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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Meeting Amid Shifting Priorities

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Since the 2001 Group of Eight summit in Genoa, Italy, which drew an estimated 200,000 protesters, one of whom was killed in the violence, no meeting has been accompanied by the level of violence and confrontation at this year's meeting in the German city of Heiligendamm. It seems as if we are seeing a return to conditions at the beginning of the decade, when G8 leaders could not cope with the wave of protests or produce convincing arguments to support their policies.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States provided at least partial justification for the group's policies for a time, but that argument has definitely played itself out now. The increasingly severe anti-terrorist measures implemented by member countries and the attendant restraints on personal freedoms have not only been opposed by many in the West, but also provoked discontent and mistrust in contemporary government in general.

This has been accompanied by a sharp increase in the number of young people resorting to violence to express their anti-establishment views. And if there were hundreds of agitators in Seattle and Prague who instigated battles with police and smashed shop windows, they number in the thousands for the summit in Germany. The majority are young men and women in their late teens and early 20s. The growing Black Bloc movement, in which different anti-globalization and anarchist groups unite on the streets at international events like these, is not only a negative reaction to governments in which the new generation has lost faith, but also a sign of frustration with the "new left's" failure to implement its moderate policies over the last decade.

The attitude of the press toward the protesters has changed. Journalists previously focused on shattered storefronts, and reports from the scene tended to focus only on the violence. When more moderate leaders of the movement tried to express their views, the press ignored them. But in Rostock the situation is reversed. German newspapers and television stations in particular have emphasized the peaceful nature of the majority of demonstrators and provided a forum for their opinions.

The public mood has also changed. The German leadership has trouble explaining why there is no money for social programs when funding can be found for hosting the G8 summit and other dubious activities. And the question of global warming has morphed from a subject of concern only for scientists and environmentalists into a major political issue, with the European Union announcing a course toward sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which are considered the primary cause of rising temperatures and the threats they pose. They believe that the West's environmental program will not deliver results until new technologies to reduce emissions are distributed at no cost to developing nations in Asia and Africa. Otherwise, countries operating on global capitalism's periphery will be unable to protect the environment without stifling growth, allowing wealthier nations to exploit these technologies in a sort of environmental colonialism.

The immediate goal of the movement, however, is to force the United States to recognize the international community's ecological priorities. China is another problem on this front, but it is a mistake to believe that Beijing's authoritarian regime can remain immune to outside pressure in today's changing political climate. In the end, the West could threaten an embargo of Chinese goods if Beijing refuses to fall in line with environmental programs -- a move the rest of Asia would greet with enthusiasm. Understandably, such measures run counter to the principles of the World Trade Organization, and one of China's motivations for joining the WTO was probably to gain protection in such an instance. This means only one thing: The WTO, like other organizations of global capitalism, does not meet the needs of today's world. Therefore, it should either change or disappear into obsolescence.

Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.