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Western Press Review: The G-8 Summit And St. Petersburg's 300th Anniversary

By Khatya Chhor and Dora Slaba

Prague, 2 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Much Western press coverage today focuses on the Group of Eight (G-8) summit of industrialized nations taking place in Evian, France. Debate over the effectiveness of the G-8 dominates much of the discussion, as does the lingering tensions between some summit attendees stemming from the contentious debate over military action in Iraq.

Other commentary looks at Russian President Vladimir Putin's hosting of world leaders for the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg over the weekend, the influence of Iraq's Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, and reforming the trans-Atlantic relationship.


As the G-8 summit of the world's leading industrialized nations continues in Evian, France, "The Guardian's" Larry Elliott says last year's meeting in Kananaskis, Canada, offered "nice scenery" but a "vacuous communique." The year before, in Genoa, Italy, plagued by widespread antiglobalization protests, the summit managed to produce exciting TV footage -- but another useless communique.

There are big issues for the G-8 to confront, Elliott says. Aid to parts of Africa and other developing areas must be meaningfully increased, "coordinated action" taken to jump-start the world's economies, and an agreement reached on phasing out the export subsidies and credits that slow growth.

But the G-8 will do none of these things, says Elliott. "Instead, there will be the traditional platitudinous communique, cooked up [in] advance." Attendees "will pledge themselves to non-inflationary growth, fighting terrorists, tackling money launderers, getting tough with drug smugglers and providing the necessary resources for education, health and nuclear safety."

And the summit "will, of course, express horror at the spread of HIV-AIDS." But "none of this matters," because the G-8 "[has] ceased to be relevant."

Elliott says, in short, "Anything the G-8 can do, some other body can do better." Managing the global economy, he maintains, can be left to finance ministers and central-bank governors. Moreover, says Elliott, the World Trade Organization can tackle trade, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank can address debt relief, and the UN can take on security issues. The world should "pull the plug" on the G-8, he says.


A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting LLC) commentary says the G-8's traditional focus on economic relations is being eclipsed by politico-military affairs and the attempt "to achieve some sort of political accommodation," as the summit continues today in Evian, France.

After months of strained Franco-U.S. relations following the contentious debate over the Iraq war, French President and summit host Jacques Chirac "set the tone" by arguing that most of the world shares "his vision of a multipolar world, in which the United States [is] not the sole dominant power." But "Stratfor" says while the French are asking Washington to "allow" for more international involvement in the big issues, multipolarity -- by definition -- is not something that can be bestowed, "but a reality created by national power. The unwillingness of the Europeans to create military forces that need to be reckoned with or economies that are dynamic and healthy is the reason that the multipolar world they desire doesn't exist."

The U.S. stance toward much of Europe is that "they have made themselves both incapable of politico-military effectiveness, as well as allowing their economic structures to be crippled." France and Germany, the traditional European powerhouses, are both embroiled in serious economic problems and "are hardly in a position to increase their global capabilities." From the Franco-German perspective, Washington is willfully "bypassing them." From "the American point of view, they have made themselves irrelevant."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" describes the G-8 summit in the French town of Evian "as a summer festival," blessed with fine weather in the idyllic setting of the Alps. The German daily says the meeting served a symbolic purpose but gave precious little hope of achieving anything substantial, since there was no attempt to tackle real global problems.

French President Jacques Chirac tried to lend the meeting some legitimacy by inviting leaders from developing countries, which, the commentary says, "was a worthy effort but counterproductive." It says the delegates in Evian spent far more time making social visits than sitting down at the negotiating table.

"A revival of the [world] economy would serve the developing countries far more than polite invitations," the paper says. "However, no such impetus is likely, since self-interests currently decide economic policies."


A "Le Monde" editorial says the G-8 summit now taking place in Evian, France, is not like previous summits. Usually, the meeting of the world's seven leading industrialized nations -- Germany, France, Canada, the United States, Britain, Japan, and Italy, plus Russia -- is an elitist meeting focused on the regulation of the world economy. But this year's host, French President Jacques Chirac, invited the leaders of 13 African, Asian, and Mideast nations to take part in a "broader dialogue" that also included representatives from China, India, Brazil, and Egypt.

It has been a long time since Chirac has attempted to launch a discourse lacking in the "habitual Western ethnocentrism," the paper says. That this will not translate into meaningful action is another problem.

China and India have both benefited immensely from globalization and from the development of world trade, says "Le Monde." But that same globalization has marginalized Africa, and even disrupted the continent's economy. Eight hundred million people live on less than one euro a day, the paper points out.

Africa and underdeveloped regions have a right to expect several things from the Evian summit: the opening of markets in industrialized nations to allow for more imports from the less-developed world, especially in agriculture; a world trade system that does not punish the poorest members of the World Trade Organization; and access to HIV-AIDS medications.


Referring to celebrations in St. Petersburg over the weekend to mark the city's 300th anniversary, the Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" compares Russian President Vladimir Putin to Peter the Great.

Tsar Peter had great visions in founding St. Petersburg, "of transforming Russia into an emporium on par with the great European powers of those days." Essentially, says the paper, "Putin's vision is not too distant from that of his historic predecessor. He, too, wants to lead Russia to be "a new and flourishing power."

Although he occasionally reverts to anti-Western reactions, Putin has become convinced that without a "constructive relationship toward Europe and the U.S., progress in Russia would be a fata morgana."

The paper says Putin's achievements during his three years in power are substantial. He has "clearly stabilized his country. The economy is growing, thanks to oil resources, and wages are increasing, even though they remain very low on average. Nearly a quarter of the population, according to Putin's own admission, lives under the poverty line."

As for Putin's foreign policy, it must be noted that Putin aligned himself with France and Germany in opposing the U.S. war in Iraq. The commentary describes this "as a clumsy balancing act." Nevertheless, he has come out unscathed, considering "he did not do any lasting damage to his relationship with his strategic partners George W. Bush and Tony Blair" of Britain.


The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" describes the St. Petersburg meeting as "Putin's triumph." The paper sees him as the weekend's "winner," since he managed to settle scores with U.S. President George W. Bush and make a good impression on all the government leaders -- from Great Britain's Tony Blair to Belarus's Alyaksandr Lukashenka, from France's Jacques Chirac to Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Even if Putin made no headway in achieving visa-free travel for Russians to Europe, he made it amply clear to the St. Petersburg gathering that "he is not prepared to give in. Europe must indeed reckon with Russia."


Writing from Beirut, Lebanon, "The Washington's Post's" David Ignatius says it is "a strange irony of history" that a potential U.S. ally "in stabilizing postwar Iraq may be Shaykh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, the Shi'ite Muslim cleric who was the target of an American-backed assassination attempt nearly 20 years ago." U.S. officials were convinced Fadlallah had backed the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy and a Marine barracks in Beirut.

Today, "Mr. Fadlallah is important to the future of Iraq because he is the spiritual leader of the Al-Da'wah party, which probably is the strongest political network among Iraqi Shi'ites." He has opposed efforts by Iranian-backed mullahs "to take advantage of the current power vacuum in Iraq and push for an Iranian-style Islamic republic."

While Fadlallah opposed Saddam Hussein "for years," he now believes the Americans "are making a mess out of postwar reconstruction." While he opposes any prolonged occupation of Iraq, Fadlallah has "advised his followers in the Al-Da'wah party to cooperate with the Americans" in rebuilding efforts. He believes a confrontation between U.S. forces and Iraqis would only serve Iran's interests and the interests of other outsiders.


In a contribution to the British "Financial Times," the U.S.-based Brookings Institution's Philip Gordon says it is "striking" how American and European assessments of the war in Iraq differ.

"Most Americans think victory [in Iraq] has freed the Iraqi people, eliminating a threat that has dogged us for more than a decade." But "large majorities in France, Germany and even Britain believe the world is now more dangerous." Where, ask Europeans, "are the weapons of mass destruction? Where is the proof of [Saddam] Hussein's alleged ties to Al-Qaeda?" For Europe, the question looms: "Did America lie to its European allies in order to sell a war it was determined to wage?"

Gordon says the next time U.S. administration officials attempt to convince their continental allies of the dangers posed by Iran's alleged nuclear program, or Syria's alleged terrorist links, Europe "will be even more reluctant to believe them." And Americans "should not be complacent" about Europe's differing view of the war, "dismissing it [as] misguided or irrelevant Euro-whining," Gordon says. "The U.S. needs to rely on more than raw power" to ensure Europe will not be "hostile to its aims."

Moreover, Washington must "give others a stake in success" and "stop the silly practice of 'punishing' those who did not support the war." France's choice not to support the Iraq war was "the legitimate expression of the will of a democratic ally." He says "petty retaliation" only undermines America's allies in Europe and strengthens its critics.