News of G8's demise greatly exaggerated -

News of G8’s demise greatly exaggerated


Speculation that the G8 is on its way out, doomed to be replaced by the newfangled G20, was dismissed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at his closing news conference from the smaller, old-school summit earlier today from Huntsville, Ont.

The theory (as mentioned here, for example) is that the G20, with fast-rising economies like China and Brazil in its ranks, is bound to eclipse the fusty old club of only European, North American and Japanese leaders. The G20’s impressive start in orchestrating a global reaction to the economic crisis of 2008/09 bolsters the case that it is the leaders’ forum of the future.

Harper was having none of it, though. “The G20 has done a magnificent job in the year and a half that it’s been around and it has been tackling the economic crisis,” he said. “But there are quite frankly limits to what you can discuss and what you can achieve in a group of twenty, and of course there’s always other participants as well.”

He went on: “And beyond the economy, there’s much less commonality of purpose than you have at the G8. So I think all the leaders at this point would be pretty strong in their view, based on the discussion we had last night, that the G8 is a pretty essential organization going forward.”

The conventional wisdom has been that the G20 would take on economic and financial matters, while the G8, if it survives at all,  will be relegated to security and development issues. Even on the economy, though, I thought Harper hinted that the G8 retains a surprisingly key role, if less important than it was before the G20’s creation.

He spoke forcefully about the assembled leaders’ worries about another “cataclysmic event,” along the lines of the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank, that might spark a wider economic conflagration. “We can’t afford some particular even that would cause a series of cascading events and a downward spiral of confidence in the global markets.”

But then he shifted gears from the fearful prospect of a short-term problem turning nasty to the G20’s less immediate preoccupations. “The G20 is an opportunity for us to take a somewhat longer time-horizon,” Harper said, ” in this case we’re talking about a mid-term, three to five year, horizon.”

So maybe, along with its security and aid preoccupations, the G8 will remain a forum for occasional action on a rapidly unfolding economic worry, while the G20 evolves into the body where medium- and longer-term coordination is hammered out. Nobody really knows. For all the careful orchestration around these summits, the two leaders’ groups remain works in progress.

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News of G8’s demise greatly exaggerated

  1. The real G8 today is the U.S., Germany, France, U.K. + BRIC.

  2. If the G8 survives in the long term, Canada wins.

  3. From a global perspective neither the G8 nor the G20 really assemble the critical players. There are three mega economies in the world today – the US, China and the EU (the EU getting its act together would be a momentous event from a global perspective). Japan and India represent a second tier economically, while Russia would be critical in issues of global security.

    It would also help if they had sharper themes for global meetings. The G8 covered maternal health, North Korea/Iran and financial reform. More focused meetings would probably be much more productive.

    Of course, CR is correct that it is in the interest of Canada to maintain the present poorly functioning system because it happens to be one that includes us. It just isn't in the interest of the world to have an unproductive talk-shop at the top.

  4. It's part of Canada's national mythology that Canada plays a truly important role in the G8. In actuality, having an economy that is dominated by outside players, Canada's role is to act as "Chester" to whoever is "Spike" (usually the US) on any particular issue.

  5. I, for one, would rather we went back to the G-7. I don't think Russia belongs.

    • I say that having attending the first G-8 in Denver in person. At least Boris Yeltsin was seen as a democratic leader. What we have now is somewhat different.

  6. Bravo to Canada. If it is its national interest that helped it see the truth that G8 is necessary, then good for its national interest, which in this case coincides with the global public interest.

    Everything Harper said in support of the G8 is logical. It is also accurate, important, and eminently sensible. What's strange is that practically no one else was saying it during the last few years.

    The whole issue was laid out in some detail a year ago in an article of mine in the Christian Science Monitor, at a time when all the pundits were repeating the same factually unfounded assertions about the obsolescence of the 7-8. I hope those who want to look into this matter seriously will check out that article.

    The good news is that someone else is also telling the truth now. And the truth seems to be prevailing over all the conventional wisdom – as you rightly call it – in the world.

    Ira Straus

  7. The only illogical thing Mr. Harper said is the one thing he said against the G8, or as a concession to its critics. Specifically, he repeated the conventional wisdom — as you rightly call it — that the G8 no longer represents enough of the world's economy to make important global economic decisions on its own. Two big mistakes in this one small line:

    1- failing to notice everything the G8 represents. The G7 in fact — i.e. de facto — represents the entire OECD group of countries, with 73% of the world economy.

    2 – accepting the misnomer that the G7/8 makes "global decisions" for everyone else. The G7 in fact makes decisions for its own members. What its opponents bemoan, and its supporters with better reason welcome, is that this cohesive group of democracies fortunately has enough weight of influence to provide the global system with some coherent leadership. And can continue doing so as long as it has the common sense, or courage if that's what it takes these days, to meet with itself and take its own counsel, consulting others but not granting more vetoes all around.

  8. A last note. One person says, 'better 7 without Russia'. Fortunately the 7 still exists anyway. Russia has not wrecked the G.

    Adding 1 to the 7 has changed nothing fundamentally. On the surface Russia waters down the commonality of values — but can add a lot to the strategic clout (a matter of importance on Iran, Korea, nonproliferation issues…). Under the surface the 7 remains the operational core of the 8, and in some conditions still meets as 7. And under the surface of Russia itself, there is a modern, semi-Western society; its values may yet adapt to the G's, in which case the 7 will be fully subsumed in the 8.

    Adding 12 more, however, would change everything. Thus far the 20 is mostly supplementing not supplanting the 8. With the 7-8 meeting at the core, the 20 have been able to provide value added not subtracted. But if the 8 were to cease to go on holding its own meetings, the 20 would degenerate into just another North-South debating platform. The international system would be weakened, in an era when we need it to grow stronger.

  9. waste of money and the police just acted political and let the damage be done in Toronto to justify their own existanced. one only had to listen to the reporters to tell what they were trying to put across as real news " just what they, in their small minds, wanted you to hear and believe. Even the CBC news has become a political talk show. Guess everyone wantsor hopes to be appointed to the Senate!!

    A JOKE!!