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     Apr 29, 2008

India, China hold G8 options
By Sreeram Chaulia

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's reassertion last week that India should be admitted as a full member of the Group of Eight (G8) group of leading industrialized countries is a continuation of his predecessor Tony Blair's mission of expanding this forum.

Brown's effusive praise for India as a worthy entrant to the G8 is backed by French President Nikolas Sarkozy, who advocates a "G13" that integrates India, China, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico into the select club which plays a leading role in shaping global governance.

Interestingly, Brown and Sarkozy always mention India's entry into G8, comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US, as complementary to a permanent
seat for New Delhi in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Brown, speaking at a luncheon in London, called for a "global New Deal" with India as a major partner in the G8, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the International Monetary Fund.

"A Security Council without India cannot be a Security Council reflecting the reality of the day [and] a G8 that discusses the world economy without involving India cannot be a G8 that is discussing all the details of what needs to be done in the world economy," he said, according to a Times of India report.

The effect of synchronously taking the name of the G8 and UNSC is to generate the impression that both are central to the collegial management of world problems ranging from war and peace, disarmament, trade, climate change, energy and terrorism.

Notwithstanding its undemocratic character, the UNSC is still the referent for most states, including India and China, on the justification for the use of force. Whether or not the vast majority of UN member states endorses military expeditions by the US is still contingent upon their legitimization by the UNSC. For all its representational shortcomings, most countries and peoples in the world want a more robust UNSC that can preserve international law from being violated by big bullies. The sense of much of the world is that this institution needs to be strengthened for restraining illegal state and non-state actions.

The G8, on the other hand, is more controversial. In its current avatar, it suffers huge legitimacy deficits as a target of anti-globalization activists. The 27th G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy, in 2001 set the trend for training the guns of the left on the economic apartheid imposed on developing countries by G8 members and their multinational corporations. The G8's dictation of terms to developing countries through neo-liberal privatization, fiscal conservatism, debt traps, free trade, and unregulated capital have drawn immense flak for their neo-colonial motives.

So resounding has been the anti-G8 wave of demonstrations and protests worldwide since Genoa that it forced Tony Blair to seek expansion of the forum to boost its moral claim of truly representing the "international community". The British and French governments' "muscular multilateralism" agenda, in contrast to the US tendency to take the unilateral path after 2001, was a damage-control exercise to stave off the rising anti-G8 chorus in international public opinion.

Apart from re-legitimizing a forum accused of carrying the "white man's burden", the British and French turn to multilateralism was also informed by the crisis brewing with deadlock at the World Trade Organization, where the 130-member G77 group of developing states has stonewalled the Doha Round unless it addresses the latter's concerns. The emerging economies' self-confident defiance of G8 preferences on intellectual property rights, agricultural subsidies and access to US and EU markets is a clear intimation that South-South cooperation and unity have entered a new dynamic phase.

British and French proposals for a G13 extend invitations to the selfsame five leading developing countries that take an actively anti-G8 stance at the WTO. The trade losses being inflicted on the British and French economies as a result of stalemate at the WTO are important material propellers for seeking G8 expansion.

Unfair concessions
India and China have been wary about joining an expanded G8 owing to fears of being coaxed and cajoled into making unfair concessions on the Doha Development Round or on carbon emission caps. Both countries attended the 2007 G8 Summit in Germany as "outreach countries" but forthrightly rejected the deal announced at this meeting for the US to abide by environmental targets conditional upon New Delhi and Beijing following suit.

Arguably, the intransigence of India and China on trade and environment has rattled the US, which is not seconding Britain and France on the project of creating a G13. The US silence on India's permanent membership of the UNSC is likewise a product of anxiety about more independent-minded states spoiling the US-dominated agenda of the UNSC's five permanent members (the US, UK, Russia, China and France). The voting for the post of UN Secretary General in 2006 showed a similar ordering of choices, with the US going for South Korea’s Ban Ki Moon over India’s Shashi Tharoor. The calculation in all these instances is that India is not sufficiently pliable and can be a fly in the ointment for Washington’s unquestioned sway on global institutions.

US and Japanese resistance to the Franco-British plan of co-opting China, India and others implies that G8 expansion is, for the moment, frozen, just like the expansion of the UNSC. Yet history shows that the G8 (originally G7) was formed to tide over a crisis of the world capitalist system after the oil shock of 1973. As the G8 nations confront another recession today, it is clear to the farsighted among them that the only solution to getting out of the rut lies in roping in the emerging players led by India and China.

If a Barack Obama administration comes to the saddle in the US in 2009, one might well see Washington embracing a multilateral foreign policy. Japanese objections to G8 expansion could be overcome if the US drops its unilateralist posture, although it remains to be seen if Tokyo would be willing to share the same high table with Beijing.

What are the options for the five "outreach countries" led by China and India, as a gradual consensus among G8 members appears likely to evolve on creating a G13? The classic leftist argument is that joining the G8 would taint the emerging economies and compromise their leadership of the G77 and the Global South. However, ever since Britain, France and Germany launched the outreach process, India and China have shown that they can disagree with the G8 if asked to sell out on the interests of developing countries.

Leftist apprehensions that entry of emerging economies into the G8 will mean a collapse of momentum for South-South cooperation are over-pessimistic. Socialists underestimate the chutzpah of India, China and others to say "No" even after they become insiders of a G10 or G13. Neither New Delhi nor Beijing is keen on entering the precincts of a rich man's club to be a mute "Yes Man".

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh openly bristled during the 2007 G8 Summit in Heiligendamm when he was allowed into the anteroom of the venue but could not set foot into the sanctum sanctorum of the dining hall. He quickly denounced any expansion process in which "we are not active participants". While Brown and Sarkozy dream of taming emerging economies and making them more amenable by offering them prestigious seats at the G8, the invitees have the self-confidence to undermine these designs.

A second reason why India, China and other growing nations should keep their options open about entering an expanded G8 is the prevailing multi-polarity in the international system. Unlike the bipolar era, lines and trenches are not going to be sharply drawn between two inveterately opposed camps in the future. Being bellwethers of G77 and new members of a G10 or G13 will not be a contradiction in a multi-polar environment. Russia is already showing the way by simultaneously holding a G8 seat and acting as a prominent driver of the anti-Western Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Alliances rather than cleavage
As multiple centers of power thrive, we will witness cross-cutting alliances and memberships of international institutions rather than clear-cut cleavages. There is good payback for a major developing country like India or China to be acknowledged and taken seriously by the richest nations. Their very presence at a G10 or G13 summit can alter the nature of the world economy and polity, which have thus far been unkind to the 88% of the planet’s inhabitants living in the Global South.

Having said that, India, China and others need not lobby actively for the divided G8 to reach consensus on expansion. The G8 is not as justifiable a prize as a permanent seat at the UNSC. There is no merit in over-legitimizing the G8 by being seen as vying to be members of a gang of bloodsucking capitalists which gets terrible press. By virtue of their rapid economic growth and political unity at the WTO, emerging economies are in an envious position of sitting back and being wooed to join an expanded G8 as equals.

The crisis of G8’s credibility is not India’s or China’s headache but that of its current member states. If the advanced industrial countries of the G8, especially the US, fail to collectively realize the folly of leaving out emerging economies, the loss is theirs, not of India or China.

Sreeram Chaulia is a researcher on international affairs at the Maxwell School of Citizenship in Syracuse, New York.

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