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21.06.2004 Business & Finance

G8 summit a mere parade of nations

By Steven C. Clemons
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Fort Knox, Kentucky, used to be the most carefully guarded site on the planet because of its massive gold bullion reserves used to secure the value of the U.S. dollar. The dollar now floats freely against other currencies, so Fort Knox is no longer what it used to be.

But the currency of global leadership does have value. The newest most guarded site in the world was not far from Kentucky just over a week ago - it was the small resort of Sea Island off the coast of the U.S. state of Georgia where G8 leaders from Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Britain, Canada, Russia and the United States held their annual meeting.

While platitudes and promises of charity and aid to developing nations regularly emerge from these gatherings of rich nations, they mostly serve as a date on the annual calendar for world leaders to stage photo opportunities so that back home they can be perceived as important because of their association with other major powers.

Perusing G8 on the Google Internet site, the impressions sent around the world of this small, exclusive gathering are incredibly diverse, and that it's not only the G8 that is present, but also representatives of many other countries as well, although none of these other national leaders appears in the published group photos of the G8 summit.

This year the heads of state or government of Algeria, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq (the newly anointed President Ghazi al-Yewar), Yemen, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda all traveled to the deep American South to hang out with Bush and his rich nation colleagues.

This recalls the scene in the movie "Gladiator," or better still the original film "Fall of the Roman Empire" with Alec Guiness, where Emperor Marcus Aurelius watches a parade of leaders of nations in front of him; as each chariot drives past with its occupants shouting "Hail Caesar!" the emperor struggles to recall the names of the many nations and someone besides him whispers each country in his ear. Like Marcus Aurelius may have wondered "Bithinia? Where?" Bush could have been asking much the same sort of question. Does George Bush really know where Senegal is?

Some of these nations were there seeking debt relief - particularly the African nations, who left disappointed that the rich didn't do much to make the African continent less poor. Others were there seeking concessions on AIDS drugs and other health remedial assistance, and America offered $500 million in new funds for that effort. Unfortunately America's earlier pledged AIDS funds haven't even been fully provided.

Some of the leaders were brought to Sea Island because of Bush's need to score points for his focus on Middle East reconstruction and civil society development - hence the presence of the embattled former warlord Hamid Karzai from Afghanistan as well as the so far unelected new president of Iraq.

Among the highlights, Yemen's president declared the G8 Summit a stunning success - but he may have just been happy to get his complimentary bag of Georgia peanuts. The G8 applauded the U.N. Security Council's unanimous support of the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq's next government. From afar, North Korea protested the G8's continued resolve to oppose nuclear proliferation. France told the United States to stop acting as if NATO was its own private military reserve and that it had little chance of getting NATO troops into Iraq. In public relations terms, Japan, with the least at risk in the summit, may have done the best. Koizumi was complimented on getting Japan's economy going and managing to deal with his country's problems with North Korea, although he still got cold treatment from the United States on the Kyoto Protocol and admiration from other countries for continuing to push this unworkable treaty.

In the end, the G8 produced little new to spark the imagination and to make anyone think that global poverty would be lessened in any real terms. Yet parades of nations are probably good things to have - and at least there is someone whispering in the U.S. president's ear which leaders and nations should be extended the dignity of recognition from America and the rest of the G8 club.

Steven C. Clemons is executive vice president of the New America Foundation, a centrist public policy think tank in Washington, D.C. - Ed.