Voice

Is this the last G-8 summit meeting?

Writing in the Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash unleashes his considerable rhetorical power on the G-8:

I have just looked at the agenda for the Deauville meeting and I am more convinced than ever that this is a monumental waste of time and money. The cash spent on the security measures alone, which involve more than 12,000 police, gendarmes and soldiers, could have made a significant contribution to the consolidation of Tunisian democracy. The whole circus, with its preparatory meetings of officials known as "sherpas", and what the French wonderfully call "sous-sherpas", will be repeated all over again in the runup to the November G20 meeting.

Not that the G20 is working well either. But it is a grouping much more appropriate to the economic, political and cultural realities of the 21st century. All the efforts of western or post-western leadership should be dedicated to making it work better. The best way to start would be to abolish the G8, and Obama will soon have an opportunity to do just that.

Next year, the US is supposed to be hosting the G8 while Mexico is to host the G20. Obama should privately agree with other G8 members, and with Mexico, to roll the G8 into a single G20 meeting. All efforts could then be concentrated on making the G20 more serious and effective than it is now.

Anyone who abolishes a useless committee or institution should be awarded a medal, and this would deserve a large one – a kind of global medal of honour. More broadly, this American president is qualified like none before him to move forward from the outdated cold war notion of "the leader of the free world" towards being the leader of a movement towards a free world.

There is a significant chance that this will be the last major G-8 summit meeting. But this forum won't bury itself; the Obama adminstration will have to make a point of it. As I understand it, Washington was the only capital arguing against having a full-blown summit this year. In the months ahead, the administration will have to weigh whether ending the G-8 is worth the diplomatic headache. As Garton Ash points out, institutions--even informal ones--have a strong survival instinct.   

The Multilateralist

U.S. pressures Georgia on Russia's WTO accession

Over at The Cable, Josh Rogin has a great report on Obama administration involvement in the Russia-Georgia dispute, particularly as regards Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization. Georgia, as a current WTO member, has the formal power to hold up Russia's accession.

There are also signs that senior administration officials have placed pressure on Georgia to make a deal. A senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable that U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, while briefing senators before a recent congressional trip that included a stop in Georgia, asked those senators to pressure Georgia to move toward acceptance of Russia's membership in the WTO.

"It was odd to hear Ambassador Kirk behind closed doors urging a group of senators to pressure Georgia to ‘be reasonable' while, we understood, the administration was saying publicly it would stay out of a Georgia-Russia issue," the aide said.

The U.S. claims that it was not going to get involved in this issue always seemed fishy. There's simply no way that Washington will allow Georgia to delay for too long what it sees as a critical achievement, getting Russia into the rule-based trading system. The only real question is whether Georgia plays its hand well enough to get something of value while keeping good ties with Washington.