G8 post-Summit analysis (Part 2)

As I have already mentioned, the BBC wins big points with me for its excellent, easy-to-understand coverage of the G8 Summit.  Here’s an interesting, reflective article from diplomatic correspon Bridget Kendall, who asks, “What does this year’s G8 summit tell us about the state of global leadership?”

Kendall succinctly summarizes why “expectations were low” going into the Summit:

          The Japanese hosts were desperately worried that their carefully controlled arrangements for an international focus on climate change […] might end in failure.
          The Bush administration had indicated that it would block any plan to tie G8 countries to commitments on emission targets without a global deal.
          And on the poverty agenda, aid agencies feared that – far from any new help for the needy in Africa – the G8 leaders were no longer in a mood to be generous, and might not even commit themselves to stumping up the money owed on previous aid pledges.

Despite these forbodings, “the G8 leaders did come up with quite a few big decisions – on food aid, on food security, to express their concern over Zimbabwe, even on climate change.”  The leaders seem to have gone out of their way to insist that they really, really did accomplish a lot.  But are they protesting too much?

Kendall asks whether the results of the Summit “stand up to scrutiny.”  In her analysis, the statement on Zimbabwe – which was for all intents and purposes disavowed by Russia before it even hit the press – was “More like papering over the cracks […] than a real display of G8 unity.”  The agreement on climate change, only tentatively endorsed by the US in any case, was immediately undermined by dissent from countries outside the G8.  The leaders produced “no clear answers” on the subject of rising oil prices or food shortages.  “Meanwhile,” according to Kendall,

the entire embarrassing saga over renewing unkept promises of aid to Africa could not help but cast the G8 nations in a poor light, undermining confidence in that pledges delivered this year would prove any more reliable.

A pretty grim picture.  In a sense, it seems like the G8 is being overwhelmed by a world increasingly outside its power to dominate.  This may be pushing it in a new direction.  According to Kendall, “The mantra for this summit was that today’s intertwined global threats can only be countered by far-reaching global solutions.”  And this, Kendall says, brings us to “an intriguing question.”

          Even if this summit is remembered as being short on substantial new agreements, does this increased awareness by the G8 political elite of the need to collaborate suggest a shift in their agenda?
          It feels as though the once overriding preoccupation with possible terrorist attacks or “arcs of extremism” by militant Islamists – so common in the last few years – is being edged aside by a new anxiety of looming financial and environmental instability.
          A move, perhaps, from the confrontational, divisive post-9/11 era of ‘us and them’, to a new sense of shared global vulnerability.

Kendall goes on to discuss the turnover in G8 leadership and the subtle power shifts associated with the coming and going of various presidents and prime ministers.  Then she asks something else.

          The idea of global solutions to global threats raises another perennial G8 question.
          If G8 climate change agreements can be undercut so easily by China, and if oil prices can only be addressed by involving major oil producers, how long can G8 sustain the fiction that it still matters?
          Isn’t it time, not just for outreach sessions with other countries, but for the group to reform itself, or at least increase its numbers?

Questions about the structure and membership of the G8 go beyond my focus here – I definitely recommend reading Kendall’s whole article (especially the last section) for more on that issue.  But the notion of “global solutions to global threats” is interesting, especially when Kendall’s article is looked at alongside this Boston Globe editorial, which I commented on a few days ago.

Both of these articles highlight the worldwide nature of many of the world’s most pressing problems.  Climate change, food scarcity, poverty . . . these are dangers without borders.  So are global health problems – AIDS, for example.

We’ve all heard about globalization.  Often this is looked at as if it’s a choice: do we pursue globalization or avoid it?  In some ways, I’m sure humans – collectively, at any rate – do direct the extent of globalization.  But in other ways, the “global village” is thrust upon us.  At the very least, the ship sailed long ago.  Things like climate change, global poverty, and the worldwide AIDS pandemic make it clear that we are part of an interconnected world.  When it comes to the most overwhelming problems in the world today, we’re globalized whether we like it or not.  The question is how we deal with it.  Do we isolate ourselves, focusing on our own problems and goals, and letting the rest of the world take care of itself?  Or do we recognize that the world’s problems are our problems, and act accordingly?

I want to think about these issues more, but this is already a very long post, so I will leave you with this: think of it as a teaser for more to come, hopefully within the next couple of days.

A couple of posts back, I wrote about how I think Christians need to recognize the equal value of all people and think about the good of humanity as a whole rather than narrower categories like “national interest.”  We are obligated to consider issues in their global perspective because we understand people all over the world to be creatures of God.  Here’s another angle: for two thousand years, Christians have participated in a global organization focused on global concerns, global problems, and global solutions.  It’s probably the oldest international organization around, and the one with the deepest roots.

It’s called the Church.


~ by h.e.g. on July 13, 2008.

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