A Seismic Shift in Global Politics?
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th November, 2008
Yesterday’s G20 Summit in Washington may have been short on conclusions, but I think President Luis Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva of Brazil was probably right when he said that the balance of power in the world has changed irrevocably. Lula told reporters that the G8 — the world’s seven leading industrial economies plus Russia — was now unviable and irrelevant. ‘There is no logic to making any political and economic decisions without the G20 members,’ he said. ‘Developing countries must be part of the solution to the global financial crisis.’
So who are the G20? There are the old Big Seven — the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada — plus Russia, but they now joined by the three other ‘BRICs’: Brazil, China and India. That in itself has tilted the emphasis away from the North to the South. But that tilt has been underlined by the further addition of Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and South Korea. Australia is the only new truly ‘Western’ state, though for the first time the European Union (represented by the President of the European Commission) comes in in its own right, rather than just sitting in as an invited guest as in the past.
The fact that George W Bush is in the lame-duck final period of his eight-year presidency only served to exacerbate the decline in US hegemony, despite the summit’s being held in Washington. The unipolar world that came into being with the collapse of the old Soviet Union is now clearly well on its way to being a multipolar one. This won’t be a second American century. When Barack Obama joins the second G20 Summit — scheduled to be held in London some time before the end of April — the world will be a different place. So it is well that the president-elect is someone more attuned to multilateralism than the incumbent.
One striking thing about the G20 meeting itself was that it was no longer just a collection of men in suits (and their female equalivalents). With King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in his flowing robes and the Indian Prime Minister Mammohan Singh in his turban, the gathering began to look a little more like the world it is meant to be leading. Still only two women, though: Germany’s Angela Merkel and Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.