That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive


And so, under the breezy glades of Lake Muskoka, amongst the gentle cooing of Ontarian loons, the G8 gave way to a super-powered, ultra-inclusive, supra-national cocktail club: the G20!

Much of the Globe’s editorial team are impressed and amazed at Stephen Harper‘s ability to chair the meeting, be included in the leaders’ photograph, and apparently forge broad consensus where once there was none.

I can’t help but view their adulation as a very Canadian response to any occasion in which the world appears to pay attention to us – a giddiness that betrays cringe-worthy insecurities about the weight we actually pull in global affairs. The idea that Europe, China, and America were “shepherded” to anything other than the dining hall by our travel-shy PM beggars belief.

But a triumphalist media aside, the main question here is: now that the G20 has effectively replaced the older, smaller eight-member club, is it time to applaud a decentralisation of power to the developing world? I greet that proposition with a giant “umm.”

It might be true, if only such international bodies themselves had power to assign. We already have a UN General Assembly, and we’ve had in years past a G77 and a Non-Aligned Movement. We have regional international organisations in all parts of the world, often with overlapping memberships. There remains endless potential for nation-states to join ever-more extra-curricular clubs and sip from ever-more champagne flutes.

We shouldn’t diminish the importance of diplomatic summitry – of course leaders do need to have tête-à-têtes, build relationships, sell ideas and maybe buy some too. But the G8/G20 is emphatically not a place where binding commitments are made, where past promises are scrutinised for achievement, or where any country transfers decision making power away from itself and towards a “higher power.” Enforcement mechanisms on promises such as Commission for Africa pledges, Kyoto pledges, MDG pledges and the rest could give teeth to summit communiqués, but of course, if summit communiqués had teeth, it’s unlikely nations would ever write them…

To wish such for truly global oversight is, of course, naivety in the extreme – but no less naive than hosting a summit that costs $1 billion, that turns the host city into a fortress stripped its civil liberties, under the belief that this time, under this programme and in this format, we’ll have a world-changing experience.

What G8 meeting ever reviewed its development commitments, as made in Kananaskis in 2002 or in Gleneagles in 2005? What became of the funds pledged through the Commission for Africa (although in mid-2010, the Commission has temporarily re-formed to evaluate precisely what’s been seen through and what’s fallen through the cracks)? If no one is monitoring the promises states are making, then what effect does simply reformatting and expanding the meeting group have to do with empowering it?

Following through on the promises of yesterday would be much more effective, and inspirational, than a new list of good intentions. Maybe at the Korea summit later this year, the soju will inspire creative thinking.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, ,

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June 2010

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