The G-8 summit this weekend in St. Petersburg, Russia, was
supposed to provide an opportunity for eight of the world's top
leaders to discuss energy security, world trade liberalization, and
global health and education.
Those topics will still come up, but Iran, North Korea, and the
Middle East are clamoring for attention, like uninvited guests at
the gates of a sumptuous banquet.
The mere fact that two smaller countries' nuclear ambitions, as
well as the escalation of Mideast violence, are likely to dominate
this meeting is an indication of how these summits have changed -
from economics-focused discussions, to increasingly political
gatherings where diversifying viewpoints have made bold action
One reason the Group of Eight meetings are increasingly
political, some experts believe, is that economic accord is more
difficult to reach in the post-cold-war, post-sphere-of-influence
"Sometimes on economic summits, the economic issues get the main
billing because consensus is approaching and you can bring things to
closure. And sometimes when that is not the case, as is the case
this year, the politics tend to get a higher billing," Richard
McCormack, a former undersecretary of State for economic affairs,
told a Washington gathering recently.
Among the areas of economic discord that Ambassador McCormack
cites are the Doha round of global trade liberalization
negotiations, a disconnect between America's need to address its
current account deficit and the developing world's "desperate need"
to increase exports, and tension over energy interests in Iran.
Others say the G-8 is simply reflecting diversifying national
interests, in a world no longer polarized along East-West lines.
"What we're seeing is the G-8 going with the times," says
Constanze Stelzenmueller, a transatlantic security expert who heads
the German Marshall Fund's Berlin office. "We now have fissures
among the partners, even values differences that are increasingly
pronounced, when before the overarching issue [of the cold-war
divide] was so much larger that political differences didn't stand
Russia's accession to the big-boy club is another factor in the
loss of easier consensus. That is especially true at a time when
President Vladimir Putin appears to act in an increasingly
authoritarian manner toward Russian civil society and some neighbors
of the former Soviet Union.
Some experts believe that Mr. Putin is actually out to challenge
American leadership with a more controlling, centralized, and less
transparent example of government. "I'm not sure we can cooperate
that effectively with Russia," says Joshua Muravchik, an expert in
international institutions at the American Enterprise Institute
(AEI) in Washington. "At some point, we have to take into account
that Russia under Putin is not just aiming to develop its own idea
of democracy, but really to counterbalance us."
Indeed, as summit host, Putin intends to showcase a wealthier and
more assertive Russia, one he touts as an "energy superpower." And
as the one who sets the agenda, Putin has wanted the discussions to
focus on energy security - a topic that harks back to earlier
summits in the 1970s and '80s, when the group was seven Western
democracies against the world's major oil producers. …