G7 has a Legitimacy Crisis

2015-06-14 05:56

The leaders of the Group of Seven Industrialised Economies (G7) has just held thei summit in Bavaria, Germany, in a meeting that reminds us that the once influential body is fast loosing its influence in a changing world.

The G7 Summit is what used to be the G8 Summit before western powers plus Japan decided in Belgium in 2014 to exclude Russia over geopolitical rivalry around Ukraine as a frontier between a Russia that is seeking to assert its global power and regional hegemony, on the one hand, and a western bloc of nations intent on expanding their geopolitical reach to the very border with Rusia, this isolate it. The G8 was this brought down by power games between the west that is determined to maintain its global hegemony and a Russia that is intent on re-.establishing its regional power over the former Soviet Union area. It was destroyed by the clashes of big powers about matters of power rather than te welfare of citizens of the world, development, economic well-being or even universal values. It was a casualty of the ills of global power between two sides that share the blame for this outcome.

Now, G8 has diminished into a G7 in a period where it was being increasingly eclipsed by the more legitimate G20 platform of countries straddling the old west and east, the north and south. As the G8, the body was loosing its claims to global leadership and becoming a lobby for the interests of the developed world under threat from the emergence of others in the "world without others" that western modernity had constructed. It was diminishing already as early at the late 1990s when it began reaching out to emerging powers through a series of G8 outreach meetings.

Countries like Brazil, Maxico, India, South Africa, Senegal and Nigeria would be invited to express their position of global issues directly to countries representing the apex of global power inequality. This became a standard occurrence with every G8 Summit since Okinawa, enabling the G8 to claim some sense of global leadership through this interface. Africa through Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa (later Egypt) tabled its plan for taking control over its development vision and trajectory, while appealing for a change of relationship with the global north from paternalism to partnership. This gave rise to New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) as a framework of global north interface with Africa. This orientation of partnership was expressed in the Africa Partnership Forum. But very little came of these commitments because the attitude of the north did not alter to embrace its former colonies as partners and the attitude of subservience on the part of African nations also persisted, thus failing to give birth to the new orientation of North-South Dialogue, a dialogue of equal. Instead, this turned out to be a dialogue of the deaf where commitments were made in respect of development assistance at the level of 0.7% of the GDP of donor countries, but only one or two countries met this bare minimum in the end.

In the same period, the emergence of major developing economies was altering the very economic bases for G8's claim to pre-eminence and global leadership. China and Brazil in particular accelerated past a number of pretenders to the throne of global leadership by size of GDP, while in excess of eleven developing economies consistently registered high levels of economic growth, visible signs of rejuvenation and with this, some political clout at the global level. The G8 watched its pride of place at the helm of global decision-making being eroded by the changing balance of global power.

It was in this context that Russia under the leadership of Vladmir Putin also behaved badly in the eyes of the club, first by identifying with emerging powers as an re-emerging power itself following years of decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia was a problem within the G8 8 in great need of cohesion in changing times, well before it confronted the western expansion into its neighbourhood by courting Russia's neighbours into special relations with the European Union (EU) and the war machine called North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Its annexation of Crimea following a coup in Kiev that saw a democratically-elected president who contemplated an economic alliance with Russia replaced with an anti-Russian one to the applause of western democracies. The annexation violated international law and the West sponsored an anti-Russian Kiev military response. The conflict in Ukraine thus escalated with both Russia and the West suspected of supporting either side in what degenerated into a civil war. The fellow G8 members slapped Russia with sanctions and began a campaign of demonising its leader as some sort of shady figure and autocrat intent on amassing personal power at the expense of democracy. It became crazy work of major democracies, democrazy indeed.

The G8 was a voice of the developed centre without legitimacy to lead the world as it wished. It derived its power still, not so much from its political legitimacy, but in its sheer economic power and influence. In spite of shifts in economic power balance, by 2012 it still accounted for 50% of the nominal GDP globally and 40% of the global purchasing power parity GDP. With the exclusion of Russia, it has diminished to 46% of the nominal GDP and 32% of the global purchasing powe parity GDP.

But with a share of 67% of the global wealth, the G7 remains a major economic player in shaping global economic governance. With inherited residual global power, the G7 retains rhe control over international finance through capital markets and international finance institutions like the World Bank and IMF. It continues to represent countries with immense influence on the G20-led dialogue about global economic governance and decision-making.

They remain the most successful countries in the pursuit of human development. They provide the bulk of development finance for now and account for the overwhelming percentage of official development assistance in the world. They are a major creditors for highly indepted countries and thus important part of the solution to problems of underdevelopment they have helped create.

So, the discussions just taken place in Germany must be seen in the context of a body whose political clout has diminished significantly while its economic power continues to also decline.

But the group continues to represent a strong group of countries, whose involvement in solving problems of the world its members helped to create is important. Its decisions are informed both by the need to regain its footing and the claim to global leadership. Yet, its legitimacy declines with every hegemonic conduct because the world has changed.

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