Though the din has quieted with the emergence of the G20, for some time there has been a drum beat of disquiet for its predecessor the, The G7/8.  Declared the ‘club if the rich,’ experts and officials from across the globe condemned the G7/8 for its failed 

Even some of those leading the G7/8 accepted that the G7/8s time had passed – and this before the global financial crisis.   A number of European leaders— among them the United Kingdom’s Tony Blair and then his successor Gordon Brown as well as France’s Nicholas Sarkozy—urged the permanent expansion of the G7/8 to include at least the G-5 (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa) making a Leaders’ Summit at least a G13. And beginning at 2005 Gleneagles Summit, the G5 were regularly invited to join the G8 for at least a ‘sit down.’ But it was not until the Pittsburgh G20 Leaders’ Summit in September 2009, however, that enlargement became a reality with the statement at the Summit: “Today, we designated the G-20 as the premier forum for our international economic cooperation."

To one degree or another all the rising powers criticized the narrow membership of the G7/8 process and expressed deep skepticism about joining leadership organizations as they were traditionally constituted. As Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister, declared just before the 2008 G8 Summit, “you simply can’t ignore” the emerging countries such as Brazil, India, and China. He further argued that the G20 Leaders’ Summit was a “better model” than the current G8 leadership, adding that the “G-8 is over as a political decision group.”1

But as I’ve pointed out in the past, legitimacy is only one dimension for leadership.  Though many expend much time and voice to the question of legitimacy – and be sure that soon enough we will hear from the uninvited that the G20 fails the test of legitimacy – in fact we already have – there are equally important dimensions not least, “effectiveness,” but also informality, equalness and also ‘like-mindedness.”   

John Kirton, the Director of the G8 Research Group and a leading global expert on the Gx process (see his G8 Research Group website) has for long argued that a key to the G7/8 effectiveness is the fact that all participants (there is clearly uncertainty when one examines the Russia – however) are democratic.  These traditional states are open societies, governed by the rule of law and dependent largely on market forces for their economic prosperity. 

It is evident that the enlargement and the greater diversity of membership is a challenge to global governance leadership today.  Many at the ‘New Foundations’ Princeton Conference were quick to identify the challenge to global governance presented by enlargement.

There have been differences, of course, over policy among the traditional G7 powers.  But the challenge now posed by this enlarged leadership circle – with the inclusion of China, India and Brazil – but possibly others Saudi Arabia and Turkey for instance – is of a larger sort – differences over key values. 

But unlike what I think John Kirton was suggesting these value differences are not necessarily driven by democratic character.  Democratic character fails to reflect the value differences of the enlarged club.  There are, however, deep value differences including:

  • Differences over the character and defense of ‘national sovereignty’.  This critical value is often expressed as non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states.  China has long defended (going back to Bandung in 1995) the most traditional notions of national sovereignty.  But it is not alone.  As is evident both India and Brazil support strongly non-interference – look at the debate over humanitarian intervention and responsibility to protect. This is not alone a democratic regime issue. 
  • Differences over the north-south divide.  This division is over what I call ‘developmentalism.’ This value difference can appear as a call to defend north-south differences and an appeal to their own developing character.  Frequently the divide emerges as opposition to policies on trade, finance, climate change, as just some examples.  Policies are condemned as traditional 'north-like' approaches. In turn advocates call for greater equity for the global south and demand greater participation for it.
  • Differences over legitimacy - the call for universalism.  Strange as it may seem, and the call may be somewhat schizophrenic, these rising and developing states – though in an enlarged leadership club – demand universalism.  Universalism leads these states to insist that only institutions such as the UN – the classic universalist organization, can ‘legitimately’ reach a policy outcome.  The evident case of this is the climate change Copenhagen process.  Structurally, universalism rejects the idea of clubs and insists on a one-country, one-vote proposition. 

These value differences throw difficult obstacles – as the participants of the ‘New Foundations,’ gathering were quick to note.  So added to the policy differences that naturally arise in reaching collective commitment, we now have added value differences.  How to resolve such value differences may be a huge looming global governance challenge for the G20.


11. Quoted in “Brazil Considers the G-8 Is No Longer a Valid Political Decision Group,” MercoPress, June 12, 2009.

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