Koalas and a global cabal


The 2014 G-20 summit took place this past weekend in Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland, Australia.

Since its formation in 1999, the summit has been comprised of 19 countries — Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and United States — and the European Union.

It was conceived of as an avenue for the “major powers” of the world to come together, mostly behind closed doors, to discuss issues concerning the global economy.

This mission is an understandable one: the global economic system is an intricate and erratic one that is affected by a myriad of factors, ranging from differences in cultural practices to the unsurprising stubbornness and dogma of certain political factions.

Hence, there should be no reservations about the importance of having a global summit or coalition that will try valiantly to ease these tensions and seek solutions to problems in the global economic system.

The problem however, is that the G-20 doesn’t quite do that.

Its exclusivity makes it glaringly illegitimate, unnecessary and counter-productive; it’s reminiscent of 19th and early 20th century global politics, when the so-called global powers of the world convened on several occasions behind closed doors to make decisions that today continue to negatively affect millions of people.

Moreover, the 20 permanent members of the summit are not quite representative of today’s global political and economic landscape.

Of the 20, South Africa is the only African country and it certainly does not represent the interests of the entire continent.

In Europe, Russia and Turkey are the only non-EU countries that make the cut. Curiously excluded are the Scandinavian countries, especially Norway, which has for the last five decades developed an image as a global conciliator and generous donor. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia alone makes the cut.

This tradition of underrepresentation is one that has persisted for too long, but more importantly, it is one that has the ability to hurt positive efforts at opening up the international system in a quest to reduce the socioeconomic inequality gap.

The summit creates for itself an exclusive global cabal and comes off more as a group of smug bullies than as a group aiming to bring about any positive change.

When approached with this criticism, members of the summit often respond boastfully, saying mostly that it’s impossible to please everybody.

In saying this they miss the point entirely and they do very little to assuage sceptics’ reservations. Just as it is impossible to please everybody, it should be detestable to concede to pleasing only a select few.

Furthermore, even if it was possible to please everybody, there are several lingering questions about the framework of the group and its ability to effectively bring about change.

If the G-20 has a clear governance body, it is still unclear what its structure or functions are. This undoubtedly brings up questions of transparency and accountability.

Since these meetings are held behind closed doors and spokespeople remain elusive as usual, it is unclear what major decisions are made — if any are made at all — and who makes such decisions.

For a summit as official as the G-20, the organizational framework is highly informal.

It seems the whole affair ends up being yet another global avenue for countries to continue diplomatic ostentations, often at the expense of achieving tangible results.

For example, this year’s summit in Brisbane was dominated by photos of various world leaders getting very cuddly with koalas, and Canada’s Prime Minister issuing empty threats to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

In the background however, while those heads of state get busy cuddling koalas in the comfort of their cabal, we are once again left unsure of the tangible occurrences at the summit, and more importantly, we are once again left to put its necessity into doubt.

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