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May 18, 2012

Defending the G8 Summit Against a Harsh Judgment
Posted by David Shorr

Given my quote in this Toronto Globe & Mail piece by Kevin Carmichael and David Ignatius' scathing indictment of the just-about-to-begin G-8 summit at Camp David, I wanted to draft a quick rejoinder. Ignatius focuses so much on the symbolism of the summit and the damnable state of recent European leadership that he loses sight of the practicalities. While agreeing with much of his assessment, I want to push back against his bottom-line calculation that the summit is a net negative.

The issue on the table is whether it would be better for the leaders not to meet at all, which is what I understand Ignatius as saying in his lede:

It would be bad enough if the G-8 summit was simply an irrelevant annual excuse for a photo opportunity. But it’s actually worse that that: It’s a symbol of an outmoded world order that actively gets in the way of solving problems.

Stipulating all the substantive failures and frustrations that he catalogues -- particularly noting the ever-gathering storm in the Eurozone -- does it worsen matters to hold this meeting? In other words, I want to apply economic reasoning and consider the alternative scenario of Camp David remaining unoccupied this weekend.

I think the question hinges on whether you believe the G-8 summit heightens pressures for the politicians to do better or alleviates those pressures. I absolutely believe it keeps the heat on the leaders rather than letting them off the hook. If Ignatius hadn't led his piece the way he did, I would've viewed most of the rest as a constructive goad to the summit's participants.  But I just can't argue against the leaders having another high-profile opportunity to hash over the Euro mess and the threat it poses to the global economy. 

As a rising powers guy and staunch G-20 advocate, I should talk about the G8-G20 connection.  If we didn't already have the G-20, the spectacle of the old-school economic powers enjoying a Catoctin retreat would indeed be totally anachronistic. But it makes a big difference that we do have the G-20.  

In fact, I think the main way to look at this week's G8 summit is precisely as a meeting in the run-up to the G-20 in Los Cabos, Mexico June 18-19. In line with my above comment about Camp David reinforcing the right kind of pressures, I think the economic agenda this week is about the Europeans getting their act together ahead of next month's meeting. As I've been thinking about this issue for the last several days, it seems more appropriate to view the two summits as part of a rolling process rather than a competition between rival multilateral bodies.  


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