The G-force in world politics

BY MATTHIAS KETTEMANN

global g

As the G20 replaces the G8, MATTHIAS C. KETTEMANN revisits the nomenclature of “G” in world politics.

At the Pittsburgh meeting of the Group of 20, or G20, President Obama announced that the more legitimate informal gathering of 20 states would replace the smaller, and more elite, the G8 as the world’s premier forum for discussion on issues such as climate change, global financial stability and finding responses to systemic imbalances. While accepting the G8’s effectivity, international relations scholars and most states not included in this exclusive circle have criticized the role of ‘club governance’ for some time and should welcome the trend to this (slightly) more representative forum. But the G-force experienced by politicians in an interconnected, interdependent world which requires policy responses to keep up with the pace of change does not stop there. In fact, G is probably the most important letter in international relations, as it is used to describe a rich variety of unofficial political constellations with political clout disproportionate to their legitimacy – if measured in traditional terms. Here’s why:

Whether the G2, a proposal suggesting closer ties between the US and China is a “G1,” or a “good one,” is open to question. The G3 is both a grouping of Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela and of the three biggest European countries, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. The G4 serves to designate both, a group of China, India, Brazil and South Africa as the leaders of the WTO subgroup G20 and a coalition of Brazil, Germany, India and Japan that is campaigning for seats on the Security Council. Since the last G7 meeting, the G4 has become shorthand for an ‘elite’ group of US, Japan, China, and the EU which President Obama pushed to supplant the G7 (a proposal, which seems to be somewhat at odds with his G20 proposal promoting more international legitimacy).

The G5 was used to designate the world’s largest economies (US, Germany, Japan, France, UK) until the group was expanded. Another G5, referring to a group of nations consulting on matters of European security policy, is still in existence (though has been largely inactive lately). The G6, the former G5 plus Italy, now meets as the G7 (plus Canada), the G8 (plus Russia) or the G9 (plus the European Commission).

But let’s talk business: in international financial institutions, where effectivity counts for a lot, the G7 has an important role, as well. The finance ministers and central bank heads of the eleven biggest OECD countries meet, surprisingly enough, as the G10. Perhaps they wished to avoid confusion with the actual G11, the “Cartagena Group”, a group of South American debtors that have teamed up forces to ease their burden by negotiating for common solutions. The G12, again, is a forum for central bank representatives of 13 industrialized nations.

The G13 is a group of states which are uniting their forces to reform the United Nations (Since their efforts have not been spectacularly successful to date, they might profit from some inspiration from their namesake: G13, a marijuana strain of “American Beauty” fame). But here there’s “clean” fun, too: the G14 is a group of 18 Europe’s soccer clubs, including big names as Ajax Amsterdam, Bayern München, Manchester United und Real Madrid. 

Now, back to international relations: the G15 is a group of 17 non-aligned states founded in 1989, which promotes ideological independence in international affairs and has, in the past, proved anything but ideologically independent. In trade negotiations, the G20 developing countries includes a growing number of developing countries from Argentine to Zimbabwe that represent 65% of the world’s population. Better known, of course, is the other G20: the informal gathering of the 20 biggest economic powers and the European Union, which is now destined to become the world’s most important governance club.

The G24 is a sub-group of the G77 (of 132 developing nations). Both represent the interests of developing nations in international financial institutions and global trade talks. In the framework of the G90, meetings of African, Caribbean and Pacific island states are held.

Even when flying to and from group meetings, the politicians cannot quite avoid the force of the G: neither the g-force (during acceleration and deceleration), nor the gravitational constant G (when staying in air) – nor, incidentally, the G100, G150, G400, G500 or G550, all airplanes manufactured by Gulfstream and used as business jets that transport the G-groups’ VIPs.

What does this brief survey tell us about the role of the G in world politics? First, that you can never trust numbers; second, that ‘club governance’ is on the rise and that informal gatherings producing Gentlemen’s Agreements play an increasing normative role; and third, that teaming up to pursue common interests is the best way forward in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

The G-force in international affairs can also inform the stalled process of UN reform. Isn’t the debate missing the obvious way forward: simply renaming the 192-member states organization. G192, anyone?

Matthias C. Kettemann is an LL.M. student from Austria.

 

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