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G8: Politely, a Revolution Under Way

Analysis by Sanjay Suri

L'AQUILA, Italy, Jul 8 2009 (IPS) - It is with too much ease that we all sometimes use the word 'revolution'. Because all too often the change being championed is one that too many others simply do not notice. But that isn't the case here: the change pushed for at the G8 summit in Italy, and at other such forums, is no less than revolutionary, and can only be seen as historic.

The challenge is to the domination by North America and Europe, the club that Japan and then Russia were invited to join later. Not out of choice to begin with, but they simply grew too big to be left out of the big boys club. As is happening now with China, and to a lesser extent with India, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico.

But that much is obvious, if only because no one can help seeing China for what it is, and because the currently 'lesser' five are being invited to all the G8 meetings after all. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken of G20 rather than G8 as the future: "I think the path will lead to the G20. I think the international train is running in that direction," she said leading up to the current G8 summit.

But a move from the formal G8 to a de facto G13 and further into a sort of settled G20 would mark the expansion of a club – it would not by itself be revolutionary. That direction has run into some counter-arguments that the G20 would itself represent only the big economies, and that what you need is a G192 where all nations have a voice.

Which further raises the question: if you must have a G192, why not the U.N.? That is in fact an argument for, eventually, an 'alternative' U.N., because in its current shape it is so heavily dominated by the big powers, most nakedly the U.N. Security Council, with its five permanent members with veto power, that dominance has been institutionalised. Only China is a member of both the G5 and the P5 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (along with the U.S., Russia, Britain and France).

But the revolution lies in the fundamental changes that are working their way through. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has spoken of joining the international decision- making process as a 'partner' rather than 'petitioner'. China has raised, in typically oblique style, the question of a change at some point, if not in the near future, from the dollar as the international currency. Not quite storming the citadel yet, but there are people out there knocking on its doors – in warning, not to beg entry.

How very neatly the structure of this G8 summit reflects a gradation of dominance as perceived by the leading powers (the G8 is the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia).

Day 1: the G8 countries' leaders meet. Day 2: the G5 group of major developing countries (China, India, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico) join in. And Day 3: some African countries come along. The rich, followed by those that are a little rich and more than a little poor. And in Africa after all, they really do need food, don't they.

The revolution lies in the move to break down this ruling hierarchy. The 'also invited' are looking for a place by right. That move encounters the pitfalls that all revolutions run into – the rebels just really want to join the elite. And to the extent that countries like India and Brazil hope only to join the Permanent Five of the U.N. Security Council, this is what the new moves add up to.

But there are indications that this G8 is, and has to be, more than a platform where a few big guys are working themselves into the elite against the rest. "Because there are more poor people in the G5 than in all the other poor countries put together," a senior official closely engaged with the negotiations told IPS. "These countries cannot afford to join the elite and adopt their policies. Once they come to the decision table, they have to speak for the poor of the world."

The argument, if a somewhat controversial one, is that the G192 is an unmanageable ideal, but through an expanded G8 – and more, through a change in the decision-making process that would bring – the G20 would have enough of the problems of the poor nations among G192 to be mindful of their concerns to change the decision-making process itself.

That kind of move has been in the making for years now, most notably, and with the most teeth, in the world trade negotiations, where developing countries have collectively, and so far effectively, blocked the U.S. and the EU from putting in place for everyone else arrangements that would work to their advantage in ways that they have become accustomed to.

That campaign has not been entirely aligned with the interests of the poorest countries, as members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries will testify. But there has been a considerable coinciding of interests as well, and negotiating leaders from the developing countries have effectively stood for more poor people around the world than any set of leaders have before.

At the G8 summit, the G5 are looking for a new voice, and a louder one, at World Trade Organisation talks, on the U.N. Security Council, in the international financial institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. And to the extent that they do not find this voice, the new – revolutionary – suggestion is that these institutions will be weakened, more than the emerging powers.

The revolution lies in a change from a set-up where the majority must be assumed to speak little and live with less; underlying all the details of the day, this is the change under way at the G8 and at international platforms like this. Most leaders are looking for a sensible way of cooperation rather than confrontation.

This is merely a knock on the door; it's a long way from toppling a citadel, or even wanting to. There is always a possibility that that may never happen. And if it does, it might only come in another generation. And – it would be another world.

All that is happening in central Italy these days is a step in that direction.

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