THE G8: NOT THE ONLY SHOW IN TOWN
by Nicola Bullard
June 05, 2007, Critical Currents, No 1
Given the centrality of oil not only to current geo-politics but also to the politics of global warming, it is interesting to recall that the G7 is a by-product of the 1973 oil crisis. Almost 35 years later, the now-G8 — Russia was formally admitted in 1998 — is again facing a crisis of global energy policies brought about by the increased public pressure for action to reduce carbon gas emissions, the looming fact of peak oil and, not least, the G8’s incapacity over the past three decades to think beyond their own interests. But in 2007, the situation is very different from the ‘unglobalised’ world of 1973 (although with some surprising similarities) and the G8 is not the only game in town.
FOCUS ON TRADE
Economically the G8 countries are still very significant: although they represent under 14 % of the world population, they account for nearly two-thirds of the world’s economic output measured by gross domestic product. In fact, Russia is the only G8 country not in the World Bank’s 2006 listing of the top ten economies, coming in at number 14. Significantly, the Peoples Republic of China and Brazil are in the top ten (numbers 4 and 10 respectively), and even India at number 12 outranks Russia.
THE G8 IN CRISIS
Politically, however, many of the G8 members are in some form of crisis, transition or stasis. In the US, Bush is facing the last 18 months of his presidency having lost control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Although the administration’s provocation of Iran is clearly a exercise in bravado designed to deter attention from the debacle in Iraq, it is a high risk strategy given the extreme volatility of the Middle East (one of the similarities with 1973) and the massive domestic opposition to the US’ continuing military presence in Iraq (another similarity to 1973 when the US’s war on Vietnam was becoming increasingly untenable, both politically and militarily). As one commentator remarked, this administration has “lost forever the capacity to set the terms of political debate”- and Bush’s colleagues in the G8 know it.
Britain’s Tony Blair is also at the end of his prime ministership, although when that might be is another matter. Having secured an inglorious place in history for promoting and participating in the invasion of Iraq, Blair is now trying to rewrite his legacy by setting in place the UK’s disengagement from Iraq and taking on climate change with the same quasi-religious zeal that he applied to his moral mission in Iraq. This G8 – almost certainly his last — offers Blair one last chance to be the visionary statesman that he imagines himself to be.
In Germany, Angela Merkel is struggling with a cumbersome “grand coalition” of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats so weighed down with compromises that it is virtually unable to move, let alone take the lead on any issues. And in France and Italy, presidential elections and volatile coalitions have disabled these governments while everyone waits to see which way the electorates blow. The more general problem, though, for the European members of the G8 is the palpable anti-US sentiment and the unabated public opposition to the invasion of Iraq – vindicated with every news report from Baghdad — which means that governments must tread carefully in their relations with Washington: being pro-Bush is definitely not a vote winner these days.
President Vladimir Putin – secure in the knowledge that he controls about as much oil and gas as anyone could need — is making up for Russia’s humiliation in the 1990s by aggressively re-negotiating relations with the West, most significantly with the US, while shoring up connections and influence in the East, and keeping everyone else on a short leash at home. On recent form, Putin is giving even the G8 a bad name. Japan and Canada – the other two members of the G8 – are irrelevant in this discussion.
All this adds up to a crisis for the G8 and its capacity to convey a convincing message of leadership, control, unity and vision. The US – the “natural leader” of the G8 – has lost its legitimacy (not least because it acts as the “G1” even in the G8) and there is no other country either with the credentials or (probably) the interest to “step up to the plate”. Yet as the G8’s power declines, other alliances and groupings based on geography or mutual interests are emerging. Some of these groupings may pose a challenge to the G8’s hegemony as the most significant “G” while others — such as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) – are experimenting with new governance frameworks that may offer alternatives to the traditional elite politics.
THE G8 IN DECLINE
The declining influence of the G8 is the result of four factors: First is its own failure in the past 35 years to act for the whole planet, as opposed to a rich minority. (For example, if the G7 had acted in the long-term interests of humanity in 1975 when confronted with the oil crisis – which was of course precipitated by US policies in the Middle East — then perhaps they would not be facing the climate change crisis of 2007, let alone the catastrophe in Iraq.) Second, the legitimacy of the G8 is inextricably linked to the legitimacy of the US, its founding and most powerful member. As the moral stature of the US declines, so does that of the G8. Third is the challenge coming from the rising power of other nations, especially China, Brazil, Russia and India who have nothing to gain from attaching themselves to the G8, and to the election, particularly in Latin America, of anti-hegemonic governments. Finally, the global justice movement has played its part in de-bunking and de-legitimising the G8 by questioning the very idea that eight self-appointed countries can assume to determine the fates of humanity.
Read all of it here.