Event highlights,
After the G8: is it going to be G-Zero or a positive number? 11 June 2013

Global governance, national sovereignty or none of the above? Debate on the legitimacy of the G-groupings considers the shifting global balance of power and asks: how can we govern in an inter-dependent world?

In a compelling introduction to the 7th event of Zamyn’s Cultural Forum 2013, ahead of the G8 summit, Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator of the Financial Times, compared the G8 to a zombie. Questioning if anything should replace it, Mr Wolf asked if current G-groupings reflect the shift in global relative power. Mr Wolf queried whether these groupings should be more or less representative, mentioning  the role of ‘non-state actors’, such as the United Nations,  in relation to global governance, putting  this to the consideration of the high-calibre panel, which included Ian Bremmer, political scientist, author and president of Eurasia Group; David Miliband, former Labour MP and secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs; and Gideon Rachman, chief foreign affairs commentator at the Financial Times.

Acknowledging the symbolic significance of Doris Salcedo ‘Shibboleth’ to the discussion, Ian Bremmer proceeded to explain the term, coined by him, ‘G-Zero’. The G, he argued, should stand for global, rather than governments. Bremmer stated that global governance should provide ‘global standards’, ‘global internet’ and a ‘global response on climate’, amongst others, while recognising that these may not be the actual desires of some nations. He added that larger groupings, such as the G20, struggle to coordinate their different internal priorities. Declaring he was not a ‘declinist’, he remarked upon the growing disinterest of the US, as a global leader.

David Miliband agreed with Bremmer, adding ‘this is an age of extraordinary interdependence, yet it’s an age of extraordinary under governance’. Miliband outlined how the shift in global power, West to East and North to South, has been significant in explaining the lack of ‘a hegemonic global power to keep order’. From an alternative perspective, he conveyed the strength of regional governance, alluding to ‘the pacific alliance’. Referencing the global oceans committee, he remarked on the negative impact of the under-governance of the high seas, stating that Antarctica and the nuclear non-perforation treaty demonstrate the effectiveness of ‘functional arrangements’ in protecting the global public good. In closing, Miliband remarked that in an ‘inter-dependent world’ where there is global awareness of human rights, environment and security, ‘national sovereignty isn’t sufficient.’

Agreeing that a lack of global governance exists, Gideon Rachman, moved the focus from the various ‘Gs’ which, he claimed, never ‘provided global order’, instead, ‘it was an American leadership that was really crucial’. Rachman identified the US lead in the G7/8 as critical, noting America strengthened the coalition in politically unstable times of the 90s. He outlined that present day US reluctance to intervene, due to a lack of power and money, results in a deficiency of responsibility to protect others from humanitarian crises. 

Debating China and the US, ‘a rising power on the one hand and the established power on the other’, Bremmer remarked that China’s rise is left out of the US political agenda.  Bremmer argued China is not interested in multi-lateral organisations, but creating bi-lateral engagements.

Debate considers the rise of China and the future of the US as a global player.


Miliband defended the internal focus of China as necessary to ‘maintain stability’ and develop a balance with their divided populations, but conceded that they are engaging externally to find partners for their own development. He highlighted their veto power on foreign policy and admitted that they were disappointed by the G20. He mused on the current leadership in China living in a time of greater global consciousness, ‘a psychological…lack of fear of the outside world’ and suggested that this will have an impact on their engagement internationally.  Rachman disagreed, and proposed that ‘the liberal internationalists are actually on the retreat and you’re getting more of a military accent to the people in power in Beijing’. Bremmer stated that China will become increasingly capitalist, as ‘the number 1 economy they’ll still be poor’.

The panel considered the US’s future as a global player. Bremmer predicted America becoming more of a global leader than under George W Bush. Miliband warned against non-intervention in humanitarian crisis. Rachman highlighted the lack of public support for intervention in Syria, which Bremmer explained as a changing foreign policy team.

David Miliband questions the power and legitimacy of the G8 and asserts the effectiveness of non-state actors.

David Miliband, now CEO of the International Rescue Committee spoke on the effectiveness of non-state actors. ‘NGOs above all are picking up the pieces at the bottom of the cliff’ and drew the attention of the audience to the fact that there ‘more humanitarian catastrophes even though there are fewer wars’ and described NGOs as a ‘growth business in that sense’. He spoke of the success of the UN with East Timor, Sierra Leone and also with the EU in the Balkans.

Wolf steered the conversation on to Africa. Miliband noted the success of the African Union with Somalian piracy, acknowledging that Africa has a largely regional focus. Wolf warned that regional shaping of national borders could result in ‘limitless chaos. To conclude, Wolf stated that as Africa gets stronger economically the governance will improve.

Before opening the questions to the floor, Rachman commented that ‘the Chinese seem to hate facing a coherent block. An instinctive reaction is to try and split it up.’ Wolf concluded ‘China is rationally realist and one thing a rational realist would like to do is to divide.’

The audience, which included ambassadors, NGO representatives, psychoanalysts, students and international journalists, joined in the debate. Miliband disagrees with Bremmer over the future of cyberspace. Miliband commented that governments live in coalition with their people and therefore the world will never be less open. Bremmer described the ever increasing controls over the internet in China as a counter.

‘I don't buy the death of the nation state argument that the nation state is too big for the small problems and too small for the big problems’ remarked Miliband. He re-asserted his views that disconnecting from Europe is ‘foolish’ and ‘perverse’ particularly the negative effect of reducing foreign students.

The G20 is 'moribund' and the G8 is 'basically a joke', says the Chief Economics Commentator for the Financial Times

Bremmer predicted that China will become a ‘fundamental politicised’ issue in the next US general election. Wolf explained the ‘middle income trap’ in response to a question about an ‘irreversible growth path’ for some countries. He continued that it is extremely rare to see a country moving from low to high and avoiding stalling in the middle, using Brazil as an example.

Miliband remarked that if the G20 were to throw itself behind one intuitive then it should be the Millennium Development Goals. On climate change, Bremmer argued that it should be tackled by a ‘coalition of the willing’ and that if problems are global, we should stop trying to solve these globally. Bremmer defended this against Martin Wolf, and added that a global problem should have a group of countries or non-state actors who can commit to solving it by investing in new technologies, rather than having global meetings that fail to get collective agreement.

Wolf commented on financial regulation, noting that the financial sector has created a system with no equity, relying on the taxpayer to foot the bill. Wolf confirmed his lack of encouragement at building financial regulation and calls it ‘a very depressing story’.

To conclude,  Wolf describes the effectiveness of global groupings as the ‘audacity of pessimism’, citing Sir Mervyn King, former Bank of England Governor.

Watch the video here

Image copyright Tate 2013: photography by Yoonkyung Kim