

Turning to the war’s impact, G20 members can offer common support to efforts to reduce the global economic damage the conflict is doing. They could start by making a statement in support of the Black Sea grain deal (which is up for renewal by Russia and Ukraine on 19 November) and calling for this deal, which now has to be reaffirmed every 120 days, to continue indefinitely until hostilities cease. Such a statement would be a fillip not only for President Erdoğan, but also for UN officials working on implementing the agreement, which Russia threatened to quit in October after a Ukrainian attack on its navy.

More broadly, G20 leaders can use the Bali summit to help prop up the teetering global economy, much as their predecessors did in 2008-2009. Potential priorities include pushing multilateral development banks to boost lending to poor countries to handle economic challenges that could foment political instability. In 2021, G20 members committed to support liquidity in the global economy by making available to poor countries $100 billion in International Monetary Fund Special Drawing Rights (a reserve asset that Crisis Group discussed in detail in a briefing prior to the 2022 G7 meeting). They have been slow to follow through with this pledge, and they need to pick up the pace as the international economic picture gets bleaker.

Given its origins and membership, the G20 has greater credibility as an economic crisis management mechanism than as a security forum. Its actions on the global economy will carry more weight than its members’ political statements about Ukraine. Yet the last year has made it clear that global economic affairs cannot be insulated from security shocks, and big powers must tend to both. At the same time, Russia’s nuclear menacing amid the conflict it is waging in Ukraine is simply too big an issue to ignore. The Bali summit is an opportunity for the leading Western and non-Western powers to at least articulate their shared interest in not letting the war escalate out of all control.

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