July 3, 2008 | Commentary on International Organizations

Preparing for the G8 summit

Next week, the leaders of the G8 countries will be meeting in Hokkaido, Japan, for their annual summit. Once again it will at least provide the world with the opportunity to reflect on whether this is the kind of institution the world needs for the 21st century. Like many of the institutions of the 20th century shaped by distinct but now bygone circumstances, the G8 has started to look like a rather arbitrary gathering.

Of the countries that will be represented - Japan, the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia - seven used to be considered the world's major economic powers, the so-called "club of the rich." Russia was added in the 1990s, turning the G7 into the G8 as a matter of courtesy to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, a morale boost for a beleaguered leader of a country on the verge of collapse. In today's world, the roster looks almost quaint.

The issues that have been placed on the table by the Japanese hosts reflect an agenda with a distinctly green or liberal flavor, as has become customary at these meetings. In this, of course, the rest of the world has a great deal of interest and might indeed like to have a seat at the table. Here, the Tokyo summit (like other G8 summits) bears some resemblance to the meetings of the World Bank and the IMF, which is developing an ever expanding penumbra of auxiliary meetings in order to allow the voices of many affected countries to be heard.

For instance, at a pre-meeting on April 6, G8 development ministers met with representatives of Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, Mexico, South Korea and South Africa; as well as a long list of U.N. entities, such as UNESCO and UNICEF, and regional organizations, including the African Union and the Association of South East Asian Nations. The list of who is on the inside and who is on the outside is certainly suggestive of the nature of the G8 itself, and ought to give rise to consideration of opening up the meetings.

The topics for discussion equally reflect a world of global concerns. At the top of the agenda, the presidents and prime ministers meeting in Japan will be discussing African development, focusing on partnerships with the private sector to accelerate economic growth and expanding partners for the development agenda. It follows up on the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development held in late May.

Climate change, an inevitable item on the agenda in today's world, will be the second order of business. The world, of course, has not grown measurably warmer in the past 10 years, but the weather is indisputably ever changeable giving climate - change alarmists something to discuss. On this subject, where discussion has previously focused on the industrialized nations under the ill - fated Kyoto Protocol, the developing world plays a crucial role. This role will be a focus of discussion. The rise of China and India as industrial powers and consumer nations make efforts to conserve energy in the United States and Europe seem almost symbolic in the greater scheme of things. At the same time, developing nations are by nature at greater risk when their climate does change (for whatever reason), having fewer economic resources to mitigate the consequences.

The global economy will make an appearance on the agenda, too. This issue used to be the focal point of the G8 meetings. The leaders will not be discussing the relative values of the dollar and the euro, however. Instead, they will focus on the reasons for the (alleged) world food crisis and the (indisputable) rise in energy costs. This discussion will happen under the guise of "human security" as defined under the U.N. Millennium Goals, a rather wide-ranging concept that includes everything from nutrition to education.

The problem is that the climate change agenda, with its emphasis on biofuels causing farmers to grow crops for biofuels like ethanol, has collided head on with the "human security" agenda, which reflects that human beings must also eat.

What can we expect from the next summit? Probably more resolutions and statements by world leaders and some nice photo-ops, which can be analyzed for body language and the order of who stands next to whom. What we ought to see, though, would be a serious discussion on opening up the meetings to many of the countries affected by the global agenda and a real discussion of free-market and free-trade solutions to the global problems on the table.

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Related Issues: International Organizations

First appeared in the Washington Times