The G-8: Rationalizing the Global Summit System

It’s pretty tough to argue with conventional wisdom, but Richard Weitz does a good job of it in his WPR column today when it comes to the G-8. Weitz points out that the arguments for enlarging the G-8 to a G-14 or a G-20 are mainly based on economic and demographic shifts. That overlooks the significant security component to the G-8 format, an area in which the eight member nations do, in fact, represent the principle global leaders.

I wish I’d had Richard’s column to rely on last Friday, during the France 24 program, The World This Week, because I took a shellacking in the second half of the show for arguing against enlarging the G-8. My point wasn’t that the 8-member club ought to dictate terms to the rest of the world. Even if it wanted to, it couldn’t, because the very realities used to advocate for enlarging it make that no longer possible.

But those very realities also undermine the charge that the G-8 is an exclusive, elitist governing council that needs to be broadened. Notice that no one objects to the BRIC summits, and the same goes for ASEAN, UNASUR, the SCO and the SADC. The G-8 is no more able to dictate terms to the global economy than any of the other multilateral organizations are. Which means that reality has overtaken the sensitivities of the emerging world.

Instead of being enlarged into an even more unmanageable format, the G-8 should be maintained, becoming simply one consensus-building meeting among others, integrated into a newly rationalized system of global governance summits. It might be that in that newly rationalized system, there will be some overlap of membership, or even some realignments. But there’s no need to sacrifice a useful venue that facilitates consensus in an age where consensus is increasingly hard to come by.