Fort Knox, Ky. used to be the most carefully guarded site on the planet because it held the massive gold bullion reserves that backed the value of the U.S. dollar. Those days are over as the dollar now floats freely against other currencies, and Fort Knox is no longer necessary. But the currency of global leadership does have value. The newest most guarded site in the world was not far from Kentucky--it was the small coastal resort named Sea Island, Ga., where Group of Eight leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States met to discuss some of the world's most intractable problems.
While platitudes and promises of charity and aid to developing nations regularly emanate from these conventions of rich nations, they mostly serve as a date on the annual calendar for world leaders to stage photo opportunities so their citizens perceive them to be worldly and important because of their association with prime ministers and presidents of other great powers. It is always fun to see the eight heads of state or government casually walking together as if such a stroll happened every day, having their photos taken by the press for global distribution. This year, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was the most animated of the eight, walking next to U.S. President George W. Bush with arms dramatically gesticulating as he spoke--apparently with great passion. Maybe they were discussing baseball.
In truth, the G-8 sessions are gatherings that remind powerful nations of their responsibilities to poorer nations, also serving as a notice to those not in the club that the eight are very rich and very powerful, while the United States is king of the hill. If one searches for G-8 through the Google search engine on the Internet, the impressions the world has of this smallish gathering are incredibly diverse. If one looks carefully one sees that it is not only the G-8 that gathers at the talks, but many other countries as well. None of the other national leaders, however, appear in the published group photos of G-8 summit talks.
This year the leaders of Algeria, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq (the newly appointed President Ghazi al-Yewar), Yemen, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda all traveled to the deep South to hang out with Bush and his rich nation colleagues.
Some of these nations were there seeking debt relief--particularly the African nations, who left disappointed that the rich did not do much to make the African continent less poor. Others were there seeking concessions on AIDS drugs and other medical assistance, and the United States offered a further 500 million dollars toward the cause. Unfortunately, the nation's earlier pledge has not been received in total. Some were there because of Bush's need to score points for his focus on Middle East reconstruction and civil society development--so the embattled former warlord Hamid Karzai came from Afghanistan as well as the thus far unelected new president of Iraq.
Among the highlights, Yemen's president declared the G-8 summit talks a stunning success. The G-8 applauded the U.N. Security Council's unanimous support of the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq's next government. From afar, North Korea protested the G-8's continued resolve to oppose nuclear proliferation. France told the United States to stop acting as if the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was its own private military reserve and that it had little chance of pulling NATO troops into Iraq.
In terms of public relations, Japan--which had the least at risk in the summit--really did the best. Koizumi was complimented on getting Japan's economy going and dealing with North Korea well, but he still received cold treatment from the United States on the Kyoto Protocol and admiration from other countries for continuing to push the treaty.
There is a growing movement--still in its infancy--to move China into this club. Much of the world's economic action is now in China, and it makes a great deal of sense to bring China in, especially as Russia has far less economic luster. On the other hand, there is a backlash growing toward China's emergence as a power center in the world and many argue that entry to forums such as the G-8 should require democratic national reforms first. In addition, Bush's neoconservative allies are suspicious of China and can easily constrain their enthusiasm about bringing potential rivals into forums mostly dominated by U.S. interests and objectives.
In the end, this year's G-8 summit produced little to spark the imagination and make us think that global poverty would be lessened in any real terms. Yet parades of nations are probably good things to have--at least there is someone whispering in the U.S. president's ear that other leaders and nations should be accorded the dignity of recognition by the United States and other G-8 leaders.
Copyright 2004, Daily Yomiuri