By Dr. Chuck Missler
The G8 summit was held over the weekend in Deauville, France. The leaders of United States, Britain, Germany, Russia, Japan, France, Canada and Italy met to discuss a number of major issues, including African development and the ongoing Arab Spring, nuclear safety and the repercussions of Japan's earthquake and tsunami, defense issues, the reeling global economy and climate change. With all the talking that gets done at these meetings, the question is always whether anything substantial gets accomplished - and accomplished for good.
Arab Spring: One of the most pressing matters addressed at the G8 summit was what to do about Africa. The United States committed $20 billion toward enhancing "democratic transformation" and the G8 leaders met with the prime ministers of Egypt and Tunisia in an effort to foster a move toward the rule of law and stability. In a statement, the G8 leaders declared, "[W]e renewed our commitment to support democratic reform around the world and to respond to the aspirations for freedom, including freedom of religion, and empowerment, particularly for women and youth. Democracy lays the best path to peace, stability, prosperity, shared growth and development."
According to Tunisia's finance minister Jalloul Ayed, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced a package of $40 billion for northern Africa, supposedly to help set up stable governments in the place of deposed dictators, but where the money is coming from was not nailed down. Meetings between finance ministers are to take care of the details in July.
Regarding Libya, Britain and France have agreed to send in attack helicopters to aid rebel forces. In statements, the G8 leaders demanded that Muammar Gaddafi cease using force against Libyan civilians and promised that Gaddafi would not be harmed if he leaves Libya. On the other hand, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has consented to have Russia mediate between Libya and the Western powers, a step that the other leaders seemed to agree would be "useful."
Then there's Syria. The G8 called on Bashar Assad to "stop using force and intimidation against the Syrian people." Obama and Sarkozy called for Assad to either help Syria transition to democracy or step down. There's no clear plan for making Assad play nice, of course. Russia is not keen on using any force in Syria, and Syria cares much more for Iran and Turkey's opinions than those of the West.
As NATO planes still fly over Tripoli, Spanish demonstrators were filmed last Friday being beaten by Barcelona police trying to dispel a crowd from the city's Plaza Catalunya prior to Saturday's Champions League final. Apparently, violence against civilians is not confined to the Middle East.
Russia: France's Sarkozy and Russia's Medvedev engaged in serious discussions during the summit. Along with collecting a mutual agreement on the Arab Spring situation, the two leaders finalized a deal for Russia to buy two French warships and permission to build two more according to the French design in a fairly historical €1.5 billion deal.
Medvedev and Obama did not resolve the missile defense system issue, and Medvedev concluded that the matter would not likely be resolved until the end of the decade. The two leaders repeatedly assured the world that US and Russian relations were good, but Medvedev noted, "It does not mean that we'll have common views and coinciding views on all the issues. It's impossible."
International Aid: United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron urged the other leaders to give substantially to foreign aid to troubled countries. Last year, the UK contributed 0.56 percent of its GDP, the largest relative amount of any Western nation. The US gave more total money, £18.5 billion, which is .21 percent of its GDP, and Germany gave £7.8bn, which is only 0.38 per cent of GDP. The voters back in the United Kingdom were not all pleased with their generosity, snarling about spending money on third world countries while Cameron makes spending cuts at home.
Japan: The G8 leaders expressed sympathy for and solidarity with Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. However, they did not offer any specific help, trusting "in the ability of the Japanese authorities to respond to the challenge and build a speedy and lasting recovery." Still, the leaders said, "[W]e stand ready to assist as needed."
Nuclear Safety: The biggest lesson learned from Japan was the importance of nuclear safety. The presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso, were pleased that the G8 endorsed the need to do stress tests around the world. France acquires the majority of its energy from nuclear plants, so the excitement about nuclear safety will affect Paris. The concern will also affect Germany, which is planning to turn its back on nuclear power altogether. The EU will start launching tests on June 1. "We cannot compromise on nuclear safety," said Van Rompuy and Barroso.
Israel: Above any other country, Canada came to Israel's defense at the summit. Most of the countries were content to affirm Obama's recent speech in which he called for a return to the 1967 borders with land swaps as a basis for peace negotiations, even though Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu has called the prospect "indefensible." Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, sprang to Israel's side. He argued that the G8 leaders could not focus on the 1967 borders part of Obama's speech and leave out the parts that protected Israel. In his speech, Obama had also affirmed the Jewishness of Israel and declared that a future Palestinian state would be non-militarized. Obama had made it clear that Hamas could not be part of negotiations if it did not accept Israel's right to exist, renounce violence, and commit to previous agreements between Israel and the PA. In the end, the other G8 nations relented and accepted these additional elements important to Israel's security.
Global Recovery: The EU recognizes that it has to get ahold of its sovereign debt problem. The $1,000 billion in debt owed by Greece, Ireland, and Portugal cannot just be forgiven; it's a lot of money for French and German banks to lose, and it sets a horrible precedent. Greece cannot be allowed to default, and yet it is struggling without a lot of hope. It's locked into the euro, and so cannot adjust its currency to deal with its severe financial problems.
On top of it, the International Monetary Fund is in the middle of a semi-crisis; its director-general Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested and charged with sexual assault in New York, and the post needs to be filled. It is a position that has been consistently held by Europeans, but other countries, like Mexico, are vying for the post with the argument that fresh outside eyes might be able to bring solutions to Europe's financial problems.
There was no attempt to fully settle these issues at the summit. There was simply a recognition that the sovereign debt problem needs to be resolved, and those present supported Europe's efforts to get its books in order.
While communication between the world's largest economies is good, and it is useful to get world leaders seeing eye-to-eye, it is always questionable how much real benefit is accomplished at these meetings. Will the $40 billion designated for Africa actually produce stable, healthy, pro-Western governments where human rights are honored, or will the money be funneled away into regimes just as corrupt as the ones they replace? Will the G8 leaders' voicing their opinions to Bashar Assad have the slightest effect on his treatment of his people? Will Europe fix its debt problems and spur the economies of the world toward prosperity? Will pushing Israel to accept a return to the indefensible 1967 borders move Israel to do any such thing, or move Hamas to accept Israel's right to exist? Some cynicism attends all these questions.
The one definite accomplishment of the summit seems to be that Russia will be buying some very expensive warships from France. At least that, perhaps, will help soften the blow if Greece's remains unable to repay its debts.
G8 Promises Billions in Aid to the Arab Spring - New American
Second bailout for Greece in the works - BusinessWorld Online
NATO extends Libya air war, oil minister 'defects' - AFP
Op-Ed: Heed the lonely voice of reason of Canada’s prime minister - JTA
Germany Will Shut Down All Nuke Plants by 2022 - FOX News