Fluff or Substance at the G8 Summit


By Vladimir Ryzhkov

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If there were any hopes that the Group of Eight summit this week in Hokkaido would produce substantive results, they were dashed by the time the talks concluded on Wednesday. As usual, the G8 meeting had lots of smiling and handshaking photo ops and official announcements. World leaders also planted commemorative larch trees and ate a lot of tasty sushi. But, unfortunately, we did not hear any serious proposals to address the worst problems facing the world.

In fact, the challenges facing the world now look more threatening than in 1975, when the first summit between leaders of the world's six leading industrial countries -- then called the G6 -- met to discuss the problems caused by the 1973 oil crisis and the subsequent global recession.

Of course, it is good that the United States, with the largest economy in the world, finally recognized the need to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, but it took no concrete steps to do so during the summit. The World Wildlife Fund has made it clear that the G8 member countries -- which contribute 62 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions -- have not set definite goals for reducing those pollutants at the last three consecutive summits.

Equally fruitless were discussions over the global food crisis. As in other G8 summits, leaders again voted to provide aid to Africa through subsidies that have historically proven to be ineffective.

There were also difficulties over energy. Leaders, for example, discussed how to increase oil production in Russia where production has been declining. But little was said about the fact that foreign investors are largely restricted from domestic deposits and that the government has been aggressive in seizing assets of Russian and foreign oil companies -- TNK-BP representing the latest government-backed attempt to take over a strategic asset.

It is unlikely that this summit will result in an increase in global food and energy supplies with a subsequent lowering of inflation. The positions of the main players in this game are too much at odds, and none of them is capable of taking the responsibility of making a bold but unpopular decision.

We see the same thing with the global financial crisis. Stock markets are declining virtually everywhere, and the sharp drop in the dollar's value is already leading to a slowdown in the global economy. When U.S. President George W. Bush leaves in 2009, he will pass on to his successor an unprecedented high budget deficit, national debt and trade deficit. With the U.S. economy taking a turn for the worse, it is sending shockwaves around the world. Unfortunately, neither President Dmitry Medvedev nor the other world leaders at the summit had anything constructive to say on this crucial issue.

And almost nothing came of talks on other urgent problems such as the nuclear program of Iran -- which just test-fired a modernized version of its Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile, capable of hitting targets 2,000 kilometers away -- aid to Africa, expanding G8 membership, the situation in Afghanistan, the Palestinian problem and others.

The summit was Medvedev's big G8 debut, but unfortunately it did not come off very well for him. During the meeting between Medvedev and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday, a British secret service agent chose that particular day to claim that the Russian government likely played a part in the 2006 poisoning in London of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko. Moreover, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice secured agreements for the placement of elements of a U.S. missile-defense system in the Czech Republic, and then flew to Tbilisi to demonstrate approval for the Georgian government, which is trying to join NATO. At the G8, Bush pressed hard on all of Russia's sorest points -- NATO expansion, missile-defense systems in Europe and Kosovo.

Even our participation in the first BRIC meeting generated little hope; the countries are simply too different and their interests are too divergent.

At the summit's conclusion, the assembled leaders did manage to put on good faces for the cameras. This appears to be all they can do for now.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a State Duma deputy from 1993 to 2007, hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy.

By Mikhail Margelov

Every year, the leaders of the world's eight leading countries meet to discuss global problems. They also discuss mutual relations during the summit's interim sessions, which are particularly important because much of the actual work is accomplished during these meetings. For example, the United States signed an agreement with the Czech Republic for the deployment of elements of a U.S. missile-defense system on its territory. This was done despite the fact that President Dmitry Medvedev -- yet again -- told U.S. President George W. Bush at the summit that Russia was opposed to U.S. missile-defense systems being positioned so close to Russia's borders. Medvedev pointedly told journalists that Russia was "greatly distressed" over this issue and would "think up a response" to the U.S. moves. For its part, Russia had offered an alternative to the European missile defense -- to work with NATO member countries to jointly monitor global trouble spots.

As could have been expected, leaders of the G8 did not reach an agreement with newly industrialized states for establishing limits on greenhouse gas emissions. China and India did not agree to the plan to halve emissions by 2050, although they agreed to sign on later.

Regarding the global food crisis, Russia took the position that the rise in food prices is a result of protectionist practices among countries that excessively shield their domestic agricultural markets from international competition. This "economic egoism," to use Medvedev's phrase from his speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in early June, is harmful to the global food distribution system. The Russian president said it is unprofitable for individual countries to subsidize domestic growers. Medvedev suggested organizing a conference of G8 agricultural ministers to discuss the problems of protectionism and export duties.

In the field of energy, summit participants agreed to continue the dialogue on principles adopted two years ago at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg. The energy problem is linked to food supplies. Experts claim that the rise in agricultural product prices was spurred by forecasts of greater production of biofuels. Developing alternative energy sources is an extremely complex task, and it would therefore have been unrealistic to anticipate a clear-cut decision on this issue from this week's summit. On the other hand, a great deal of attention was given to developing nuclear energy as a source of power, since technological advances are making it safer than ever.

Summit participants discussed the issue of international stability -- in particular, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency. In a commendable move, the G8 leaders confirmed their commitment to regulating nonproliferation questions through diplomatic means.

A separate meeting also took place during the summit among leaders of the BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China. This was an important component of the summit because it acknowledged that many of the world's most difficult problems cannot be resolved without the participation of these new centers of influence and power.

There were some novel approaches to aid for Africa, with an emphasis placed on targeted assistance. Economic growth among African states is high on average, although the continent remains a chronic recipient of international aid.

Observers note that Medvedev, who made his first appearance as the Russian representative to the G8, was satisfied with the work of the summit. He emphasized that the summit's format allows leaders to decide complex problems in an informal setting. Medvedev summed up his assessment of the positive role that the G8 can play in global affairs during his concluding speech on Wednesday: "The Group of Eight has good potential. This is the working format where the heads of state who represent the greatest economic potential on our planet are capable of getting answers to the key problems quickly and effectively."

Mikhail Margelov is chairman of the International Affairs Committee in the Federation Council.