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G8 to G9: a formula for democracy

01.01.70

David Owen

With global co-operation under threat, India, China and Brazil could play a crucial part

IN HIS RECENT State of the Union speech George Bush reiterated his commitment to the historic long-term goal of spreading democracy. Visiting India he has an opportunity to move that agenda forward. He can start the process of enlarging G8 by admitting India.
The creation of G9 by 2007 by including the largest democracy in the world would recognise the significant moves that India has made, since Rajiv Ghandi became Prime Minister in 1984, towards becoming a leading market economy. It would also help to strengthen multilateralism at a time of great weakness.

Why the G8? To start off with, in 2005 an alternative idea of enlarging the permanent membership of the UN Security Council to include India along with Japan, Germany and Brazil and a representative country from Africa was blocked. It is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Of course the G8 does not have, nor should it pretend to have, a function as broadly based and as internationally recognised as that of the Security Council. Yet its informality and focus are also strengths. It represents, in essence, the power base of the democratic open-market economic world.

The origin of the G8 was an informal meeting of a Group of Six of the most industrialised countries, held at Rambouillet near Paris in 1975 under the chairmanship of President Giscard dEstaing. Since then the group has avoided institutionalisation. It has no central secretariat or formal structure. Crucially, membership is not immutable. A country that moves away from the founding principles of democracy and the market economy can simply not be invited to attend in the future.

Some believe that the G7 moved too quickly to admit Russia in 2002. But President Clinton was right to reward President Yeltsin, and he could do so safe in the knowledge that G8 membership could be a political constraining mechanism against Russias economic and democratic reforms sliding backwards.

The commitment to multilateralism that expansion would indicate is much needed and would be very timely. Multilateralism has taken a terrible knock in recent years. This can be attributed to two things. First, the UN the great postwar embodiment of multilateralism has appeared feeble and, worse, corrupt. Secondly, there is a widely held view that the US is no longer interested in multilateralism.

How would expanding the G8 help to get back to multilateralism? In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and the sharp disagreements about its legitimacy, the issue of multilateralism tends to be seen only in the context of military action. And the relationship between multilateralism and military action is, naturally, both very important and deeply vexed. But just as important are economic, trade, health, aid issues and global warming and these were all on the agenda of the last G8 summit at Gleneagles.

There are other similar questions that the G8 will be dealing with in future meetings: vitally, how to improve the connection between existing global institutions and promote genuine multilateralism for example, over energy security issues.

Looking beyond Indian entry, there is China. The Chinese currency is becoming ever more crucial and a G10 with China could help the IMF. On trade matters, WTOs policies are already subject to prior discussion by a wider grouping in which China and Brazil are very influential. Given the impact of international travel, pandemics are already on the G8s agenda with a dialogue with the World Health O rganisation; and China is a big focus for avian flu. On global warming, China is already the worlds second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

So in all these non-military issues, an expanded G8 would be beneficial. Yet reform is also needed to facilitate effective military multilateralsim. On dangerous and difficult peacekeeping missions, the only existing institution capable of hard military action, as we are seeing in Afghanistan, is Nato. However, it is not likely to take a larger role in Iraq. A way forward is, with Nato in the lead, to involve other big countries. Russia, for example, first became involved in Bosnia, then in Kosovo. Japan and Italy are already involved in Iraq with the US and UK without Nato. All six of Natos G8 countries have troops in Afghanistan.

So perhaps we are evolving an acceptable multilateral way of having Nato intervene credibly; a way that minimises opposition and where the informality of the structures offers the hope that necessary military intervention can be quickly deployed. Nato can become a hard peacekeeping resource for multilateral peacekeeping activities either under UN resolution or with UN Security Council acquiescence.

Where would all this leave the UN? In some peoples eyes, the diluting of the UNs sole authority to instigate non-self-defence military action would be unacceptable. But the alternative is inaction. After the Rwandan genocide and Darfur, is that acceptable? Multilateral action by a large coalition was needed to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991 and the UN could not mount such an operation. The challenge is to work with the grain of the UN Charter if not always with its explicit authority.

Unless more effective multilateralism evolves, unilateralism will continue by default. With India now and China and Brazil later making a G11, President Bush can advance a new flexible, informal pattern of multilateralism in international affairs.

The author was Foreign Secretary from 1977 to 1979

Expert opinion

Halter Marek

02.12.06

Halter Marek
Le College de France
Olivier Giscard dEstaing

02.12.06

Olivier Giscard dEstaing
COPAM, France
Mika Ohbayashi

02.12.06

Mika Ohbayashi
Institute for Sustainable Energy Poliy
Bill Pace

02.12.06

Bill Pace
World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy
Peter I. Hajnal

01.12.06

Peter I. Hajnal
Toronto University, G8 Research Group