Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Article excerpt

In the past quarter of a century, other groupings of nations have come and gone, but the G8/G7 has endured. From its origins as an informal meeting of the heads of state of the wealthiest nations, the G8/G7 leaders' summit has become an international forum full of pomp and ceremony. The declarations of its leaders and ministers reflect the consensus of the world's most powerful nations about an expanding array of international issues.

By its own standards, the G8/G7 can point to a history of success. The consultations of the early years succeeded in stabilizing the international monetary system after it abruptly shifted from the limited gold standard. President Reagan credited the peaceful conclusion of the cold war in favor of capitalism to the "hanging together" of the G7 powers. The G7 played a key role in the conclusion of the Uruguay Round and the creation of the WTO with the dispute-settlement function as its centerpiece. As it enters a new century, the G8/G7 can rightfully claim to have played a key role in maintaining mutual trust among the industrialized nations and in expanding the realm of free-market democracies.

But the failure of the G8/G7 to advance solutions to the array of economic, political/security, and transnational issues it now addresses is just as evident. On the economic front, its call for a new round of trade/investment negotiations fell flat at the WTO meeting in Seattle, when developing countries insisted that the impact of earlier liberalization measures needed to be assessed and complained that the industrialized countries had failed to meet their market access and economic aid commitments. The G7's 1998 promise to advance "reform of the global financial architecture" has devolved into a focus on promoting national financial reforms among emerging market countries. While acknowledging the urgent need to "ensure increasing, widely shared prosperity" and to "put a human face" on globalization, it has not moved beyond this now-tired rhetoric. Britain and Canada played a key role in having the G8/G7 declare its commitment to debt relief for the poorest nations at the 1999 Cologne Summit, but the U.S. congressional failure to back this initiative has made this another empty promise. Increasingly, the G8/G7 declarations are largely a laundry list of transnational problems and a compendium of promises--many of which are subsequently broken.

As it moves forward, the G8/G7 is beset with problems of representation and legitimacy. Having evolved from its initial focus on economic policy coordination of member states, to assuming an agenda-setting role for global governance, the G8/G7 is faced with mounting criticism that it is unrepresentative. How can such an elite club fairly shape an agenda that will affect all peoples and nations?

In 1999 the G8/G7, responding to a U.S. initiative, formed an associated forum called the G20 to involve a broader spectrum of nations of mostly emerging markets in deliberations about financial policy reform. Thus far, however, the G20 functions mostly as a sounding board for G7 policy initiatives, doing little to alter the G8/G7's elite character.

What type of countries should be represented in a forum limited to what the G8/G7 itself has called "systemically important countries?" Strong arguments have been made for the inclusion of China, clearly one the world's most important players in security issues and in the global economy. …

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