| THE EFFICACY OF THE "G's":
Capabilities to be considered for an assessment of the G20 and the BRICS
by Félix Peña
English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza
The Group of Twenty (G20) and the BRICS Group are
some of the examples of what are currently called the "G". These
are informal groups of countries that meet periodically at the highest
political level with the aim of addressing relevant issues of the international
agenda that are of their interest. They reflect the perception of the
insufficiencies of the formal mechanisms to enable the participation of
countries in the international system.
Given the relatively recent formation of both groups it would be premature
to attempt to assess their effectiveness based on their objectives. For
this assessment it would be convenient to take into account the differences
between the two initiatives, which were born under similar circumstances
but which address different needs. The similar circumstances we refer
to are the systematic insufficiencies to ensure effective global governance.
The needs that drive the G20 are related with the overcoming of a situation
of systemic crisis and with the promotion of institutional reforms that
lead to an effective multi-lateralism, particularly in world trade and
finance. The BRICS group, in turn, endeavors to increase the capability
for a relevant role of its member countries in the construction of a new
world order and to exert its influence within the G20.
Beyond the differences existing between both groups, there are three
capabilities that should be taken into account in order to appraise their
efficacy in view of their desired objectives. These are the ability: to
exert a real influence in the construction of a new international architecture
that enables to achieve reasonable levels of global governance; to articulate
effective agreements between the member countries on relevant issues of
the international agenda; and to express the points of view and interests
of the non-participating countries, especially those of the region that
one or more of the member countries aspire to represent.
Today, the informal groups of countries -the "G"s- have gained
a growing relevance in the international scenario. They constitute different
modalities of groupings of countries with a low degree of formalization
that meet periodically at the highest political level with the objective
of addressing relevant issues of the international agenda that they consider
of their interest.
They reflect the perception of a relative insufficiency in the formal
mechanisms for the participation of countries in the international system
(see our article on "Participation in the international system",
published in Revista Criterio, 1561-62, of December 1968, on http://www.felixpena.com.ar/.
They aspire to have an effect on the reformulation of the existing mechanisms
or in the eventual creation of new international organizations.
The Group of Twenty (G20) and the now called BRICS group are some of
the main examples. Their aims and scope are indeed different, but each
one in its own way reflects the new realities in the distribution of world
power. None has fully proven its effectiveness yet, which would be measured
by the capacity to adopt decisions that have a bearing on relevant issues
of global governance. Thus many questions remain concerning the role that
they can really play, either to control the most adverse effects of the
economic and financial crisis of the last three years or to influence
the design of a new architecture of the international system.
One group, the G20, reflects the meeting of two worlds: that of the countries
that perceive themselves as "mature" protagonists in the international
system (those of the G8) and that of the countries perceived as "emerging"
or , in some cases, "re-emerging" (China and India). Argentina
is a full member of this group. (On the G20 see http://www.g20.org/,
the November 2008 issue of this Newsletter on http://www.felixpena.com.ar/
and the February 2009 edition as well, on http://www.felixpena.com.ar/).
The other, the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India and China, to which
South Africa was recently invited), gathers countries that aspire to have
a greater protagonism in the world scene. They consider that they have
sufficient current or potential power to be acknowledged as relevant actors
at a world level. And in some cases (for example Brazil and South Africa)
that they could additionally reflect the interests of other countries
of the regional spaces to which they belong. That is, they believe to
have the capacity to lead their respective geographic regions, even when
the eventual leadership is not necessarily acknowledged by all the other
countries belonging to it. Argentina has not been invited to become a
member of this group. (On the BRICS group refer to the January 2011 issue
of this Newsletter on http://www.felixpena.com.ar/).
These groups of countries that meet periodically at the level of Heads
of State (and/or Government according to the constitutional disposition
of each country) are not a new occurrence in international diplomacy.
The so-called G7 -that became the G8, after the addition of Russia- has
played a significant role by gathering the main developed countries in
periodical Summits since 1975. Even when it is still in existence and
it continues to meet as such, its relative insufficiency to face the global
financial and economic crisis became evident at the end of 2008. Thereof,
the G20 was summoned as the appropriate ambit for summits at the highest
political level. It had existed since 1999 but until then it had only
functioned at the level of the financial authorities of a group of countries,
including those of the G7. (See http://www.g20.org/index.aspx).
The diplomacy of summits as meetings at the highest political level of
the participating countries has many precedents and multiple modalities.
Among others, at the bilateral level, especially between neighbor countries,
currently very common and which normally has a set periodicity -for example,
semiannual, annual or bi-yearly-. There are also those meetings that take
place within the ambit of international organizations (e.g. the summits
on climate change), or of institutionalized integration processes (e.g.
within the ambit of the European Union or Mercosur). Others may reflect
inter-regional spaces and have the objective of generating the necessary
political drive to promote different types and degrees of economic cooperation.
The EU- LAC summits and the Asia and Pacific ones are some examples of
this. In these cases, summits symbolize the existence of a differentiated
space that has a certain degree of identity within the global international
scenario. They may also have a regional scope, such as the case of the
Rio Group with the participation of Latin American countries.
In the dynamics of summits, the prestige factor may play a key role for
the government of the home country. In such cases the internal policy
impacts of each meeting acquires a particular relevance and may have repercussions
on a growing trend that could be called "media diplomacy", where
the effects of the corresponding summit are mainly measured by their impact
on the local media and not only on the international one.
Comparing the two groups involved in this analysis, due to their current
and potential relevance, we find some common elements and some differences.
Some of the common elements are:
- they are not occasional events, and on the contrary they aspire to
have a continued presence for a period of time that may even be of long
- summits have a predefined frequency ;
- they have member countries; however they do not constitute an international
organization. As a result they lack a constituent pact -resulting from
a multilateral international legal instrument originating them- neither
do they have legal status nor permanent agencies;
- their members are countries that consider to have certain common interests,
at least in relation to the objectives of the group;
- only the countries invited may become members of the group and, in
general, there are "waiting lists" formed by countries that
aspire to be summoned and who believe to have the necessary conditions
to form part of it;
- the presence of non-member countries and of specifically selected
guest international organizations is not excluded from their meetings;
- their respective periodical summits are prepared by the member countries
under the coordination of the country that will be the seat of the meeting,
often with the participation of high ranking officers especially selected
by each member country -for example the so-called "sherpa"
in the precedent of the G7 and in the current G20- and also by minister
meetings that have their own periodicity and usually take place prior
to each summit;
- in general, their results are communicated by a final declaration
or joint communiqué that reflects -sometimes in vague terms-
the actions and policies that the group has agreed to promote;
- they do not generate international legal rules, notwithstanding they
could seek to influence the law-making process of other formal mechanisms
for international cooperation and of the existing international organizations.
As for the differences, the following could be considered the most relevant:
- the objectives sought and the criteria to select invitee countries
are different in their scope even when, in both cases, they are linked
with relevant issues of global governance;
- the modalities of the process of preparation and follow-up of the
respective summits doesn't necessarily follow any given model;
- the unbalanced configuration of relative power amongst the participating
- the degree of homogeneity in their respective political and economic
interests, which may even have a very limited scope.
Given the relative recent character of the two groups being considered
-the G20 in its newest version and the BRICS- it would be premature to
attempt to assess their efficacy in terms of their objectives. However,
for such appraisal it would be advisable to take into consideration the
differences between the two initiatives, born under similar circumstances
but which answer to different needs.
The similar circumstances under which both initiatives were launched
are those originated by the systemic insufficiencies to ensure effective
global governance. These are closely related with the profound changes
in the distribution of world power, which became more evident still during
the recent global financial crisis with its striking economic impacts
and array of political repercussions.
The needs that drive the G20 are related with overcoming a situation
of systemic crisis and encouraging institutional reforms that lead to
an effective multilateralism, particularly in world trade and finance.
In turn, the BRICS group strives to increase the capacity of its member
countries to have a relevant protagonism in the construction of a new
world order and to exert their influence within the G20. However, in none
of the two cases these needs seem to be perceived in the same manner by
the different countries that form part of each group.
Beyond the existing differences between the two groups, there are three
capabilities that should be taken into account to assess their efficacy
in terms of their desired objectives. These are:
- to exert a real influence in the design of a new architecture for
the international system that enables to achieve reasonable levels of
a legitimate and effective global governance;
- to articulate strong agreements between the member countries that
penetrate reality on relevant issues of the international agenda, and
- to reflect the points of view and interests of non-participating countries,
particularly of those belonging to the regions that one or more of the
member countries eventually aspire to represent.
After the recent Ministers Meeting in Paris, there are still many doubts
on the potential effectiveness of the G20 and of its representativeness
(check its results on http://www.g20.org/).
The next Summit, to be held under the presidency of France, will provide
a new opportunity to assess its capacity to influence international reality.
On this regard, the results that are achieved in the Doha Round negotiations
will be an important test if we consider the repeated pronouncements that
on this issue have been made since the first Summit took place at the
end of 2008. In turn, the BRICS group will have in its upcoming Summit,
to be held in Beijing next April, an opportunity to manifest its relevance
as a new and active protagonist in the world scenario.
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Félix Peña Director
of the Institute of International Trade at the ICBC Foundation. Director
of the Masters Degree in International Trade Relations at Tres de Febrero
National University (UNTREF). Member of the Executive Committee of the
Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI). Member of the Evian
Group Brains Trust. More