What Can the G-20 Do In Cannes?
Posted by David Shorr
Tomorrow I'm heading to Cannes in the French Riviera. Not for a film festival, but the foreign policy wonk's equivalent: a global world leaders' summit. The same G-20 club of key economic powers that bolstered the global financial system against collapse in 2009 is meeting amidst the current turbulence in the Eurozone. (The Stanley Foundation has set up a page, if you want to see all our media comments.)
Today my preview of the summit was published over at The Atlantic, under the headline, "The G-20: The Committee to Not Save the World." That's pretty catchy, as titles go. Just needs one tweak to really work for me: "The Committee to Not Save the World Right Away." I actually think the G-20 could become an invaluable workshop where world leaders develop shared approaches to problems that have tended to be divisive. As my Atlantic piece points out, a major question for the G-20 is the pace and timeframe for it to emerge as a major producer of diplomatic consensus. Bear in mind, the group's defining feature is the way it brings to the table leaders from both the rising and established powers as peer equals -- unlike the vanila-flavored G-7, this forum includes Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, China, and South Africa, to name a few. In other words, its comparative advantage is also its burden.
Now consider the Eurozone debt crisis currently serving as the backdrop for the G-20 meeting. The relationship between the two is ambiguous, given the fundamental issues the sovereign debt poses for Europe internally. Still, it's probably good to have the wider world breathing down the Europeans' necks, given the threat of yet another financial contagion. Yet careening from crisis to crisis is no way to run the world, and G-20 leaders are keenly aware of that. This is why the group's signature agenda items are economic rebalancing and financial regulation, which are the essential underpinnings for a growing global economy. Puttingn it mildly, neither of these -- shifting export-based economies (China, Germany) to greater consumer spending, or reducing leverage in financial markets -- is a simple matter.
This the epitome of multilateral cooperation, leaders challenging themselves / each other to take politically difficult steps. Given the necessity of rebalancing for any sustained progress and prosperity, they have to come through on this; given the difficulty, they can't wave a magic wand. When you hear about the IMF Mutual Assessment Process -- I know, really wonkish sounding -- that represents the G-20's plan for pinpointing the causes of imbalances to spur out-of-balance countries to act. When you recall that a couple of years ago China wouldn't even let these issues be discussed, I'm ready to give some credit and have some patience.
Interdependent-ist true believers like myself think the G-20 should tackle a broader range of issues. While that may sound contrary to what I just said above, I could walk you through a whole wonkish argument about how the incremental progress on these main items leaves diplomatic bandwidth for other items, but I won't bore you with all that.
Fresh from a weekend with other G-20 wonks at the annual conference of Canada's Centre for International Governance Innovation (here's their pre-Cannes page), I can convey a consensus view of experts whatever their views on the breadth of the forum's agenda. First, take a glance at the above picture from the Toronto G-20 summit. If the essence of a summit-level forum like the G-20 is the chance for top leaders to personally hash things out, then summits must have a format conducive to genuine negotiation rather than ritualized speech-reading. Looking at that picture from Toronto, which do you think is taking place? Even more to the point, the summit is too damn short! The world's most powerful men and women will come to Cannes from all over God's creation and meet for an afternoon, an evening, and a morning. And believe it or not, starting the Cannes program with lunch on the first day actually represents an expanded schedule compared with other G-20 summits. As I say, this issue tapped into deep frustrations among the G20-heads at our conference.
In a few days, we'll see what President Obama and his colleagues were able to accomplish.