Russia and the collapse of the G8

2014-07-27 07:20

The Group of highly-industrialised countries became known as the Group of Eight (G8) since 1997 when Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, UK and US were joined by Russia. Until then, with the exception of Japan, it was a body of western states that were the bedrock of the world system they had built since the 1490s. The G8 was born out realization of that the G7 as a voice of Cold War west could no longer claim legitimacy after the Cold War.

The decision to exclude Russia takes us back to the old format where western states including the only Asian member, Japan, have to function under the shadow of restricted legitimacy in the eyes of the world. They are probably identifying a non-western power to include in order to regain legitimacy and reflect today's realities. Russia has some decisions to make about its location between the geopolitical north and south and to do so in manner that enhances its role in the G20.

The G8 was a major economic bloc, accounting for an overwhelming size of the world economy. But it was always much more than an economic club because it possessed a strong political voice on international developments and epitomised the pinnacle of western civilisation. In this latter sense, it symbolised the hegemony of western culture and power in the post-World War Two world.

It was born out of a need to defend and protect this order of things when the world economic crisis that began with the energy debacle in 1973 threatened to threaten the world system. The United States a meeting of financial officials from 6 chosen countries - France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and US ( Canada joined in 1976 to make them 7) to discuss discuss decisions that needed to be taken to strengthen the world economy. From 1975 when heads of state took over the task, the G7 was born combing the financial muscle with the political clout of dominant world powers. When Russia joined in 1997, the body became the G8.

It's own website says "The G8 discusses and creates global policies." Of course, it then says its policies are not mandatory, but it does not say that it is vert unattractive for members to break ranks in respect of major decisions relating tp approaches to economy, financial systems and international governance as member states are also closely joined by economic, financial and other forms of power relations underwritten by the power of the US.

Accounting for 50% of the votes in decision-making structures pf the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the world's biggest lending institutions with immense influence on economic policy decisions, development choices in many countries, the G8 held hegemonic power. So, as it discussed major transnational challenges and opportunities, from financial coordination to the fight against poverty to the enviroment and to international security, what they decided had a huge chance of becoming formal international decisions either through multilateral structures or through their champoning by influencial G8 member states. They have influence in the World Trade Organisation, United Nations and other organs of global multilateralism.

Their relations with other regions reflect the asymmetry of global power. The G8's positioning as a central and dominant player in international politics has attracted a lot of worry and criticism from poorer countries and critical civil society that hope for democratisation of global governance.

The reluctance of the G8 to allow reforms to the structures of global governance that they control in disportition to their number ans economic standing has also earned them a bad name especially outside the west.

Its failure also to keep its word especially in regard to the raft of social questions they now decide on including poverty has earned them very little trust among peoples of the world. Year on year, there are scientific findings that decry lack of commitment by G8 members to keep their pledges in areas like debt relief, poverty eradication and so forth.

Russia's membership was also questioned in some quarters and was not fully embraced by fellow G8 members, ostensibly because the country did not fully conform to western values. Russia's membership was seen in patronising terms as a way to expose Russia to western ideals. In turn, Russia used the membership to grow economic relations without loosing its independent identity and its critical stance against western dominance.

So, when Russia accepted the Crimean request to join Russia, thus formalising its incorporation and the other members of the G8 were dismayed, there had been a period of difficulties with Russia difference within the G8. We had become accustomed with Russia's willingness to break ranks with other G8 members on issues like Iraq invasion, the Palestine question, and so forth.

It came as no surprise that the G7 component condemned as annexation Russia 's quick acceptance Crimea's secession. They imposed sanctions as the secessionist sentiment spread to other parts of eastern Ukraine. At its meeting in The Hague in March 2014, the G7 declared Russia's actions were inconsistent with the values and responsibilities of the G8 and therefore decided they would not only boycot the G8 Summit scheduled for Russia in June 2014, but they would also impose further sanctions to force it to "de-escalate" tensions in eastern Ukraine, withdraw its troops from the border and discourage pro-Russian groups from secessionist tendencies. They thus effectively killed the G8 and placed the G7 back to the centre of their global designs.

While this decisions looks like an expression of a principled stance regarding state sovereignty, all these states but Japan have been directly involved in blatant violation of sovereignty of several developing countries including Libya just recently. They had also legitimised a coup in Egypt merely because they had culturally-inclined objections to an Islamist government so close to Europe.

When this is read against the recent attempts to re-assert the North Atlantic as a global hegemon as evident in the expansion of NATO into a global police force, the stubborn refusal to appoint heads of the World Bank and IMF on merit in an open selection process and through attempts to use the UN Security Council to impose western moral judgements about actions of its enemies of world governance, then the action on Russia is also occasioned by power considerations on the part of the G7.

While not to be seen as necessarily a force for fundamental change, Russia's willingness to break ranks in objections to global NATO, votes against western hegemonic moves in the UN and speaking out against imperial designs in the world has made it a counter-balancing force in the centre of world power. So, its location in centre had become an nuisance for western powers for years, while giving some hope for peripheral areas.

The west grabbed the opportunity to exclude Russia from the platform they dominate and use for their own interests when Russia. Kremlin has diminished the significance of this step by saying it was not expelled from the G8, but it is the G7 that walked away from the G8.

Russia has also simply focused on building its economic relations with China, announcing a 400 billion dollar gas trade deal, at a meeting where they decided to use the Rubble and the Renmibi for their trade and investment relations.

There is no way of figuring out how this will impact on broader international diplomacy, whether other countries will be divided between the two and whether this will see blocs like BRICS enhance their stature in the contested centre of global power.

What is certain is that the G8 is gone with little prospects of revival any time soon, setting back the west-east bridge-building attempted after 1997.

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