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What's wrong with the G8?

Tim Boetie

* G8 nations are: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and Russia.

* G8 formed: 1997, when Russia joined the existing G7 (which itself formed in 1975).

* What's wrong with the G8?

The G8 consists of the governments of the seven richest countries in the world, plus Russia. The leaders of these governments meet every year to co-ordinate policy relating to international economic and security matters. Since it formed in 1997, the G8 has consistently promoted policies such as reducing the ability of countries to control international trade, and the privatisation of government-run industries and services. These policies are put forward as the solution to a range of global problems, from poverty to environmental destruction, however, they have the fundamental effect of strengthening an international economic system in which the G8 countries have the majority of power and wealth.

Although the G8 has no formal power, the G8 countries hold 50% of the votes at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and have great influence at the World Trade Organization. Four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are also G8 members, and so can veto any security council resolution. Therefore, no international decision opposed by the G8 is likely to be carried out, even if it is approved by the majority of people or governments in the world.

* These are all elected governments, so isn't opposing the G8 anti-democratic, opposing the will of the peoples of the G8 countries?

The summits of the G8 are only attended by the leaders of the G8 governments, but make decisions which have global effects. This centralisation of global decision making has two major effects. One is that unelected corporate lobbyists can have a massive influence on G8 decisions. For example, the chairman of the International Chambers of Commerce (ICC) meets with the President of the G8 on the eve of the Summit. This year's ICC president is Yong Sung Park, CEO of the South Korean company, Doosan Heavy Industries, well known for virulently anti-union policies.

The second problem is that the decisions of the G8 do not just effect the G8 countries. The G8 sees itself as taking a leading role in global issues, such as the management of the economy, migration and international security. Although some other countries are sometimes consulted (for instance, the 'G20', an informal meeting of nations invited by the G8), the final say remains with the G8 governments. The G77, a group of 113 developing nations, has criticised the policies formulated at the G8 summits, but has no way of ensuring these criticisms are listened to.

In both cases, the end result is that decisions at the G8 are made in the interests of rich countries and corporations, decisions which the majority of the world's population are not able to ratify or reject.

* Maybe that used to be true, but now the G8 is addressing the problems of the poorest people. Gordon Brown has already negotiated 100 per cent debt cancellation.

Since 1996, the G8 has claimed on a number of occasions to have cancelled 100 per cent of debts, and in all cases these claims have been simple lies. In fact, up to now, less than one per cent of third world debt has been cancelled. The debt relief advocated by the G8 has so far taken the form of debt rescheduling, which in some cases means that countries end up repaying more than they otherwise would have done. In any case, countries can only qualify for debt rescheduling if they agree to agree to IMF structural adjustment programmes (now renamed poverty reduction strategy papers), which effectively hand control of the countries economy to the G8 countries, who run the IMF. These structural adjustment programmes are centred on third world countries giving up control of international trade and privatising government run essential
services. What the G8 claims to be debt relief, then, is actually just another way of exercising control over the global economy.

Even in the unlikely event that Gordon Brown is not lying this time, the debt cancellation on offer at this G8 summit only applies to 18 countries, and excludes debts owed to the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the G8 countries themselves, and private creditors. Thus, these 18 countries will still face a heavy debt burden, and there is no cancellation on offer at all to the rest of the 165 indebted developing countries.

* If the G8 don't sort out Africa, who will?

The problems of the third world are not simply internal problems which require an external solution from the benevolent leaders of the G8. On the contrary, the G8 countries bear a significant responsibility for creating and sustaining Africa's problems: through colonialism, through support for dictatorships, through unsustainable loans, and through the imposition of trade terms which benefit the rich (the corporations in the first world, and the elites in Africa).

It should be remembered that Africa is not some empty place where, in Midge Ure's famous words, 'nothing ever grows', but a continent rich in natural resources. Most poverty in Africa is not in resource-poor areas, but rather in areas where an abundance of resources leads to conflict. It is the continuing desire of the first world to extract riches from Africa which leads to this conflict over resources.

So the question to ask is not who will sort out Africa, but rather who is preventing Africans from solving their problems themselves. The answer is, to a large extent, the governments of the G8 and other rich nations. Who will sort out Africa? Ordinary people, if we (that is, people in Africa and in Scotland) can dismantle the repressive machinery of the G8.

June 2005


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