Expectations for Obama’s First G8 Summit

US President Barack Obama has quickly developed his diplomatic profile, having attended the G20 London Summit, the Summit of the Americas, conducted a state visit to the Middle East, and held numerous bilateral sessions in Washington and abroad. In the coming months, he will not only chair the G20 Pittsburgh Summit but also host China’s President Hu Jintao for strategic bilateral talks, in what many have labelled a ‘G2’ meeting.

In this video, Andrew Schrumm interviews Robert C. Fauver, a former G7/G8 sherpa under the Clinton administration and now president of Fauver Associates LLC, on what he anticipates from Mr. Obama’s first appearance at a G8 summit. He suggests that from the outset, the president is faced with a difficult choice on which forum – the G8 or G20 – provides the best opportunities for what he wants to accomplish, both in terms of macro-economic policy as well as geostrategic discussions.

The large domestic imbalances in the United States have certainly affected Mr. Obama’s priorities at L’Aquila. Taking office in the midst of the economic crisis, the president has concentrated his efforts to “fix the economy, re-stimulate growth, work on the banking system and financial market problems” and focus on key issues of health care reform, energy security and climate change, and expansion of education. These will be the issues to watch for, where Mr. Fauver suggests that the president will bring these topics into the G8 discussions as much as possible.

Fundamentally, Mr. Fauver sees the expanding summit process creating a crisis of functionalism, where the growth in number of issues included in the G8 communiqué has had an inverse effect on the quality of decisions made during the leaders’ meetings. Their attention is “too diverse, too broken apart by other issues” thereby limiting their effectiveness across the board, necessitating a movement of “back-to-basics” so the G7 can provide credible and effective leadership in the world economy.

The L’Aquila summit will likely result in a number of communiqués from the various meeting configurations. At least one can be expected from the G8 alone, one from the G8+G5, and one from the G8+African leaders, each of which covering many topics. Mr Fauver laments that these outcome documents will not make substantive impact as declarations will be at a surface level. As a priority of President Obama’s, he expects some progress in the areas of climate change and collective negotiations towards Copenhagen. Yet, with the diversity of discussions at L’Aquila, major breakthroughs should not be anticipated.

Disclaimer: This blog is solely intended to spur discussion, while the opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI, Chatham House or their respective Boards of Directors.
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One Response to Expectations for Obama’s First G8 Summit

  1. T. Agar says:

    Great interview! It will certainly be interesting to see whether there is room for issues like health care and education while the economy drives the agenda.

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