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Understanding the G8

The G8 is an exclusive grouping of the wealthiest advanced industrialized nations - U.S., U.K., Germany, Japan, Italy, France, Canada (otherwise known as the G7) - plus Russia. In the year 2000, the G8 accounted for a net GDP of $21.1 trillion (US$) within a total world GDP of $31.3 trillion, meaning that the G8 controls about 68% of the world's economy (see table below). In contrast, the combined populations of the G8 nations make up less than 14% of the total world population. On the basis of its economic and military strength, the G8 sets a global agenda and advances it via its members and via the various international organizations which they dominate: e.g. the IMF, the World Bank, the G20, the WTO, and so on. The G8 has no general mandate from a more legitimate international institution.


The G8 derives from earlier groupings which were formed to coordinate and to promote the economic and strategic interests of the main capitalist states during the Cold War. The earliest incarnations of the G8 are shrouded in secrecy. The existence of the Brussels Group, for instance, notable primarily for its efforts to undermine early pollution control initiatives (see: Plot to undermine global pollution controls revealed), only came to light in 2001, 30 years after its formation (1971). Subsequent to the Brussels Group came the Library Group (1973 - U.S., West Germany, France, U.K. - plus Japan a year later), the 'G6' (1975 - U.S., West Germany, France, U.K, Japan, Italy), and then the G7, in which Canada was added at U.S. insistence in order to counterbalance the growing European strength (Canada was chosen for its heavy economic dependence on the U.S., which allows it to be easily manipulated). It is only since 1998 that Russia - having been successfully subdued and coerced into a Western neoliberal economic mode - has been included, thus completing the G8. Russia's role, however, is still limited, and it continues to be excluded from most of the 'ministerials' which take place in the months leading up to the annual summit.

What the G8 does...

The main work of the G8 involves the furtherance of the global neoliberalization program. This means nudging the global economy in directions which reinforce the supremacy of private and corporate interests over democratic and collective ones. In specific terms, it means favoring privatization, deregulation (i.e. reducing or eliminating environmental, health, and labor standards), capital mobility (by removing currency and investment controls), and the erosion of sovereign control over domestic economies. The G7, for instance, played an important role in advancing the Uruguay Round agenda of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), which led, in turn, to the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

When there are perceived or anticipated setbacks in the advance of the neoliberal program, the G8 functions as an ad hoc executive committee to formulate corrective policies. The G8 has taken upon itself to deal with international crime, terrorism, and certain forms of financial speculation, for instance, since these types of phenomena represent threats to the steady advance of larger capitalist interests.

The G7/G8 can also be efficient at undermining initiatives which have popular support but might entail sacrifices on the part of the wealthy. The characteristic pattern has been to make promises in the spirit of popular demands, and then to appear to be incapable of reaching any agreement on how to actually realize them. Contradictions like this are made possible thanks to the G8's lack of transparency and clear process, and its lack of accountability. Significant debt repudiation, for instance, has long been promised by the G8, but the group has consistently succeeded in avoiding all but the most meagre commitments.

Recent Context

On June 26-27, 2002, the G8 held their annual summit in Kananaskis, Alberta, a posh resort area tucked away in the Rocky Mountains. The location was chosen by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in the wake of a massive outpouring of popular resistance at the previous G8 summit in Genoa - an event which was marred by shocking reports of police brutality and the tragic shooting of protester Carlo Giuliani. Determined to keep shows of political dissent in Kananaskis to a minimum, various 'anti-terrorist' bills were tabled in the Canadian parliament giving security forces broad new powers and making the exercise of civil liberties increasingly risky.

The main items on the Kananaskis agenda were:

G8 Interest in Africa

The African component - and it's central element, NEPAD, took center stage at Kananaskis, and this will be a continuing focus at Évian. NEPAD has been praised by certain African and Western leaders, and yet claims that it is an initiative made by and for Africans are weakened in view of the fact that NEPAD was formulated without any public consultations and the fact that it continues to be largely unknown to the majority of Africans. In addition, many civil society groups are suspicious of its neoliberal leanings, and particularly of its enthusiastic embrace of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as the primary motor for economic development in Africa. Robert Fowler, Canada's G8 'sherpa', has said that NEPAD "is about putting in place the conditions that will allow investment to come to Africa, because private investment is going to bring to Africa far, far more than any foreseeable amount (of aid) could bring," but commentators have observed that these 'conditions' may end up looking very similar to the notorious Structural Adjustment conditions which have left many African nations hopelessly indebted and in economic ruins.

There may be additional ulterior motives at work. In a recently released U.S. State Department report, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner and other U.S. officials emphasize the growing strategic importance of African oil. The report, largely based on an earlier CIA document, states that U.S. dependence on African oil is expected to rise from its current 15% of total supply to 25% by 2015. "By 2003," the report adds, "investment in the African oil industry will exceed $10 billion a year. Between two-thirds and three-fourths of our foreign direct investment in Africa will be in the energy sector." It must be noted that most of Canada's major petroleum industry players are based in Alberta, and in fact Kananaskis Village has long been a favorite spot for energy industry conferences. It may well be that the main, de facto objective of Kananaskis - beneath the 'African Partnership' rhetoric - will be the carving up of Africa's remaining energy resources.

Resisting and Creating Alternatives

As was the case with Kananaskis, there have been reports floated about which speak of "spectacular security measures" planned for Évian, but the G8's efforts to minimize resistance by moving out of reach did not deter people from organizing last time around. In Alberta, there were awareness-raising campaigns, counter-summits, and protests. RCMP machinations compounded with the hardliner antiprotest policies of Mayor Bronconnier of Calgary made the mounting of a proposed Solidarity Village impossible. Instead, a series of decentralized events and actions occured from June 23-27, with the main convergences being those in Calgary and in Ottawa. This was the result of a growing consensus that a special emphasis needs to be put on community outreach, on local issues, and, generally speaking, on efforts to rediscover the organic approach to living that has been eroded by the G8 and their ilk.

For a brief rundown of the official events at the 2002 summit, see: 2002 G8 Overview

G8 Statistics
source: World Development Indicators, 2000
G8 COUNTRY GDP (US$ trillions) % of World GDP Population % of World Population
Canada 0.689549 2.2 30,735,230 0,5
France 1.286252 4.1 58,850,000 1,0
Germany 1.870136 6.0 82,150,000 1,4
Italy 1.068518 3.4 57679000 1.0
Japan 4.677099 14.9 126,770,000 2,1
Russian Federation 0.251092 0.8 145,542,100 2,4
United Kingdom 1.413432 4.5 59,738,900 1,0
United States 9.882842 31.5 281,550,000 4,7
G7 Total
(G8 minus Russia)
20.887828 66.7 697,473,130 11.5
G8 Total 21.138920 67.5 843,015,230 13,9
Income Countries
6.567734 21.0 5,151,753,216 85,1
World Total 31.336890100.0 6,054,431,000 100,0

G8 Who's Who
G8 'Leader'Otherwise known as:
Jean Chrétien
'Ti-Jean, Dino
Jacques Chirac
Le Bulldozer, "Château Chirac" (after his penchant for living in castles)
Vladimir Putin
Putka, The Gray Cardinal, Mr. KGB, Stasi, Putain (French for 'whore')
George W. Bush
Chimpo, Moron, Dubya (Texan for 'W'), BabyBush, Shrub, Potty-mouth
Tony Blair
(United Kingdom)
Phoney Tony, the Vicar, TB, Bossyboots Blair, Poodle
Gerhard Schröder
Junichiro Koizumi
Silvio Berlusconi
Watersnake, Su' Emittenza ("His Transmitter-ship", referring to his media empire)
José María Aznar
(President of the European Union and of Spain)
Romano Prodi
(European Commission)
J.R. (i.e. from Dallas)

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