G8 to be G 10?

Without India and China the world powers club will not soon be able to solve global problems. Russia is going to bring new countries to G10

Ivan Stupachenko St Petersburg

St Petersburg, the second largest city of Russia, located on the coast of the Gulf of Finland, is home for Russian President Vladamir Putin. This beautiful tourist destination, an erstwhile capital of Russia during 1712-1918, was run over with security personnel on July 15,16 and 17 as leaders of G8 descended on it for their summit meeting. It must be recorded that till a few years ago Russia was not even part of the charmed circle. Once it was in, it is pressing for an expansion of the body to G10, including India and China. The summit was held here as Russia this year holds the presidency of the G8, which also includes the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada.

Residents of the usually laid-back and calm St Petersburg were alarmed at the excess of security that encroached upon taken-for-granted daily freedoms. Even tourists looked a bit unnerved. In the zeal to protect the leaders of the G8, the only local airport was closed for three days running. Air traffic was diverted through Moscow and Helsinki, capital of Finland. Police and army personnel in thousands were deployed in the city. The roads through which participants and journalists travelled to Strelna, the city’s suburb and venue of most of the meetings, were lined with armed policemen. All roads to Strelna were closed to any vehicle that was not related to the summit.

Overhead, Russia’s air force was encircling the air space over St Petersburg. One submarine was on duty just near Strelna. The powerful Russian missile navy kept guard over the coast, ensuring that no unauthorised vessel could dare come near the participants. The meetings themselves were held at the Konstantinovsky (Constantine) Palace, a great house that is separated even from those living in Strelna by high iron hedges and the officers of the Russian secret service. It is reported that several arrests were made by the police while the summit was on.

Thus suitably protected, the world leaders of the G8 were going to discuss routine global issues concerning energy, fighting infectious diseases, the Iran nuclear issue and innovative education. But contemporary events prompted that the Israel-Lebanon conflict be placed centrally into the agenda. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and Putin raised the issue of Israel’s missile blows on Lebanon. French journalists at the press briefing by Chirac had questions only around this theme.

The official statement on the crisis is already much-publicised. The leaders called upon both sides to stop armed hostilities, return captured soldiers and to begin peaceful negotiations. The statement urged Israel to show restraint and avoid casualties to innocent civilians, and damage to civilian infrastructure, and similar other acts.

But lesser known is the politics behind the statement. It was obvious to observers in Strelna that the leaders were taken unaware by the contingency and did not know exactly how to react. There were also differences between them. US President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice argued that Israel was well within its rights to protect itself, and would do anything to protect its sovereignty. Others pointed out that the act of freeing three soldiers did not require Israel to pound Lebanon with missile blows. It was said that Israel's missile strikes at Lebanese infrastructure were not directly linked to the search for its abducted soldiers.

The Israel-Lebanon crisis was an eye-opener to the fact that the present composition of G8 cannot secure the world or reflect the world’s global position on problems facing humanity. Somewhat appropriately, the last day of the summit was visited by the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese leader Hu Zhintao. They are the powers in waiting to enter the world powers club that will transform the G8 to G10. 

The German chancellor Angela Merkel is confident that such changes in composition are not needed. But Putin strongly held otherwise. At a press briefing he asserted that India and China are needed to take part in discussing problems of the world. “It’s hard to imagine how economic, financial and energy problems can be solved without the involvement of such fast growing economies as China and India.” And some days later Putin also said: “That’s why our meeting in this format will be devoted above all to promoting economic ties between our three (Russia, India and China) nations.”

Russia has volunteered to aid negotiations in all issues of global concern. When talking of the Israel-Lebanon crisis, Putin said, “Russia kept good relations with all sides of the conflict”. Russia had taken an initiative of trying to ensure the freeing of Israeli soldiers who were taken hostage in the Middle East. This places Russia in a good position to discuss with the countries involved. It is in a larger global context then that Putin all but extended an invitation to India and China to join the G8 club. As a recent entrant to the G8, Russia will no doubt help other countries to do so. The first such countries will be India and China, because without their active participation, it will be difficult, even impossible, to solve the Iran and Israel-Palestinian crises.

Other hints from Russia to India are discernible in the sphere of energy. Sergey Bogdanchikov, the head of one of the Russia’s biggest oil companies, Rosneft, was asked at his briefing if he would like to cooperate with Indian partners. Bogdanchikov answered that while at the moment his company has nothing to do with companies from India, they are welcomed. It is important to note that Rosneft has increased the quantity of gained oil six times in several years and nowadays is launching great projects in Barents Sea, in the East Asia and East Siberia. The invitation from the state-owned company’s chief can hardly be regarded as casual.

In a joint statement, Russia and the US welcomed India to join the process of nuclear energy utilisation and appreciated its readiness to support non-proliferation. This was significant because powerful states naturally do not encourage others to possess nuclear technologies because of the threat of them being used towards military purposes. This statement did not refer to countries such as Iran and North Korea, but to those that are looking to possess nuclear technologies. Even on Iran and North Korea, Russia’s position was that peaceful diplomacy should be given more time. Permission to develop an independent energy system (though under condition of non-proliferation) means one simple thing: India is allowed to enter the “G”. The question is what “G” it will soon become a part of: G9, G10 or something else?

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