G-8? G-20? G-2? G-0? Who’s in charge in a world in motion? And what does it mean for INGOs?

June 25, 2013

     By Duncan Green     

I’ve got my head down doing some reading n writing, but luckily I am besieged by offers of guest posts, a lot of them v good. Here’s one from Oxfam International’s Advocacy and Campaigns Associate Martin Hall

“Ain’t never gonna be what it was” – Little Big Roy, The Wire

What with the G8 summit just past, the G20 summit approaching and the G-Zero debate going mainstream, rarely has the question “who’s in charge?”Martin Hall pic been voiced so often with so much riding on the answer. Having spent some time sifting through the various arguments, I thought I’d try to give an overview of this world in motion:

A G8/G20 world: We’ve seen some green shoots with multilateralism recently. After a decade’s hard work from the Control Arms coalition, the UN agreed an Arms Trade Treaty this year. In Lough Erne the G8 set the ball rolling on tackling tax-dodging. But while this leads some to say the death of multilateralism has been greatly exaggerated, it’s difficult to argue that it’s in good health. From Copenhagen in 2009 to Rio last year to the paralysis of the Doha round of trade talks, global leaders have frequently failed to find global solutions to global problems. Whether you think that the G8 or G20 is currently the premier global forum, there seems to be consensus that there’s a high degree of inertia within both groups.

A G-Zero world: A term coined by Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer, whose book Every Nation For Itself describes a world order in which no single country or durable alliance of countries can meet the challenges of global leadership. This has been driven largely by the global economic crisis which left the traditional superpowers (G7/G8 countries) unwilling to play global policeman or banker while emerging economies (BRICS) are still unable or unwilling to fill that vacuum.

Where did everyone go?

Where did everyone go?

Which means that just when transnational problems – cyber-security, the Middle East, climate change – truly require a joined-up international responses the US is nation-building at home; the UK political debate revolves around UKIP and leaving Europe; and Europe’s heart attack moment is morphing into a chronic disease of high unemployment and low growth. Such navel-gazing is likely to be the order of the day for some time to come, according to Bremmer: “The era of G-Zero has only just begun.”

A G-2 world: From bipolar (US and Soviet Union pre-Cold War), to unipolar (US) to multipolar (diverse and diffuse powers)… back to bipolar? The recent summit between Barack Obama and Xi Jinping put the US-China relationship back in the spotlight. How the two countries manage this relationship as China moves towards becoming the world’s largest economy, (according to the IMF and the OECD’s calculations, this will happen by the time Obama leaves office) will be critical. While the two nations share some common challenges (jobs for the middle-class, education reform, rising healthcare costs etc), the transition from one superpower to another has, historically, rarely been seamless. As the Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman puts it: “The central geopolitical question of our time is how the two countries deal with the shift.”

A Multi-G world: At the recent Zamyn Forum debate in London, David Miliband described a world of ‘multi-multilateralism.’ Rather than one singular system of global governance there’s a number of messy and overlapping systems. Some of these (EU) are more developed than others (ASEAN) while others (AU) are widely tipped to increasingly wield more influence and newer regional groups such as the Pacific Alliance of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru are taking shape too. Coalitions of the willing are also emerging on particular issues. A potential trade deal with the EU and US is the most high-profile example of two actors with shared interests bypassing the traditional architecture to produce something they can ‘sell’ at home. By actingspaghetti bowl together, they have more muscle while also avoiding strangulation in the spaghetti bowl of multilateral processes.

So what does all this mean? For what it’s worth, I think we’re living in a G-Zero world. The coalitions of the willing mentioned above are emerging precisely because of the curious combination of sclerosis and volatility that characterises G-Zero. They’re where necessity as the mother of invention meets politics as the art of the possible.

For INGOs the ‘So-Whats’ of this new order could fill a book, never mind a blog. A G-Zero world has implications for the whole sector. But here are my two top transformational shifts for campaigning organisations if we aspire to be Apple not Kodak and stay relevant in this world in motion:

Power-Analysis: Power needs to be at the centre of all influencing strategies. Far too often in campaigns, power-mapping or external context updates are (inadequate) substitutes for rigorous and sophisticated power-analysis.  Here’s five golden rules for power-analysis in the age of G-Zero:

  • Light-touch, high maintenance: Power-analysis needs to be a state of mind not a box to tick.  It needs to be constantly reviewed and updated in such a rapidly-shifting world with so many of the pieces of the geo-political chessboard thrown up in the air and yet to land.  And all the pieces matter.
  • More acupuncture, less bubble bath: Be specific.  Focus and hone-in on the decision-makers, influencers, blockers, shifters and champions.  Then be even more specific about which levers to pull to influence them.
  • Windows of opportunity in a (G-Zero) world of possibilities: If five times the political space opens up on one issue – but only for two weeks – will you be up to the task of rapidly analysing the situation and reacting robustly?  Never let a crisis go to waste.
  • Power, politics and publics too: As well as the realpolitik don’t leave publics out of your power analysis.  Anyone currently cogitating on the BRICS and not considering the Human Spring is missing a trick to say the least.
  • A world of moving targets: A former colleague of mine once described long-term change like a game of chess.  But it’s much more complicated than that because there’s more than two players and, in a G-Zero world, lots of moving targets.  And unlike in chess the King doesn’t necessarily stay the King.

170757431National-level change: In a G-Zero world the pendulum is swinging from global to national.  So focusing more on change at the national-level – particularly in emerging economies such as the BRICs, CIVETs and the Next 11 – will be critical:

  • Many of the emerging economies are likely to become increasingly powerful in multilateral fora. Civil society can not only achieve change domestically but also persuade governments to take more progressive positions in international negotiations.
    • Emerging economies’ rising global influence (in 2010 China lent more money to Africa than the World Bank) will be felt in spheres such as regional insecurity and conflict response frameworks, trade, migration, humanitarian assistance and more.
    • Now that poor people mainly live in middle income countries, and aid is rapidly being overtaken by domestic resources from taxation and natural resources, ‘getting to zero’ on absolute poverty will increasingly be determined by national politics, rather than aid. INGOs can support the good guys in those domestic struggles.
    • Being agile, nimble and all that other stuff we talk about in INGOs will depend on our national relationships – they will be needed to tell us when a new coalition of the willing is emerging, and to be able to influence the participating governments. There’s no point in having a great power analysis if no-one will talk to you.

Martin Hall is Oxfam International’s Advocacy and Campaigns Associate, based in our Brussels lobby office

June 25, 2013
Duncan Green