G8 Summits: Empty promises each year

Author and Page information

  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Monday, August 25, 2008

The G8, is made up of the seven most powerful economies of the world, (United States, Japan, Germany, France, UK, Canada, Italy) and Russia.

Together they form a very powerful and influential (though informal) group of nations. For example, they accounting for almost 50% of the votes at the IMF and World Bank.

Source data

CountryWorld Bank Voting Share (%)IMF Voting Share (%)

Sources

  • IBRD1, World Bank, June 30, 2008
  • IMF Members' Quotas and Voting Power, and IMF Board of Governors2, IMF, August 6, 2008
United States16.3816.77
Japan7.866.02
Germany4.495.88
France4.34.86
UK4.34.86
Canada2.782.89
Italy2.783.19
Russia2.782.69
Total45.6747.16

Annual G8 summits often involve discussions on how to deal with the world’s (or their) most pressing concerns. As such it also attracts a lot of protesters, campaigners, and increasingly mainstream media. This page gives a brief overview of some of the recent meetings.

On this page:

  1. G8—a lot of power and influence
  2. 2007, Heiligendamm, Germany
  3. 2005, Gleneagles, Scotland
  4. 2004, Sea Island, Georgia, USA
  5. 2003, Evian, France
  6. 2002, Kananaskis, Canada
  7. 2001, Genoa, Italy
  8. 2000, Okinawa, Japan
  9. 1999, Cologne, Germany
  10. 1998, Birmingham, England

G8—a lot of power and influence

Due to the influence and power of the G8 nations, their summits have been seen as a chance to discuss a number of social, political and economic issues. While G8 nations themselves often differ on certain policies, their overall agendas and eventual decisions/agreements have a direct bearing on most other regions throughout the world. As the following points out, their indirect influence as well as direct influence is great and far-reaching:

The G8 plays an important role in global governance. The world’s elite economic and political countries make up the G8. Together, these countries are able to push policies and agendas in formal world institutions. For example, G8 countries have nearly 50% of the vote in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). G8 countries also have enormous influence in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Security Council of the United Nations (UN). It is through these formal international institutions that many of the G8’s decisions become reality in the world.

The G8 does not act as a single unit to run the world. There is just as much difference and disagreement between G8 countries as there is common ground and agreement. Other countries and groups of countries have power in the world as well and can say no to G8 policies and actions. However, through the G8, member countries can make deals and compromises with one another and then form powerful alliances to exert influence in world politics.

Criticisms of the Group of Eight3, Mapleleafweb.com, June 25, 2002

As a result, the G8 have come under a number of criticisms from around the world. The following also highlights some of the problems.

By virtue of its combined economic, military, and diplomatic power and influence, the G8/G7 can exercise tremendous influence over the multilateral institutions of global governance. This power gives the G8/G7 great influence on the policies, programs, and decisions of the UN Security Council, World Trade Organization (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This is the case despite the fact that, unlike these institutions, the G8/G7 has no permanent staff, no headquarters, no set of rules governing its operations, and no formal or legal powers. For those negatively impacted by the policy agendas advanced by the G8/G7, and for countries excluded from its deliberations, the G8/G7’s influential role in global governance is highly resented and frequently criticized.

... Clearly, the wealthiest and most powerful nations have a right to meet formally or informally, just as other groupings of countries with similar interests and concerns do — such as the G77 forum of developing nations. The fundamental legitimacy problem associated with the G8/G7 is not its right to exist. Rather it’s the way that the G8/G7 has maneuvered to promote itself as the central player in global governance — and in the process undermined the influence of the United Nations.

In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. and other G8/G7 members created a visionary system of global governance designed to preserve peace and promote prosperity through intergovernmental institutions, mainly the United Nations. Today, these institutions are plagued with identity and representational crises and find themselves ineffective in the face of new global challenges, such as responding to the outbreak of intrastate conflicts, stopping financial crisis contagion, and regulating transnational corporations. Structural reform is necessary if the WTO, World Bank, IMF, and UN are to meet some of these challenges, while other global problems will require new, visionary agendas of global governance — and new institutions. Unfortunately, the G8/G7 has shown little leadership in addressing the deepening crisis of global governance. Indeed it has contributed to this crisis by supporting policy solutions that bypass the UN and that favor transnational corporations over public welfare. A yet more fundamental challenge to global governance in the post-9.11 era is failure of Japan, Russia, and European nations to mount a challenge to the increasingly assertive U.S. expressions of hegemony and supremacy in military, economic, cultural, and diplomatic affairs.

Tom Barry, G8: Failing Model of Global Governance4, Foreign Policy In Focus, Volume 7, Number 9 July 2002

In a short video interview, Dumisani Nyoni, leader of Zimbabwe’s oldest poverty fighting non-governmental organization argues that nations such as those in the G8, whenever they meet to discuss poverty related issues often do so without the presence or participation of the poor. As a result, it creates a disconnect between what is discussed and what the reality is:

Dumisani Nyoni, Poverty Understood5, January 22, 2008, © Big Picture TV

Each year, the G8 meet to discuss a number of issues. In recent years, these meetings have become more high-profiled and accompanied with criticisms for the impact of the agendas of these nations on the rest of the world. In many cases there have been enormous street protests or campaigns to highlight some of the urgent issues. Some are highlighted here:

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2007, Heiligendamm, Germany

The 2007 summit is covered on its own page6. As with previous years, the annual meeting’s buildup was full of anticipation and public pressure on the leaders to deliver on their promises. Pledges of vast amounts of money made the headlines together with G8 leaders’ self congratulations. Details revealed a different picture, however.

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2005, Gleneagles, Scotland

The 2005 Summit is covered on its own page on this site7. The build up has seen promises of debt relief, and while acclaimed as a historic achievement, is actually quite short of what is really needed, and what campaigners have been working hard to achieve for years. Furthermore, climate change actions appear to be watering down.

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2004, Sea Island, Georgia, USA

The 2004 meeting was in a remote location for any protests as such. Discussions were made on extending8 the controversial HIPC initiative for debt-relief9, as well as other measures to develop vaccines for HIV, and substantial relief on Iraq's $120 billion debt (which ironically is a LOT larger than most poor country debts, and yet because of US interest in the new Iraq succeeding has been much easier to make a case for).

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2003, Evian, France

The Evia G8 Summit in 2003 saw over 200,000 protestors10. While there was tight security and a few incidents of violence, there were also interesting attempts at alternative villages. The G8 leaders did not discuss much, though they made a show of solidarity after the recent disputes over the Iraq war.

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2002, Kananaskis, Canada

To avoid a turnout of protestors, the isolated location of Kananaskis was chosen for the 2002 G8 Summit.

An initiative called the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) had received a lot of attention and support from the G8 leaders as a plan developed by Africans for Africans, but critics had pointed out that this was developed by the leaders without consulatation11 with civil society.

While many issues were discussed at the summit, such as the war on terror and nuclear disarmament amongst other issues, when it came to Africa’s development, trade and aid issues, there was much criticism on little substantive progress. For example, $6 billion dollars of aid was promised for the controversial NEPAD plan, which sounds like a huge sum, but it was only a portion12 of the $64 billion that was needed. An extra billion dollars was also provided to address the worsening terms of trade due to the collapse in exports (which has been a key prescription to prosperity). In contrast, $20 billion was readily made available to secure Russian nuclear stockpiles. (While security issues are of course important, the issue in relation to Africa has been how for years there has been much talk and little action for trade and development issues.)

Many of the key concerns of African nations, such as reciprocating and opening up the markets of the rich nations, canceling odious debt of the poorest countries, investment in infrastructure were not addressed13. This is how the Guardian summarized it:

What African leaders were hoping for

Trade

  • Cuts in the high duties that African exports face in western markets
  • Pledges by rich countries to cut vast agricultural subsidies that bankrupt vulnerable African farmers by pushing down world commodity prices

Debt relief

  • $15bn-20bn extra debt relief for the loan repayments draining African budgets and to make up for the fall in export prices. Half the countries to have been through the west’s debt relief programme are still spending more on repayments to their creditors than on public health

Aid and investment

  • $35bn in aid and investment. The UN estimates that it would cost $25bn-35bn to get Africa on track to meet its internationally agreed anti-poverty goals

And what they got

Trade

  • Nothing. Position worse than a year ago as both Canada and the US plan to pump more money into farming subsidies

Debt

  • $1bn in extra debt relief to make up for falling commodity prices

Aid

  • $6bn of EU and US aid to be earmarked for Africa by 2006
Larry Elliott, Africa betrayed: the aid workers' verdict14, The Guardian, June 28, 2002

Even the World Bank, often criticized for a number of its policies and impacts on the poor countries, has been critical of the G8 outcome in respect to aid to Africa, describing a number of perspectives and news reports from around the world, commenting that:

Africans were angry and disappointed on Friday, saying the world’s richest nations had signed a no-action plan for Africa — offering words of advice but little in the way of new cash, Reuters and the International Herald Tribune report.

A core group of African presidents, led by South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, had wanted full backing for their ambitious African recovery plan when they met leaders from the Group of Eight industrialized nations last week in Canada.

But the agreement signed on Thursday fell spectacularly short of Africa’s needs, analysts and aid groups said, accusing the G8 of dictating the terms of the continent’s revival. The hot-air brigade returned a scandalous plan for no action on Africa. They recycled stale commitments without saying how and when they would act,