The 1970’s Are Over: The G8 Needs To Change

The 1970’s Are Over: The G8 Needs To Change
By Philip Shaw M.Sc.

Is it back to the future? Is it 1980 all over again?  Do you remember the cold war?  Is it Russia versus the west all over again?  What you say?  As hard as it is to believe in 2007 Russian President Putin is considering to re-aim nuclear weapons toward Europe, something which hasn’t been done since the end of the cold war.  He is doing that to maintain a “strategic balance” between Russia and American interceptor rockets being possibly placed in the Czech republic and Poland to counter rogue missiles sent from Iran or North Korea.

From a distance I can almost see and hear my colleagues in the East like Enamul shaking their heads.  How is it that the west is so worried with their vast resources against a country like Iran or North Korea?  How could two countries like Russia and the United States both within the G8 be on such different poles.  Or is it just grandstanding by Putin to satisfy what’s left of Russia’s domestic politics.

We shall see.  This past week all the western leaders plus Vladimir Putin were meeting in Heiligendamm Germany to once again discuss lofty world issues.  You can bet when George W. Bush and Putin will be discussing that.  However, it would seem climate change and Africa are set to be the two biggest issues on the G8 agenda.  As G8 summits go in 2007, they usually are a lot more about optics than actual “boots on the ground” substance.

Of course my friends in the developed world might want to know where they fit in.  In many ways does the G8 make sense anymore with such big developing economies like India, China and Brazil left on the outside?  I don’t think so.  Thankfully that has been recognized to some extent, as Tony Blair wants a framework regarding climate change, which includes the “plus five” states of China, India, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico.

So we’ll see what happens.  However, tell me, does the developing world share the west’s bluster on climate change?  Or is something like “poverty alleviation” so much more important the issue of “climate change” doesn’t even show up on their radar?

If you are from the Sundarbans in India or Bangladesh or a native of the Maldives, I’m sure climate change might be of some importance.  However there is a reason German chancellor Merkel wants Africa on the agenda.  Simply put much of the west’s emphasis on climate change is an academic idea supported by their very rich constituents.  Asking the developed countries to delay development and stay poor is not an option.  Putting some emphasis on Africa will at least make the summit’s final communiqué somewhat more believable to the developed world.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien used to say if you could raise up countries in the developing world (he was focusing especially on Africa) then some day they would be a good market for western goods and services.  Of course he was very right, but time sometimes is encased in a bottle.  Getting there is always the hard part.

Case in point was what happened recently off the coast of Somali.  It was there were an American warship let loose and battered what was called an enclave of “Islamists” partly responsible for the 1998 bombings of the embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.  In the political vacuum, which is now Somalia, chaos reins.  Ditto for much of the rest of Africa.  G8 leaders need to take heed.

Of course how can that really happen with nuclear missiles tipped at each other?  In my mind there is something completely untenable about the intentions of the North Korean leader and his nukes.  However when it comes to Iran I think the west needs to take a Valium.  Yes, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s is a non-starter for many westerners.  However, in Iran’s neigbourhood nuclear intentions may be like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re going to get.  See India and Pakistan.  I don’t think we need rockets in Poland and the Czech Republic looking for a rogue missile.

In Canada membership in the G8 and its predecessor the G7 has always been a source of national pride.  We got there because former U.S President Gerald Ford wanted us there back in the 1970’s.  At the time the G7 represented a big economic counterweight to what was at that time the Soviet empire.  Now, 30 years later it would seem those old Soviets are in the club (G8) with some of those old tired rivalries.

It would seem to me most of the world is yawning at that club now.  What’s needed is a bit more relevance and a little less pomp and circumstance.  The world has changed since the 1970’s.  The G8 needs to recognize that and morph into something much, much better.  For the people in the developing world, that surely can’t come soon enough.

G8 or G8+5 – how relevant are they?
A.K. Enamul Haque PhD

The G8 Summit is just over and I am still trying to find out what has happened there?  To my understanding the rhetoric between the US and Russia did not die down, the so-called economically powerful nations (industrialized), who have taken so much pride to form this forum, could not agree on the climate change issue either and much of the Summit news was around protesters who wanted to break-in to the Summit site.  Of course, they have failed but they have been heard through news headlines.

In the 70s the most powerful nations (US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Japan) were rallying around a cause – down to socialism and so they needed an outfit of the super powers.  Let us not forget the premise under which the G8 was born.  It was born as a forum of industrialized democracies against the backdrop of an “oil crisis” and a “global recession”.  It was originally G6 and in 1976, Canada was invited to join the club by President Gerald Ford.

As the cold war is over, democracy is no longer under threat from the Soviets it is rather under threat from the West.  In many countries, the G8 groups are compromising their “standard” by accepting non-elected government as their allies.

The G8 Summit has no relevance in terms of world economic affairs since they are no longer the biggest economies of the world.  Given the industrialization in China and India, it is also a joke not to recognize these nations as industrialized countries.  Industrialization has also changed its form too.  It is no longer “made in USA” type it is rather “Made by Co x” type.  In other word, companies control the quality of the product and the production process; countries only provide space to produce.  Consequently, a company could set up a plant in Bangladesh and produce a “world class” product.  People buy and sell products not knowing the country of origin rather they are more interested to be reassured by the companies about the quality of products and services.

At the moment, such meetings can do nothing to themselves or to the world.  I believe the G8 Nations also understood that and so they wanted to make it relevant by including a few other “powerful” nations – such as India, China, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.  What is still not clear why do we need the G8 outside the perimeter of UN or WTO?

Well I do understand that the G8 is like a trump card of powerful nations, they want to keep it alive so that if one day the UN or WTO fails to serve their purpose, they could use the G8 to take a united stand on behalf of the economically powerful nations.  Very soon, the economic geography will change.  The US will not be the biggest economy of the world, it will be replaced by China.  India will be bigger than most of the current members of G8.  By including these countries into G8, the current G8 members are trying to show that their exclusive club is still relevant to shape the economic future of the world.

The problem they are going to face increasingly is that Russia is not like other countries and so Russia will try to make it a point that they are important in it.  They have done it this year and it has made some positive impact in the mind of the Russians about their leader Mr. Putin.  In the future, India and China will also do so and increasingly these nations will use the G8 or G8+5 as a platform to raise domestic popularity.  In the process, the G8 may also end up loosing its relevance.  Fortunately, it is not going to happen soon.  Until 2014, the Presidents of the club have been elected already.  New members cannot assume the top position until 2015.  By that time it will be another world, another game.  So, it is safe to play the card now.  Let these “would be powerful nations” join the club, feel the pride and start learning the tricks and trades of the club.

However, my hunch is that it is not going to work. Both China and India have a long history.  In the scale of thousands of years, India and China were the two biggest nations of the world until 1870 (since the 1st century).  After that they gradually lost their “status”.  The industrial revolution of the early 20th century altered the picture.  It took nearly a century for China and India to challenge the world with their economic power.  My firm belief is that no matter how we try to treat China and India in the group, they will remain outspoken on many issues.  So the G8+5, G20, G22, D11, or N11 are not going to make differences in the life of millions.

Finally, in terms of the aims and objectives of the group, the G8 leaders aim to boost cooperation over trade and finance, strengthen the global economy, promote peace and democracy, and prevent and resolve conflicts.  If the G8 can do all these, then the WTO and UN will become irrelevant too.  Let us not make a mockery of world politics and fool others by creating such an exclusive club in the 21st century and spend millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.