Replacing the G-7, Not Enlarging It, is a Historic Shift toward Global Inclusion

President Obama’s announcement today that the G-20 Summit will “permanently replace” the G-7 is a historic event. The G-20 communique today reportedly will state: “We designate the G-20 to be the premier forum for our international economic cooperation.”

What this means is that the G-7 finance minister forum will be replaced by the G-20 leaders summit. The next G-20 summits will be in Korea as chair of the G20 next spring and Canada as chair of the G-8 next June. The G-8 Summit will still meet on international security and foreign policy issues but its status as the global steering committee for global issues will be superseded now by the G-20. International economic cooperation was the founding keystone of the G-7 Summits in 1975 by Helmut Schmidt and Valery Giscard D’Estaing, heads of state who had both been finance ministers.

The ascendence of the G20 is a major turning point in the form, style and function of global leadership, shifting the focus from the G7 which represents the West and a minority of less than one billion people to the G20 which includes ten non-Western, emerging nations which represent the global majority.

The president obviously consulted all the G20 leaders before announcing this today, not least because French president, Nicolas Sarkozy only a few weeks ago announced that when it would be his turn to host the G-8 in 2011, he would convene a permanent forum at G-14, a G-8 plus 5 plus 1. That would have excluded the three Muslim nations in the G-20—Indonesia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia— as well as removed Australia and Korea, all valuable, weighty contributors to meeting global challenges.

The president is acting on his own strong perception that no nation can address global challenges alone and implicitly is recognizing that the West can not presume dominance in a world of rising non-Western powers like China, India, and Brazil. These rising super-powers themselves want other non-Western nations at the global table, not just be included informally, as they have been for some time, in the G-7/8 summits.

This is a symbolic act of inclusion of immense importance to international politics. It establishes a new framework for international economic cooperation, multilateral decision making, and global coordination. As a result, it is a step toward greater effectiveness in global leadership by filling the void created by the pretense of the G-7/8 being a global forum when it was really only a forum of Western nations.

There is tremendous significance to the history being made today that this decision does not enlarge the G-7 but replaces it. No one calls the G20, the G8 plus 12 ! The G-20 Summit rests on a history of ten years of interactions by finance ministers, central bank governors and deputies that has occurred since the Asia financial crisis in 1998. This dialogue already has grown to include foreign ministries and other senior officials from G-20 countries who will now engage with each other to take concerted and coordinated actions to move the world forward on the crucial global agenda.

The new global leadership manifested by the G-20 is a fresh start for addressing the challenges of the 21st century by a group of countries that are broadly representative of the world, which can devise ways to include still more diverse country perspectives in its deliberations, and which as a result can be effective in guiding and steering the international community toward cooperative outcomes which are in the interest of all people.