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After The Summits….Life Goes On

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By Ernest Corea*
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

WASHINGTON DC (IDN) - Delegates have departed. Closed streets are back to normal, festive flag raising has ended, briefcases have been locked, and most background papers have been stored away while some might have gone to their reward – in the nearest shredder. The Group of 8 (G8) and the NATO summits of May 2012 have ended. The G8 met in Camp David, a motorcade’s drive away the US capital, and the NATO meeting was in Chicago.

The property now known as Camp David was previously called Shangri-la; perhaps in the expectation that American presidents would periodically get there, contemplate the universe, then themselves, and find some deep and hidden meaning in what national and international politics are all about.

There is no archival information as to whether this process has ever taken place. President Dwight Eisenhower considered maintenance of the property as a contemplative haven for presidents a waste of resources. He therefore planned to close it down and hand it over to the people. He was persuaded not do so, but he insisted on substituting his father’s name, David, for the exotic Shangri-la.

Rough Times

Camp David has accommodated many presidents and their visitors who have included Sir Winston Churchill, Chairman Nikita Khrushchev, President Anwar el Sadat, and Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Important conferences and consultations which have produced agreements and the basis for action have also been held there.

Some outcomes, such as the Camp David Peace Accords, are well known. Information about others has trickled out. It was at a Camp David meeting shortly after the Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on American targets that Paul Wolfowitz (yes, that Paul Wolfowitz) urged the US to go after Iraq. Many decisions no doubt went from discussion to action without public elaboration.

In May 2012, any observers who might have anticipated peaceful contemplation among participants to dominate the G8 summit would have been disappointed. Times are rough. Problems are manifold. Possible solutions are many but not necessarily guaranteed to be effective.

When Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel responded with a shrug to President Barack Obama’s cheery greeting: “how have you been”?, the mood appeared to have been set.

In addition, summitry is usually viewed with some suspicion by the people who might be expected to benefit from what comes out of these high octane – politically speaking – discussions.

Six months from now, who will remember what was actually pledged and said? Well, there will be plenty of bureaucrats across the world whose responsibility it is to keep track of the link between promise and performance. Elsewhere, policy analysts and others interested in how the world functions will pore over the words that flowed from the summits – written and spoken – and try to match rhetoric with reality; not always an easy task.

Two Approaches

The G8 summit took place against a background of looming “gloom and doom” in several industrialised countries. In most of them, there have been persistent policy debates over whether the most effective way out of their problems is austerity – budget cuts, deficit reduction – or economic stimulus that would generate growth.

Germany has weathered its storms through measured austerity and Merkel has envisioned the same approach rescuing other economies. The results elsewhere have been less encouraging: rising unemployment, social upheaval, and political turbulence.

In the US, where similar policy debates have taken place and continue, sometimes with much rancour, progress towards constructive compromise has been difficult because discussion has been affected by rigid ideology.

There was robust discussion at the G8 summit but less ideology and more pragmatism. Obama pushed for a commitment to growth, and his colleagues agreed. A consensus around the need for growth-based policies emerged, and the summit’s end-of-meeting declaration opened with the explicit assertion that “our imperative is to promote growth and jobs.”

Financial Stresses

This might give the impression of being a pointed put-down of all those who favour austerity over growth. Nevertheless, it suggested that the summit knew it was working in the shadow of desperation and its partner, anger, among those who had been hardest hit by economic downturn and job contraction in the world’s richest countries. To ignore the calls that beckoned them to ameliorative action at home would have been to court chaos, as Greece has experienced.

The declaration went on to explain, however, that in the context of growth-based policies, summit participants “commit to take all necessary steps to strengthen and reinvigorate our economies and combat financial stresses, recognizing that the right measures are not the same for each of us.”

The task of combining these various goals into viable action is no easy task. Shortly after the summit ended, however, Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, writing in the Washington Post, suggested that Europe could attempt to move forward by following six action points: a growth-oriented European Union (EU) budget, activation of unused EU funds, improved access to capital, promotion of infrastructure projects, completion of Europe’s internal market, and strengthened free trade.

“This all goes to show that one can create growth without incurring new debt,” he added. The debate continues.

New Alliance for Africa

At the other end of the spectrum – from the discomfitures of the rich countries to the perils of the poor – the G8 pivoted to food security and nutrition in Africa. The G8 committed themselves to launching a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition “to accelerate the flow of private capital to African agriculture, take to scale new technologies and other innovations that can increase sustainable agricultural productivity, and reduce the risk borne by vulnerable economies and communities.”

Undoubtedly, questions will arise as to why the G8 concentrated its commitment on Africa, while agriculture in all developing countries merits support. Was it because China’s attempt to establish its influence on the continent is considered a trend that needs a response?

To the extent that the New Alliance, whatever its motivations, expects to raise 50 million people out of poverty in the next decade, it is to be welcomed, but with some caveats. The activity has to be a genuine partnership, and not yet another mechanism for top-down intrusion. Projects and plans must be fitted to the needs of local populations as locally determined, and not to the requirements of private capital only. All processes need to be managed with transparency and accountability.

African agriculture has progressed in recent years, and it has been helped by the leadership of the Africa Union and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program. The G8 has supported agricultural programs with funding commitments made at the L’Aquila G8 summit, but some of those pledges are yet to be fulfilled. The G8 commitment at Camp David was “in principle” and not in funding.

The real work on the ground, however, has necessarily to be carried out by Africans themselves, whether it be in the hard labour of productivity or the essential research that produces new knowledge on which sustainable agricultural development depends. On the research front, much has been achieved by hands-on South-South partnership between and among African national research organisations, strongly supported by Brazil.

Into the Future

Other broad issues taken up by the summit included Afghanistan’s transition, the Arab Awakening, climate change, energy, governance, and security issues.

Meanwhile, life goes on.

Rates of unemployment remain high and a source of multi-faceted deprivation to large swaths of people. Cost-cutting knives threaten to lop off support for programs that sustain the poor and the aged or ageing.

Another side of life going on, is that in the midst of budget deficits and debts, attempts continue at restoring growth, generating jobs, and maintaining living standards for those whose lives have been disrupted by economic hard times.

The extent to which the principles agreed on and the commitments made at Camp David have been effective will be known when the G8 meets in the UK next year, and status reports will be presented. Between now and then, however, elections will take place in several G8 countries. Whether life will go on as before, or whether new policies are unrolled and major changes begin, will be determined at least partially by how elected or re-elected leaders define their self-interest. [IDN-InDepthNews – May 31, 2012]

*The writer has served as Sri Lanka's ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon 'Daily News' and the Ceylon 'Observer', and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore 'Straits Times'. He is Global Editor of IDN-InDepthNews and a member of its editorial board as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.

Copyright © 2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: Ernest Corea

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