G8 And the Arab Spring

The G8 summit this year took place in the French resort town of Deauville on Thursday and Friday.  The agenda consisted of the usual laundry list of democracy promotion, global economic issues, and international conflict.  A number of additions to the list featured this year–most notably the Arab Spring

Aside from the leadership of the governments of the G8, other attendees were ten African government delegations, the Egyptian and Tunisian prime ministers, the Chairman of the Arab League, the AU and UN Secretary-Generals, the head of the World Bank, and the acting head of the IMF.  Despite the African presence, there has been no indication from news reports that offers of debt relief or international assistance came out of the meeting for any countries other than Egypt and Tunisia, who seem to be being rewarded for their democratic movements at a time when they are certainly in need of assistance. Although it wasn’t put into writing, the G8 countries said the two countries could hope to receive some $20 billion in loans from international institutions.  In my estimation it is not clear whether this is an attempt to reward people-driven democratic movements, or a move to make friends (or debtors) in critical geopolitical spaces before it’s too late.

Other movements of the Arab Spring were also discussed, with the harshest sentiments reserved for Syria and Libya. President Obama said the NATO operation would not stop until Gaddafi stepped down, despite France and Russia indicating their desire to form a diplomatic team in order to negotiate a political solution.  It was expected that the group would advocate a Security Council resolution on Syria, but—most likely at the urging of Russia—this was scaled back to a threat to “consider further measures.”  It was declared that the Yemeni leader should quit in the face of popular opposition, and for Bahrain it was simply “hoped” that a democratic transition would take place.

In its Declaration entitled “Renewed Commitment for Freedom and Democracy,” the G8 condemned violence used against people by the regimes in Libya, Yemen, and Syria.  Bahrain was not mentioned in the declaration, which endorsed President Obama’s suggestions for peace in Israel and Palestine as outlined in his May 19 speech.  In the Declaration, the G8 demanded the release of an Israeli soldier abducted in 2006.  No mention was made of the peaceful demonstrators killed by Israeli forces during Nakba Day commemorations in mid-May.

Outside the realm of the Arab Spring, the Declaration alluded to the movements in Sub-Saharan Africa as well, proclaiming a commitment to cooperation on peace and security and avowing commitment to partnerships with Africa.  Welcoming the changes and elections in Niger, Côte d’Ivoire, and Guinea, this is the first time the G8 Declaration has been adopted jointly with African leaders.  The Declaration, however, made no mention of the recent demonstrations and subsequent crackdown in Uganda, in which a number of peaceful demonstrators and bystanders have been killed by military police.

The erratic manner in which the uprisings in the Middle East and elsewhere are being dealt with, even at a simple diplomatic level, indicate that politics and national interests have driven the agenda and outcome of the G8 summit rather than a genuine desire to support democratic movements.  This is not particularly surprising, but G8 leaders should understand that this kind of inconsistent approach does not go unnoticed by people in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere.