The G20 and G8 summits are useless, expensive and potentially dangerous anachronisms, says Rex.
Read the transcript of this Rex Murphy Episode
May 26, 2010
Summits are useless, expensive, and potentially dangerous anachronisms.
Let's take the Toronto summit. No-one from the general public will be meeting with the world leaders --- summits are not for mingling. No walk-abouts a la the Royals.
Why, then, are they meeting in the middle of Canada's most populous city when the very idea of meeting, interacting with, or making a presentation to - any of the city's population is absolutely impossible? They could meet on the Funks - remote and un-crowded even by Newfoundland standards - and see more people.
Once inside the summit venue the leaders - and their insanely bloated retinues - will be almost antiseptically sealed off from every other bit of Toronto outside their fortified meeting rooms and security-proofed hotels. Effectively, they will come to Toronto, stay behind a shield of impassable security, merely to talk to leaders most of whom they have already met. It makes zero sense.
There's another objection. In older, less cynical days, the leaders of the world enjoyed some genuine prestige. There was a sense that a city was receiving "an honour" when the leaders from other countries visited. Not now. In a world rocked with recession, Europe on the brink, terrorism and the threat of terrorism an always present obbligato, there is not only no thrill to leaders visiting - in some cases there is palpable resentment.
World leaders are neither revered nor even, in most cases, seen as interesting. Why do you think these summits so frequently drag in poor tired old Bono - except to get a little second-hand celebrity sauce for an otherwise very flat meal?
Finally, from Seattle to Quebec City to Toronto next month, who really "owns" these summits? With the leaders invisible under their security blankets, they belong to the protestors. Summits are the high holy days, the carnival of ritual protest and vacuous street theatre. You can't hold a global anything these days, even a joyful event like the Olympics, without the tired kabuki of protest groups jamming the streets, shouting their impenetrable litany of anti-everything, accompanied, of course, by the usual band of black masked pseudo-anarchists allergic to Starbucks and thirsty for the two-day fame a little provocation or a lot of violence can bring them. The leaders own the meetings; the protestors own the cameras.
Finally, I know we're in the age of large numbers, but can anyone seriously rationalize spending close to a billion dollars - a billion - to hold a pair of meetings? And that's just for the security! This one consideration in itself is obscene. It'll only cost a billion dollars for 20 people to meet for a few of days, because of where they meet. Face time, as the ugly phrase has it, is valuable, but it's not worth a billion dollars, nor a fraction of it, in the middle of a recession.
Meet in the White House, or in a resort, or (if space is a consideration) at Al Gore's house - anywhere but in a 21st century downtown of a modern city, where security suffocates the meeting and protestors are given the most expensive magnifying glass the world has even known.
For The National, I'm Rex Murphy.