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Why the G20 is obsolete

In order to keep Chimerica at bay, global policy coordination needs to be reformed. Time to forget about political correctness and talk about real power, says Piotr Maciej Kaczynski
Piotr Maciej Kaczynski
12 November 2010

The initial idea from the 1970s about having a global forum for informal meetings of the heads of the most important and influential states has been a good one. It provided for interaction among global key figures, which often helped ease tensions or even prevent conflicts. In the cold war era this was an excellent tool for exchange among the rich and powerful on the planet. Yet, shifting realities in the global power game rendered the original formula irrelevant and the G7 in 1999 was replaced by the G20 as the pivotal global forum for consultations among the most important people (MIP).

The reasons for the demise of the G7 are quite straightforward. Members of the G7 are the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan. Since the late 1990s Russia started attending the meetings transforming the G7 into a G8. At the same time the leaders of an ever growing and increasingly integrated European Union started to participate, especially in the person of the President of the European Commission. In the end, when ten leaders sat around the G8 table in Toronto last summer, six of them were Europeans: President Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel, Prime Ministers Cameron and Berlusconi and the two EU Presidents: Barroso and Van Rompuy. In a world where de facto European dominance is a thing of the (quite distant) past, the set up was a mere joke, if not anything else. Hence, the meetings of the G8 had become not much more than a courtesy. No more global business making.

Of course the rise of China and other emerging nations meant a shift in global power highlighting the need for a reform of international institutions. Indeed, the composition of the G8 and even the UN Security Council (where China enjoys a veto power) no longer reflect the global distribution of power. This is where the politically correct answer of a new G20 came as the new incarnation of the forum of the MIPs. Yet, this large group of 20 is disaggregated and responsibility for decisions is no longer individual, as various subgroups are being created and coalitions formed. Hence some people rightly say that the real decisions in fact are already predetermined elsewhere because the G20 is both too large and based on a set-up that once again fails to mirror the actual constellation of power. Thus, yet another obsolete talk shop has been created.

If the G7 missed the point of power representation and the G20 is just too big, what would be the right forum for the most important individuals on the planet? For a group of global leaders to be able to make real and effective change one needs to forget about “political correctness”. Such a group needs to include only those actors, who have a weight and influence in global affairs – there is no room for regional powerhouses.

In fact, there are seven entities in today’s world with that sort of impact. The weakened United States remains the world’s most important economic, political and military power. China is the world’s most important and influential developing nation and very soon to become it’s no. 2 economy and no. 1 manufacturer. It is also the most populous country. India is world’s largest democratic nation and 2nd most populous state – catching up quickly with China in terms of demography and economic development. Russia is the world’s largest country that still has enormous political and military impact. It is also the country which knows how to (ab)use its natural resources for its own political benefits. Brazil holds another key to the world. The increasing importance of biodiversity makes the country especially influential given its ecological impact and its role as guardian of the Amazon jungle. It is also an important rising political and economic player not only in its own region, but across the globe. Japan is the world’s major economic power (still the 2nd largest economy in the world) with a massive comparative advantage in innovation. The 7th entity with one spot is the European Union – the world’s most advanced supra-governmental entity that escapes classical definitions of international organizations. Treated as one economy it forms the world’s largest economy, providing for more than half of global development assistance and aggressively promoting its original normative approach in international relations. Wherever the EU has the means it seeks to establish international, legally binding instruments shaping the global governance structure in areas such as trade, financial markets or climate change.

Those seven players collectively hold the keys to the planet’s future and they depend on one another. Like it or not, expanding this list to include other states would in fact only be diluting the most important players’ responsibility for where the more and more interlinked world is going. The G20 in its current form overstretches its decision-making capacity and runs the risk of being divided into different coalitions. The danger of this is that it could eventually lead to a situation where the most important decisions would be negotiated bilaterally between the USA and China. Classically, the two will seek to balance against each other, which is not exactly what the world needs; the world needs the two to be as much as possible integrated into global structures (yes, the author is a European). The conclusion is to change the diluting effects of an all-too-large G20 not for the purpose of balancing against Chimerica, but rather to provide cushions – other strong powers that individually are in no position to threaten the USA or China, but are strong enough on their own not to be forced to enter into conflicting coalitions.

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