G-20 2009: Promise-Making in Pittsburgh

This week, three BASC Research Assistants take on the recent G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, examining issues of security, institutional change, and the environment.

Crashing the G-20 Party: Line in the Sand against Iran
Ivy Ngo, BASC Research Assistant

The opening statements at the G-20 Economic Summit wasted no time in addressing the revelation of a nuclear facility in Iran. “Iran is breaking the rules all nations must follow”, President Obama said, while Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced, “The international community has no choice today but to draw a line in the sand.” Iran’s refusal to accept fault-–it did, after all, report the facility itself to the International Atomic Energy Agency and maintains the facility is for nuclear energy and not atomic bombs–-has done little to assuage the international community. Even Russia and China, who have been known to hug the fence on global security issues, have condemned Iran’s actions. The ‘line in the sand’ creates two options for Iran: diplomacy or sanctions.

The reaction towards Iran has thus far been hard-line, with little room for negotiation. Could this reaction be too harsh? Headstrong North Korea and Cuba have both been under tough sanctions for decades now, and North Korea has also recently been posturing with its own nuclear development. During his time in office, former President George W. Bush made his well-known assessment of Iran as part of an ‘axis of evil’; the continued harsh attitude towards Iran could entrench it further. Iran’s adamant denial of wrongdoing is laced with resentment. The Iranian recently posted a short opinion piece asking why Iran is excluded from the G-20 considering that it ranks 17th among the top 20 economies, based on Purchasing Power Parity, in lists compiled by the IMF and World Bank.

With the G20 now becoming the central platform to discuss the global economy, it will be interesting to see how the international community reacts, and who will dominate the discussion. So far, the US has refused to engage in direct talks, opting for six party talks with Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany instead.

Institutional Shift: Rising Powers Gain Greater Voice in the G-20
Michelle Chang, BASC Research Assistant

At a time when nations around the world are struggling to climb out of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh is symbolic of first steps a new world economic order. Its emergence as the primary coordinating body of global economic issues signifies the increasingly undeniable importance of developing countries such as China and India and the need to provide these rising powers with fora in which they can exercise greater influence. Similarly, leaders of G-20 nations agreed to give greater voting power to developing countries within the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to make the institution more representative. At the moment, about 57% of the voting power in the IMF belongs to developed countries and 43% belongs to developing countries, and this shift will make the two groups about even. These actions are long overdue, but hopefully they represent the first of many steps necessary to bring our existing global institutional architecture in line with the changing realities of the international order.

The G-20 and the Environment: Vague Promises Draw Continued Criticism
Ren Yi Hooi, BASC Research Assistant

Despite reiterated promises to build a ‘greener’ economy, the G20 summit failed to propose a concrete set of actions to address environmental issues. While world leaders dedicated a total of $1.1trillion towards boosting the economic and financial crisis, there was no money set aside to protect the environment, disappointing environmental groups who criticized the ‘green effort’ as one characterized by “vague aspirations”. At the summit, leaders affirmed a 15-month-old commitment to put up a new climate treaty in December, pledged to “create green jobs” and resolved to “accelerate the transition” to a low-carbon economy. However, these were seen as inadequate repetitions of old ideas by environment experts and lobbyists, who had wanted to see solid figures and stronger message to re-build a leaner economy run on wind and solar power. The G-20 may be a powerful new forum within which to deal with these complex environmental issues, but if countries hope to truly make progress, leaders must make more concrete commitments to changing the behavior of their respective nations. The current global economic crisis certainly deserves primary focus at the moment, but given the propensity for continual change and upheaval on the international stage, the environment must be prioritized in order to ensure a bright future for all countries.

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