President Donald Trump heads to Germany for the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg this Thursday, setting him up for the next diplomatic test of his young presidency.
The Group of Twenty, or G20, is a gathering of government and bank representatives from 20 of the world’s major economies who meet to address topics related to financial stability. The populations of the G20 nations make up roughly two-thirds of the world population.
While a number of issues are on the table at this year’s summit, all eyes will be on Trump’s behavior, particularly his first face to face meeting with Vladimir Putin since taking office.
There is currently a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, a House Intelligence Committee investigation, an FBI investigation and a Special Prosecutor investigation taking a look at Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign for having possibly collaborated with the Kremlin during the election. Tensions between Washington and Moscow are high thanks to the ongoing investigation into the matter, though Trump is clear he wants to pursue warmer relations with Putin.
Despite this, it’s unclear what exactly Trump and Putin might discuss at the summit. While Putin is sure to have an agenda, Trump’s officials admitted last week the president is winging it when he meets Putin in Hamburg.
“There’s no specific agenda,” national security advisor H.R. McMaster said last Thursday. “It’s really going to be whatever the president wants to talk about.”
It’s also not clear if Trump and Putin will have a formal bilateral meeting or an unofficial rendezvous outside the main summit, a “pull-aside” in diplomat’s language. Officials inside the Trump administration are split on the subject; some believe a bilateral meeting benefits Trump’s goal of seriously changing U.S.-Russian relations, while others worry it may exacerbate the allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, according to a CNN report.
World leaders are also concerned about what the possibility of stronger Russia-U.S. ties at the G20 could mean for NATO. NATO is one of the obstacles to Putin’s ambitions in eastern Europe, and it’s no longer clear if America would respond to any future Russian aggression in the region.
Since taking office, Trump has gone back and forth on reaffirming America’s commitment to NATO, particularly the treaty’s Article 5. Article 5 states an attack on any NATO country is considered an attack on all members, but in May, Trump hinted he might not honor the treaty if other member countries didn’t increase their military spending.
A U.S. failure to act in the case of future Russian aggression would invite dire ramifications for those eastern countries, especially ones along the former Soviet Union’s border such as Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and others.
Whatever happens with Trump and Putin, it’s certainly not the only meeting at G20 where the U.S. president is expected to cause a ruckus.
The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is heading in ready to fight Trump on migration, trade issues and most importantly, climate change. This sets the stage for a possibly very public clash for the two leaders.
Merkel all but took shots at Trump’s “America First” policy in a speech before Germany’s parliament Thursday. Without naming Trump, she vowed to stand up for free trade at the G20 and reserved her harshest criticism for Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.
“We want to tackle this existential challenge and we can’t and we won’t wait until the last person on earth is convinced of the scientific basis for climate change,” Merkel said. “These will not be easy talks. The differences are obvious and it would be wrong to pretend they aren’t there. I simply won’t do this.”
Merkel wants to present a united front with other European leaders at the summit, which comes at time when post-World War II order is up in the air. The European Union still shakes from Britain’s exit last year, while populism and protectionism in the U.S. and E.U. have led to leaders like Donald Trump rising up with promises of renewed isolationism and closed borders.
As one anonymous German official told Reuters, all bets are off at this year’s gathering.
“Quite honestly, it is hard to know what will happen in Hamburg,” the official said. “It will not be a summit of great unity, that’s for sure.”
William Hadden is a contributor at Politicsay. He graduated from Belmont University with a degree in Journalism with a minor in Audio Video Production. William writes on American domestic issues, as well as international political news.