'Arab Spring' at Deauville Summit
The "rich men's club" met under the Presidency of Nicholas Sarkozy at the tourist resort of Deauville, France (May 26-27) in the backdrop of some tumultuous developments around the world. It was the 37th Summit of G8.
Some of these developments will have profound implications for international peace and security as also for the world economy. The "Arab Spring," earthquake and tsunami in Japan, killing of Osama bin Laden, Hamas and Fatah getting together, indebtedness of some EU members, and of course the presidential election in 2012 in France.
The two-day event ended with several Declarations. Significant among those are two documents: "G8 Declaration: Renewed Commitment for Freedom and Democracy;" and the "Declaration of the G8 on the Arab Spring." The first document, which has 93 paragraphs, deals with all the issues, like solidarity with Japan; global economy; nuclear safety; climate change and biodiversity; accountability on development; peace and security; and the internet.
The "Arab Spring," which has bouleversed entrenched regimes in Tunisia and Egypt has thrown the G8 capitals into a Catch-22 situation. There is no sign this spring is coming to an end soon. Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen continue to be in the throes of democratic transition, while Libya faces the worst kind of civil war. Anti-Ghaddafi forces are being aided and abetted by G8, albeit by Nato, in pursuance of UN Security Council Resolution No. 1973.
The killing of Osama bin Laden by Special US forces, violating Pakistan's sovereignty, has opened a new dimension in international law, which is deeply worrying. The principle of "hot pursuit" deep into the territory of one country by another seems to have come to be accepted.
President Obama has categorically said that he will authorise similar operations against other al-Qaeda operatives, if they are found inside Pakistan. The Declaration puts Pakistan in the same bracket as Yemen and Somalia for harbouring al-Qaeda terrorists and resolves to eliminate all terrorist threats. G8, however, has promised to support Pakistan politically and economically.
The devastating earthquake followed by tsunami in March in Japan led to a meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It released dangerous levels of radiation, endangering the lives of many and causing serious damage to the atmosphere. The summit emphasised the need to strictly ensure safety measures in all nuclear energy plants around the world in consultations with IAEA.
"Arab Spring" was actually the focus of the summit leaders. The opening paragraph of the Declaration reads: "The changes underway in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are historic and have the potential to open the door to the kind of transformation that occurred in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall." This seems to be an ominous statement.
The scenario that was enacted after the fall of the Berlin wall (1989) and the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991) was innovative. The West led by the US, poured financial assistance and encouraged the Eastern European countries to break their shackles with communist Moscow and become free democratic nations aligned with the West. Many are now members of Nato.
After suffering from indecision and skepticism -- while Tunisians and Egyptians descended onto the streets to overthrow their oppressive dictators -- the western capitals are now rushing in to control the events in the Arab world, because of some worrying developments.
The uprising in the Middle East is slowly shifting the power equations between the Arabs and the Israelis. Washington is deeply worried about these trends.
Egypt has already persuaded Hamas and Fatah to bury the hatchet and sign a reconciliation deal for the next elections. The Palestinians are now united. Further, there are fears that Egypt may get "Muslim Brotherhood," an unknown political outfit, as the next democratically elected government. Clearly the G8 does not want the "Arab Spring" to bring about regimes in the region that are hostile to Israel and jeopardise its security. Hence, the offer of $20 billion for reforms in Egypt and Tunisia over the next two years.
Interestingly dealing with the Palestinia-Israel conflict, the Declaration does not mention the "1967-borders" formula which President Obama forcefully enunciated on May 19 and again on May 21at AIPAC. That was probably because the belligerent Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has rejected the formula altogether.
Financially, several European Union members are under tremendous strain because of massive sovereign debts, threatening the survival of the Euro. Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece have become deeply indebted countries and have been kept afloat by massive doses of IMF loans. G8 leaders pledged to continue fiscal policy reforms to tackle the bankruptcy issues.
The issue of succession to post of IMF chief also came up for discussion, though informally. It appears that the French Finance Minister Christian Lagarde will sail through to the post.
What was intriguing was the creation of "e-G8 Forum" to discuss how to stop the "abuse" of the internet. The techniques used by young Arabs to rise against their dictators have caused alarm in Western capitals. In Egypt the use of internet and mobile phones to assemble people at Tahrir Square for protests had been extremely effective in sustaining the movement and finally toppling the regime.
G8 issued a separate Declaration on Internet. Governments now want curbs on the use of this extremely popular technology, which is developing rapidly. While the CEOs and developers of these technologies vehemently oppose government curbs, governments seem to be heading towards some form of restrictions on the use of internet to stop its "abuse."
The debate on internet is interesting. While the West upholds openness, transparency, freedom of opinion, and right to information, it is finding it difficult to justify the proposed curbs.
President Nicholas Sarkozy has already declared that he shall seek reelection in 2012. He hopes that hosting the G8 Summit now and G20 Summit later in November, will add feathers to his presidential campaign. His likely distracter, the socialist candidate Dominique Straus Kahn, former chief of IMF, is now sitting in jail in New York on sexual assault charges.
G8 is one of the most powerful groups, with little or no accountability. These Summits actually express lofty ideas and intentions, but actually do little to resolve problems facing the world. It is a talk shop, where the leaders wine, dine and befriend each other. The only decisions that get close attention are those that concern their security and their individual national interests. This time it was the "Arab Spring."