The most surprising thing about the three-day summit in the British city of Birmingham in mid-May is that seasoned observers and aid workers professed surprise at the failure of the world’s seven richest states plus Russia to agree a deal cancelling the so-called ‘third world debts’ or to adopt measures promoting environmental issues. The very nations who have devised the international economic system to rob the poorer ones are not likely to feel suddenly repentant to the point of relieving the poverty of their victims or of cleaning up the environment they have polluted to make their wealth in the first place.
‘Debt campaigners’ accused the G-8 leaders of ‘washing their hands of the world’s poor ‘ and expressed disappointment that British prime minister Tony Blair - the summit’s chairman - had not pushed the issue, despite his government’s fighting words ahead of the summit. And pious editorials in the British press thundered that the G-8 leaders ‘let us down’ and that they ‘fiddled while Indonesia burned.’
Environmentalists called the summit ‘not much greener than an oil slick’ - accusing the summiteers of adding to the pollution of the atmosphere. Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth said: ‘This summit has achieved little or nothing for the world’s environment. Eight leaders have driven round the country in large polluting cars, pausing only for forced photo opportunities and breakfast with Sir David Frost [ a TV talk show host]. Even the free media lunches were served in environmentally unfriendly plastic boxes.’
Up to 70,000 protestors - organized by Jubilee 2000 Coalition, which represents 70 aid organizations and charities - descended on Birmingham to urge the G-8 leaders to adopt immediate measures for relieving the debt of 50 of the world’s poorest countries.
Under existing debt relief arrangements only six countries, including Mozambique and Uganda, have so far seen a reduction in their debt burdens. The world’s most impoverished states spend more than ú18.5 billion ($30b) every year on debt servicing. Even in cases where some debt relief has been agreed, the sums involved are very modest. In Mozambique, for instance, relief is worth 27 pence (the British penny) per person a year.
But despite the large number of protesters egging them on, the urgent need for debt relief and the injustice of the whole programme (indebted countries pay back in interest far more than they borrow) the summit ignored the issue, although it was one of the main items on its agenda. The aid agencies blamed Japan and Germany, while Tony Blair hinted that Britain had tried hard but had been opposed by the others. As the meeting’s chairman, however, he had to defend its inaction somehow. ‘I think the honest answer is to say that we did not go as far as many would have liked us to go, but I think we did make very considerable progress,’ he said.
The honest answer, of course, is that the eight manipulators who gathered at the Birmingham summit were to pursue the strategic interest of their own countries, and did not have, in any case, the personal integrity or political orientation to be concerned about the plight of alien peoples.
In fact, G-8 leaders attend their annual summit to contain their national rivalries and to co-ordinate their policies for keeping other nations - generally non-European but especially Muslim - at bay. That explains why the most sensitive issues are resolved outside the conference in private deals. Of course, some important issues are placed on the ‘agenda’ and are addressed, to make the cost of the gathering (estimated this year at £10-11 million) worthwhile. But others, which are not addressed, appear as pure rhetoric.
At the Birmingham summit, the debt relief issue represented the rhetorical item. The other issues of importance to the G-8 leaders put on the agenda were employment, money laundering, illegal arms and smuggling of immigrants. They were, indeed, addressed and figured prominently in the summit’s final communique.
The most important issue resolved at Birmingham was not on the summit’s agenda and concerned Muslims directly. The US and French presidents, Bill Clinton and Jacques Chrirac, clinched a deal whereby the American leader would exempt European companies trading with Iran from consequential US sanctions, and the European Union countries would in return co-operate very closely with Washington in fighting terrorism ( a euphemism for Islamic activism) and in denying Iran, and other Muslim countries, access to advanced technology and weaponry. The deal also required the EU to put pressure on Russia to co-operate on both counts. The deal was adopted as a formal accord between the US and EU on May 18.
A highly sensitive new issue, which imposed itself on the G-8 leaders’ attention served to highlight their double standards even on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The leaders could not agree on sanctions against India for its highly publicized nuclear tests. Instead their anxiety centred on preventing Pakistan from carrying similiar tests in response to the new threat from its traditional rival and strategic enemy.
Most of those leaders are unseemly, manipulative and corrupt operators. Two of them were being investigated in their own countries for corruption as they sat down in Birmingham to control internal events. Clinton and Chirac were involved in inquiries into corrupt funding of the election campaigns bringing them to power.
The US justice department, under strong pressure from Congress and media, began an investigation on May 17 into whether Clinton’s decision to permit the supply of commercial satellites to China was influenced by big Chinese contributions to his campaign funds.
On the same day, the wife of the mayor of Paris - a close ally of Chirac - was arrested as part of an investigation into the corrupt funding of his party, the RPR. At the same time, new evidence emerged which pointed directly to the systematic embezzlement of city funds, for political and personal use, while Chirac was the mayor of Paris in the 1980s.
Only Russian president Boris Yeltsin seemed to have no care in the world, as he danced away at late-night parties - no doubt fortified by Vodka-generated false euphoria. But he should not have been at the summit as there are other countries which have bigger economies than Russia. China, for instance, has better credentials to join the Group of Seven to make them G-8.
Muslimedia: June 1-15, 1998