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Is there really any point in G8 summits - the Time Team of international diplomacy?

By Mark Wallace
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Time TeamYesterday, I took part in the weekly Political Takeout podcast (which you can download for free here). An interesting question came up: is there any point in G8 summits?

On paper, such get-togethers are crucial. The thinking goes that if we have enough multi-lateral talks, where all the leaders sit down face to face, then international problems like war and economic disruption could be solved.

Part of the idea is that the UN is too unwieldy and too open to moral relativism to make such decisions. Unfortunately, the G8 has come to mimic those flaws. Vladimir Putin, who is selling arms to Assad, is able to talk about how committed he is to peace in Syria with hardly anyone openly laughing at him. Discussions on global trade and solving poverty take place despite the absence of India, China and Brazil - key hubs in the global economy and nations which play host to a huge proportion of the world's poor.

Some have suggested the media are being childish by focusing on the summit's dress code ("smart/casual", we're told, hence the lack of ties). But that has become the talking point precisely because the rest of the event has achieved so little.

The second most talked-about topic today is the briefing being put out that David Cameron went for a swim in the chilly nearby loch - but Vladimir Putin declined to join him. It's not a side-story that one leader is portrayed in a macho setting, at the expense of one of his peers; projecting an image to the media and to voters back home is the raison d'etre of the whole bash.

The G8 summit reminds me increasingly of Time Team. While international negotiations and archaeology are properly and most effectively conducted over long periods of patient, sustained effort, instead we get a bunch of people pitching up in front of the cameras for a couple of days and thrashing through the subject matter with JCBs.

The end result is a snazzy show, but far less useful than the real thing.


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