Search Wednesday June 16, 2004

At the G8, the arrogance of the few
G-8 summit
By Philip Bowring (IHT)
Tuesday, June 15, 2004

HONG KONG: For the great majority of the world's people, whose leaders were not represented at the Group of Eight meeting of "world leaders" last week, the event was at best a meaningless photo opportunity, at worst an insult.

Hopefully this will be the last such exercise in what has increasingly become a flaunting of Western pretensions with little relevance to the G-8 members themselves, let alone the wider world.

It may be both impolite and a statement of the obvious to say so but all but one of the eight leaders is white, and all but one - latecomer Russia - is either a member of NATO or, in the case of Japan, has very close security ties with the West.

That is not to say that when the then Group of Seven first gathered it did not have a legitimate purpose in trying to coordinate the responses of the leading industrialized, capitalist powers to global issues (initially the oil crisis). Japan was invited to the cozy Western club because it was economically important and was sure to keep its head down and agree with others. But that was nearly 30 years ago.

Now, even by its own narrow standards, the G-8 is an anomaly. Why Canada, but not Spain? Why not South Korea, which is now as industrialized as Europe, with an economy that will soon be as big as Canada's?

The G-8 has also departed from concerning itself with the areas on which a degree of cohesion would be helpful to the whole world, as well as to its members - trade, environmental and financial policies. Instead it has branched out into fields such as drugs - not an issue that can realistically be dealt with on a global basis, especially as drug demand is largely within the G-8 and the supply largely outside it.

But the waffling and photo ops of previous G-8 meetings were no comparison with last week's, which went from the meaningless to the arrogant.

The key themes were "reform the Middle East" and "rescue Africa." No one doubts that these areas need fixing more badly than most of Asia, Europe or the Americas. But given how much the assembled eight contributed to the Middle East's problems over the last 150 years, it is stunning to find them proposing to be in the vanguard of solving them.

Have we forgotten how Europe and Russia for decades sought to collapse the Ottoman Empire and spread narrow nationalisms to all corners. Have we forgotten the post-1918 carve-up of the Arab world, two occupations of Iraq, Mossadeq, the Algerian war?

As for Africa, any proposals are sheer hypocrisy while trade rules are so rigged against the continent's suppliers of raw materials. Nor let us forget that the British killed off the sultan of Darfur, Ali Dinar, and its independence, in 1916. It is hard to imagine that a more globally representative group would invite Africans to hear implicitly patronizing talk about their continent's failings.

So much for the G-8. Where do we go from here? Let us assume that meetings of leaders can be useful if they have meaningful agendas and the numbers are small enough to allow real progress.

But are there political agendas that can be meaningful beyond existing configurations such as NATO or the permanent members of the Security Council? Perhaps so, especially if the Security Council itself remains unreformed, reflecting the world in 1946.

Terrorism is probably a nonstarter - there is no agreement on what it is - though protection of sea lanes may be one uniting security factor. It is more likely that the possibilities for progress at summit meetings lie where the G-7 began - in trade and finance, plus the environment.

Which countries should be in such a group for it to be economically, demographically and culturally representative, for it to be capable of influencing events, and take a lead in setting standards?

China is an obvious absentee from the present group. But adding China just because it is populous, nuclear-armed and increasingly significant in trade is only the beginning of an answer.

A small group with China as the only developing country would never fly. India must also be there. So how about a G-10, small enough to have useful discussions, representative enough to produce global follow-through?

Give the European Union members three seats - they can argue among themselves which countries will get the seats. Dump Canada, add China, India, Brazil and South Africa. With the United States, Japan and Russia, that makes 10.

An expanded version of up to 15 might also be manageable - including Indonesia (because of its size, representing secular Muslims), Mexico (Spanish-speaking, a member of the OECD and NAFTA), South Korea (a member of the OECD, representing newly developed Asia), Saudi Arabia (because of its oil) and maybe Turkey or Egypt.

Both the G-10 and G-15 would be broadly representative of the world, balancing economic power, population size and strategic roles. It would engage the major new players in the global economy and power equation - including two nuclear ones - without depriving the OECD world of its leader-board dominance.

Wishful thinking? Maybe. But for the global majority, that has to be better than the current G-8 spectacle.