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Does the G-8 matter?

india Updated: Jun 01, 2011 00:46 IST
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The latest Group of Eight summit was "historic", the moment for the great powers to rally their wealth and arms behind the Arab people and staunch a gap in the spread of "Western" values across the world.

Really? Or was it a pointless, costly absurdity, a vanity project for leaders of nations in decline, marginalised by the rise of China and other big, industrialising nations, for whom the forum founded in the 1970s is a neo-colonial throwback?

Some answers in that debate should emerge in the coming year when France, proud host of a summit in Deauville, hands the chair to the United States, where officials have been sceptical of the group's utility.

The White House has not set a date for the 2012 G8 summit; it may all but merge into the Group of Twenty, which brings in China, India, Brazil and others and became Washington's favoured global forum after President Barack Obama's predecessor George W Bush hosted the first G20 summit three years ago.

On Friday, however, after 24 hours of talk on the Normandy coast, it seemed U.S. attitudes to the smaller G8 might have been warmed by a summit that offered big credits to new Arab democracies and rallied Russia, an often awkward post-Cold War addition, to the cause of ousting Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

"This has actually been quite a good G8 and in many respects it has underscored what is best about the G8," a senior official in the administration said. "We are strong proponents of the G20 as the premier forum for international economic coordination.

"But there is something about the G8 and a small group of leaders who deal with each other across a wide range of issues ... on a very regular basis ... It builds a strong relationship with them and it really came out here."

'Merge G8 with G20'
The G8's critics are far from convinced.

"The Deauville summit ... is a monumental waste of time and money," British commentator Timothy Garton Ash wrote in the Guardian. "If the G8 did not exist today, no one would dream of inventing it. Its core business, the management of the global economy, cannot properly be discussed without the presence at the top table of countries like China, India and Brazil."

Obama should focus on merging the G8 into the G20 and improving the functioning of that newer, larger forum, he said.

Yet among admirers, John Kirton of Toronto University, whose G8 Research Group tracks the forum's effectiveness, said it was needed "now more than ever". He compared its aid for Egypt and Tunisia to its role in Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.