PI Original Matthew Blake Thursday January 26th, 2012, 5:48pm

G8's Actual Purpose, Relevance Overlooked In Protest Debate

Chicago’s political and business leadership and some local social activists have focused much attention on the upcoming NATO and G8 summits, held May 19 to May 21 at McCormick Place Convention Center. But the focus has been on summit-related issues, like much anticipated protests, security costs, and what the summit might do for the city’s tourism and global reputation.

Chicago’s political and business leadership and some local social activists have focused much attention on the upcoming NATO and G8 summits, held May 19 to May 21 at McCormick Place Convention Center. But the focus is on summit-related issues, like much anticipated protests, security costs, and what the summit might do for the city’s tourism and global reputation.

Little is said about the summits themselves, particularly the G8, which has been a placeholder for representing Chicago’s potential as an international hub along as well as the problems with global policy making and local law enforcement.

The official Chicago G8 NATO Summit 2012 web site states that “more than 2,000 journalists from across the world are expected” at the summits. This info is provided prior to stating what NATO and the G8 are; and the site does not discuss what will happen at these brief events, noting that “the summits themselves will be closed to the public.”

The concept of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is relatively easy to understand – it's a military alliance between the U.S., Canada, and most European nations that has been around since World War II. In the last 20 years, the alliance has intervened in several wars.

The exact importance of the G8, or Global Eight, in which leaders of developed nations meet annually to discuss big picture issues like global warming, health care, and international debt, is harder to discern.

Take this exchange between Ald. Ed Burke (14th) and Debra Kirby, the Chicago Police Department’s chief of international relations, at a City Council committee hearing last week.

            Burke: Am I correct in saying the G8 is not a legal entity?

            Kirby: My understanding is that it is not.

            Burke: So G8 is just like a club?

            Kirby: My understanding, sir, is that is an appropriate understanding.

Later, Burke asked Kirby if President Barack Obama would be at the G8 summit and Kirby replied that he would. Burke then asked if the Head of State of France was also paying a visit.

“Correct,” Kirby replied. “The G8 committee is Germany, France, and U.S. and China and the U.K. I should have them all off the top of my head, but I do not right now.”

Founded in 1975 as the G6, the G8 is made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. China is not a member, but the country is a member of the "Outreach Five", a group of developing nations that also includes Brazil, India, Mexico, and South America.

In fact, the exclusion of China and other developing nations has made the G8 increasingly irrelevant. Many global economic scholars instead focus on the G20 as the driver of international economic policy. The group of nineteen nations plus the European Union meets in Mexico City this June.

Eric Ruder, a member of the Coalition Against NATO and the G8 War and Poverty Agenda – which got the city’s first permit to protest the summit, acknowledges that the G8 “doesn’t have any particular standing and there is no treaty and no formal processes.”

But Ruder points out that the G8 is a coalition of countries that still make up a majority of the world’s global economic output. He argues that the meetings between these world leaders can be profoundly consequential. “They do get together and makes lots of decisions from trade barriers to environmental policy to the global debt crisis,” he added.

Ruder said he does not make many distinctions between G8 and other international policymaking groups like the G20, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, and the World Bank. “I see them as interlocking networks spreading free market interests,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Don Welsh, president and CEO of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau views the summits “as the Super Bowl of meetings.”

These dueling perspectives will collide in May, when the summits themselves will be closed to the public.

Image: AP

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