Can the Obama administration get the G8 back to basics?

In a session yesterday at the Brookings Institution,  U.S. deputy national security adviser Michael Froman previewed this week’s G8 summit at Camp David. He described the administration’s attempts to return the forum to "basics," specifically creating an informal, fireside type of atmosphere for the collected heads of state:  It’s that informality, the smallness of the ...

In a session yesterday at the Brookings Institution,  U.S. deputy national security adviser Michael Froman previewed this week's G8 summit at Camp David. He described the administration's attempts to return the forum to "basics," specifically creating an informal, fireside type of atmosphere for the collected heads of state: 

It's that informality, the smallness of the group, the shared perspectives, the likemindedness of the leaders, and when you add to it the informality and the intimacy of Camp David, we think it will have a very positive effect...You shouldn't expect a 50-page communique coming out of this summit touching every issue under the sun.  Instead we tried to return to the early days of this institution when the G6 convened in Rambouillet and leaders sat around the fireplace and  strategized about the global economy and the communique actually communicated something. That will be our objective this year as well.

But Froman then proceeded to outline an agenda that included a remarkable number of things under the sun, including Syria, Iran, Burma, Afghanistan, energy security, the Eurozone crisis, the Arab Spring, and food security. The scattershot agenda is a reminder of how much the forum has changed from its original economic focus. The 1975 Rambouillet summit communique included almost nothing on security issues.

In a session yesterday at the Brookings Institution,  U.S. deputy national security adviser Michael Froman previewed this week’s G8 summit at Camp David. He described the administration’s attempts to return the forum to "basics," specifically creating an informal, fireside type of atmosphere for the collected heads of state: 

It’s that informality, the smallness of the group, the shared perspectives, the likemindedness of the leaders, and when you add to it the informality and the intimacy of Camp David, we think it will have a very positive effect…You shouldn’t expect a 50-page communique coming out of this summit touching every issue under the sun.  Instead we tried to return to the early days of this institution when the G6 convened in Rambouillet and leaders sat around the fireplace and  strategized about the global economy and the communique actually communicated something. That will be our objective this year as well.

But Froman then proceeded to outline an agenda that included a remarkable number of things under the sun, including Syria, Iran, Burma, Afghanistan, energy security, the Eurozone crisis, the Arab Spring, and food security. The scattershot agenda is a reminder of how much the forum has changed from its original economic focus. The 1975 Rambouillet summit communique included almost nothing on security issues.

There are two principal reasons the G8 has adopted such a broad scope. First, Russia. When the G8 started meeting in 1997 , the G7 still existed as a heads-of-state forum. You couldn’t very well have the same talking points for both meetings, and so an alternative agenda was constructed for the G8 that included security issues. The second reason is the G20. That forum has now been designated as the world’s "premier forum" for international economic cooperation, and the G8 leaders are understandably sensitive about straying too much into its territory.

In light of the metastasizing Eurozone crisis, the G8’s far-flung agenda is unfortunate. This would be an awfully convenient moment for a group of powerful leaders to sit down and talk about nothing other than how to avoid another world economic meltdown.

David Bosco is an associate professor at Indiana University's School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of books on the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court, and is at work on a new book about governance of the oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist

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