Difficult though it may be to believe, it seems a resolution might actually be in the works of the long-standing deadlock over enlarging UN Security Council membership. Past efforts at reform have not met with success, but that situation could change.

In a recent blog posting, Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations reports that “the four main aspirants to new permanent seats – the so-called ‘G4’ countries of India, Germany, Japan and Brazil – have agreed on a draft resolution to expand both the permanent and elected UNSC membership.”

Mr. Patrick goes on to indicate that the resolution already has at least 100 of the necessary 128 affirmation votes. There remain problems, above all in terms of acceptable African representation, and also opposition on the part of China, which is dead set against more permanent members. But it still might happen.

What does all this mean for Canada? Potentially, it could matter a great deal. If the four aspirants succeed, there then would be a P9 instead of a P5 (P signifying the number of permanent members). The effects of this change on the G8 and the G20 could be serious for this country.

The G20 has not replaced the G8. While the G20 may be the world’s “premier economic forum,” it is clear that G8 leaders greatly prefer the small and relatively informal arrangement of just presidents and prime ministers around the table, with one adviser, the sherpa, a distance behind them. It is comfortable, almost cozy, with the use of first names common.

The G20 has upwards of 50 seats at the table and a cast of hundreds in the room. There is limited time for discussion and socializing, much more limited than was the case of the G8 in its heyday. Leaders are reading speeches, leaving the room, chatting with people nearby. All of this starts to sounds like the UN General Assembly when heads of government are present. It can be pretty boring.

Yet summits are very much about creating empathy. It is important that key leaders know their counterparts and understand their problems. It is important that they engage as broadly as possible.

The G20 was formed first at finance-minister and then at head-of-government level because the world financial and economic problems required China, India, Brazil and others to be present. The G8 no longer had the right membership.

If there indeed is a P9 in the works, will it become a G9? Will a G9 replace, over time, both the G20 (too big and unwieldy) and the G8 (missing key countries)? Will anyone else be really worried if Italy and Canada drop by the wayside?

There is, however, something that can be done by Canada – and soon. We must realize that it is essential the G20 succeed and act accordingly. If it doesn’t, the risk is that we shall be dropped from the inner table.

What does this mean? It means we must do everything possible to ensure the success of the Nov. 3-4 G20 meeting in Cannes. A success is not measured primarily in the volume of documents produced, but rather in terms of leaders’ feeling that their meeting was a useful way to resolve a few global deadlocks.

The following G20 meeting will take place in Mexico late next year. Canada should offer to help our Mexican friends put together an agenda that is interesting for political leaders. This means that some of the more technical subjects should be returned to finance ministers, with oversight by leaders in the event the train comes off the rails. New issues should be added.

U.S. President Barack Obama has decided that next year, when he hosts the G8, it should be immediately preceded or followed by a NATO summit. This makes a great deal of sense. It will confirm that the G8 exists now primarily for security issues. China, India and others do not wish to see these issues on the G20 agenda, so agenda overlap is minimized.

The G20 could then develop its agenda beyond the economic to other issues of “the global commons,” climate change being an obvious example.

Canadians often talk about our “role” on the world scene. We are at a point when that role could be enhanced, or it could be substantially diminished. Our failure to win election to the Security Council was not a pleasant experience. Finding ourselves with no seat in the game of summit musical chairs would be an even worse experience.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.
  • A former Canadian deputy foreign minister, NATO ambassador and G7/G8 Sherpa, Gordon Smith is a leading expert on the evolution of the G20 and global summitry.