Did the G8 really just make a comeback?

Over on “The Internationalist”, a welcome new blog from CFR, Stewart Patrick argues that the G8 is back after a few years in the doldrums.  His post is entitled “‘I’m not Dead Yet’: Long Live the G8”, but the  Monty Python reference isn’t entirely ironic.  Stewart concludes that, having (i) delivered a strong call for Colonel Gaddafi to go and (ii) engendered billions of dollars in aid promises to the new Arab democracies, the G8 “retains a critical role in addressing the world’s most sensitive political challenges.”

I’m inclined to semi-agree.  The G8 did have a pretty good week, and getting the Russians to sign onto the statement on Gaddafi was a real coup for the French hosts.  Go G8!  But there are problems.  Big political statements from the G8 don’t always make a big difference.  In 2008, President Medvedev appeared to support a G8 plan for sanctions on Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, but Russia then joined China in blocking a follow-up resolution in the Security Council.  As for all those aid promises, take a look at these  skeptical posts from Juan Cole and Stephen Walt on what they add up to.

Stewart (who, we should note, is a chum) wouldn’t expect me to agree with him in full.  In his post, he argues that the good outcome from Deauville undermines arguments against the G8 that Bruce D. Jones, Emily O’Brien and I made in a paper for Brookings last week (I previously blogged about it here):

Jones, Gowan, and O’Brien reject two common arguments for retaining the G8: as a hedge against the G20’s failure, and as a “useful political club for liberal Western democracies” (the latter an argument I made earlier this week). I’m less persuaded on both counts.

There is no reason for the United States, nor its other G8 partners, to put all their eggs in one basket. And some political issues are easier to discuss—and take decisive action on—within like-minded groupings of states. The Arab spring is a case in point.

The G20’s agenda will inevitably expand, including into matters of peace and security. But this should—and by necessity will—happen organically and gradually. In the meantime, the G8 will remain one of many important cooperative frameworks in a multi-multilateral world.

To be honest, there aren’t that many differences between us. In the Brookings paper, Bruce, Emily and I were quite careful to avoid making the case for “unilateral disarmament” by the G8 (i.e. shutting up shop in the hope that this contributes to a stronger G20). We do argue that the G8 is no longer a feasible alternative to the G20 in terms of international financial diplomacy. But on the political front, we contend that neither the G8 nor the existing G20 nor the current Security Council is sufficient to handle today and tomorrow’s political and security challenges. We argue that a new range of intermediate forums involving a mix of G8 and non-G8 members will be required to handle rising tensions over energy security, resource scarcity and so forth… so maybe we’re all pragmatic multi-multilateralists now? Curses.