G8 tries to use Lybia and Syria to come back from the dead

Press conference at the last G8
Summit. (Photo:L. Blevennec/
Presidency of France)

Source: The New Indian Express

While the G20, that includes the rich countries and the emerging ones, is getting more and more relevance, the Arab unrest and the developments in Libya and Syria have given a new meaning and purpose to the Group of Eight (G8) most powerful nations, according to Himanshu Jha, National Coordinator of Social Watch India. In a column published by The New Indian Express newspaper, Jha said that the G20 seems to have "turned into a hotbed of global decision-making" in charge of "the traditional economic agenda". 

Jah's column reads as follows: 

Create more sun belts

Himanshu Jha

There is a perceptible change which is taking place in the dynamics and nature of the country groups popularly known as the ‘Gs’ followed by the number of countries in those groups. 

The 37th G8 (the United States, Japan, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Canada, and Russia) Summit which concluded on May 27 and 28 in the fashionable seaside resort of Deauville in Normandy, France, has to be seen in the light of changing global compulsions and the shifts which have occurred in the existing geo-politics of the world.

On the one hand this changing world view is signified in the emergence of G 20 which includes the original G8 and has expanded to accommodate emerging global powers such as China, India, South Africa, Brazil and more recently Indonesia, and on the other, the recent democratic revolutions in some Arab States has to kept in perspective.  

The economic meltdown culminating in the global financial crisis occasioned the formation of G20 under the logic that obviously the future of the global economy cannot be trusted in the hands of few. Ironically, this formation did not result in any dramatic shift since the same institutions which were responsible for the global meltdown were entrusted with the responsibility of reviving the global economy. IMF, some say, was brought back from the dead.

However, that is a different story. So far there have been three G20 Summits, in Washington in 2008, in London and Pittsburgh in 2009 and in Toronto and Seoul in 2010. For the first time in Seoul, the development agenda was put on the table and adopted as a common concern unanimously. G20 it seems has turned into a hotbed of global decision-making consisting of traditional western power blocs (the original G8) and the emerging economies.  

So, what does it mean for the G8? Is G8 losing its relevance, power and structure? Interestingly, the G20 meets twice a year as against G8 which meets once a year for two days, apart from other related ministerials which are organised separately. Surely, one can see a marked shift in the agenda of G8; especially in the light of the fact that the traditional economic agenda has shifted on to the bigger group of G20.

If we look at the agenda of the 37th G8 summit it does indicate towards this shift, the talks focussed primarily on the Arab spring revolution, the European crisis and the issues of the appointment of new IMF chief. Obama’s speech in the UK Parliament which preceded the summit does indicate the formation of a new agenda for G8, “what we saw in Tehran, Tunis and Tahrir  Square is a longing for the same freedoms that we take for granted at home. It was a rejection of the notion that people in certain parts of the world don’t want to be free, or need to have democracy imposed upon them…Now we must show that we will back up these words with deeds. That means investing in the future of those nations that transition to democracy, starting with Tunisia and Egypt — by deepening ties of trade and commerce; by helping them demonstrate that freedom brings prosperity. And that means standing up for universal rights — by sanctioning those who pursue repression, strengthening civil society, and supporting the rights of minorities.”

As the IMF was brought back from the dead after the financial crisis, similarly, the G8 agenda has been brought back from the dead by the Arab spring. There are new pledges, the G8 is supposed to pledge billions of dollars to the Arab states, of course bulk of it is routed through IMF and World Bank (estimates project $20 billion in aid). It would be interesting to see that what percentage of this pledged $20 billion would be in form of loans and grants. Interestingly, the old pledge of 0.7 per cent of the Gross National Income towards aid is yet to be fulfilled by most of the G8 members.

According to the draft statement, the G8 support is not limited to economic aid, but the discussions are also held around other ‘intervention tactics’ for multiple “Arab Spring” countries. It would be interesting to see what these intervention tactics mean! The 34 -page draft declaration has an appendix which outlines “Deauville Partnership” aiming at providing support to the recent democratic revolutions in the Arab nations.

The Arab spring and the developments in Libya and Syria have given a new meaning and purpose to the G8 countries, to have their own agenda. Not surprisingly the first day’s talk at the G8 was dominated by the Libya issue and the future of Muammar Gaddafi, the nuclear crisis in Japan. Russia has formally registered its protest on the NATO bombing and it was announced that Russia has been invited to play the mediation role in resolving the crisis in Libya.

The draft declaration of the G8, has an inherent warning to Gaddafi to agree to a ceasefire and settle for a reasonable political situation. In its summit communiqué, the G8 declared that it was appalled by the bloodshed in Syria and indicated towards a concerted action, but, under the Russian opposition the threat was watered down to exclude the explicit intention of the use of force in Syria. However, despite the toning down of the communiqué the imminent trend of the G8 joining hands and joint action for the sake of democracy and human rights elicits a sense of ‘dejavu’.

As David Shorr, senior policy analyst at the Stanley Foundation puts it, “the richest nations in the world are struggling to show their relevance…I think it’s a struggle.  They have to show their relevance. They’re groping for a new role. You really have the question, what can you deal with? What problems in the world can you really effectively address when you don’t have the emerging powers at the table with you?” (In an interview with Marketplace Morning Report, 26 May, 2011)

Looks like the group of powerful nations have found a purpose from initiating the aid supported democratic regimes to war mongering in so-called errant states. Whether the G8 would be able to achieve something concrete or not, one thing is for sure, they have been able to revive their dead agenda.

Is this another move by the power players in the global platform to get some of the lost ‘global space’ back?

Isn’t it time that we move beyond the G’s and create systems which are truly global in nature, creating more sun belts than rust belts?