Strange Members

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This narrative is not about odd appendages – although possibly metaphorically – it is.  It is about who is – and who is not – strange members in some of the ‘Informals’ – in this case the BRICS and the G20 Leaders Summit.

Now I am not one to spend my days worrying about representation and membership in global summitry.  Membership in most of these Informals is self identified.  Nobody is running  for ‘Class President’.  Having said that frequently debates have broken out among the experts and the critics over the failure to include one country or another.

There was for years a drumbeat of criticism over the membership of the G7/8 – the so-called ‘Club of the Rich’. There were frequent charges advanced over the lack of legitimacy of these original 7 and demands that the Club expand to include the newly emerging large market counties – and others as well.

When the G20 Leaders Summit was born out of the global financial crisis and brought together for the first time the traditional economic powers with the newly rising economic powers including China, Brazil and India, the legitimacy debate quieted briefly but reemerged over the lack of representation for one region or another. The representation and legitimacy debates really are a discussion without resolution. But experts and commentators can’t leave it alone.

Earlier in the week I was fortunate enough to join friends and colleagues in New York City at the Asia Society for a conference on the “Rising Powers and a New Emerging Order” .  This Conference had been called together by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the principal interlocutor on this Project – Richard “Rich” Williamson. Williamson is the senior fellow at the Chicago Council for multilateral institutions.  Rich has had a varied career serving various Republican Presidents in various foreign policy posts and has served also as the Chair of the Illinois Republican Party.    Today he is a senior advisor to the presumptive Republican presidential candidate – Mitt Romney. Rich is deeply interested and involved in evaluating the adequacy of global governance institutions.  This current project is designed to understand the new power dynamics of the international system and to evaluate the adequacy of the current international institutions in the face of major transition and evolution.  Besides assessing the adequacy of the current leadership of the United States, Rich is keen to understand the impact of the rise of the large emerging market countries on international institutions.  To do so Rich and his colleagues from the Chicago Council have brought together some of the “talking heads” in global governance to look closely at the operation of these international institutions.  In the context of the rising powers – of course – the group was soon into examining the BRICS – though there was frequent reference to the potentially unique role of China.  It is not unreasonable in the context of  current global summitry to examine the BRICS – but any close inspection immediately raises questions over whether there is any there – there.  And for the moment I don’t think there is.  I mean the group couldn’t even agree to support a single candidate for the position of president of the World Bank.  While this may represent for some politicians and commentators – the revenge and return of the Group of 77 – it is not.  And as the group was able to tease out, China has a laser-like policy that focuses on its own national interest  – and avoids distractions unrelated to these interests.  The BRICS remain the invention of Jim O’Neill at Goldman Sachs – and not a terribly vital instrument of these key powers.  I hope to comment more on the impact of the rising powers – as seen from this workshop – but let me turn to yet another strange member.

And to do that I am led back to the G20.  I was met yesterday morning with a smiling picture – and a lead story in one of the global financial papers on the seizure by Argentina of Spain’s Repsol’s majority stake in Argentina’s largest oil company – YPF. Argentina has also announced that it will not pay fair market value for the seizure of Repsol’s majority stake.  The quote accompanying a smiling President – you can find it in the “pink paper” is: “I am a head of state and not a hoodlum” evokes for most of us aging North Americans the words of a US President. “I am not a crook.”  But I think the President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner reveals exactly what she is and and what kind of government she leads – a “hoodlum gang”.

Argentina’s bad economic behavior has over the last few years become all too apparent. In the near past the Argentinian government has seized private pension funds. It has been ordered to pay many millions of dollars in damages by international arbitration tribunals and insistently refused to do so – even abandoning the World Bank facility on international investment.

And yes Argentina is a member of the G20.  How can this be?  By now we are all familiar with the story that led to Argentina’s inclusion.  While details differ the fact is that those putting together the membership of the G20 in 1998 – then finance ministers – were partial to the then Argentinian finance minister – and so magically Argentina became a member of the G20.

But seriously folks – how can Argentina continue to be included in the High Table of Global Summitry?  This apex of global leadership is dedicated to maintaining the vitality of the global economy including no trade protectionism, open borders and the global health of the international economy.  It has to be embarrassing to G20 Leaders to be faced with a member country so destructive of the rule of law in the global economy.  It really is time to do something.  But don’t worry – they won’t.

Image Credit:  Wikipedia – Barack Obama and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in 2009

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