The debate has long raged over whether the G20 can move from being a crisis committee to becoming a global steering committee. In the first four G20 summits, which took place in Washington DC in 2008, London and Pittsburgh in 2009, and Toronto in 2010, there was a clear imperative that the G20 would concentrate on the crisis committee component of its duties. Jolted into action by the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., the fallout from the implosion of the U.S. sub-prime market, and the collective dive of global stock markets and confidence, the G20 sought safety through a concert-like approach.
In a marked shift from previous recessions, key countries from all the major regions around the world, not just members of the old western-centric establishment, were invited to be an integral part of this effort. It needs to be said that this process of membership included not only the countries that form BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) but also the MIKTA cluster (Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia).
Given both the speed and intensity of this reaction, however, there was also an expectation that the G20 would shift over time from a crisis committee to a forum with an agenda dealing with a much broader set of issues. This is not to suggest that the spillover effects of the financial crisis should not be a focal point, but even this component shifted emphasis, as witnessed by the focus of the Australian government during the 2014 Brisbane G20 summit on economic growth beyond financial regulatory work. In more recent summits, the G20 has signaled that the change from a crisis committee to a steering committee could be realized. The Seoul Summit in November 2010 took a major step in this direction with the inclusion of sustainable development. France, as the host of the summit in Cannes in 2011, exaggerated this broadening-out tendency, extending the focus to a wide range of topics, including an anti-corruption initiative, food security and a push for a financial transaction tax, just to name a few.
Soon after the Cannes summit, the momentum toward a graduation from being a crisis committee to becoming a steering committee had been stalled. The protracted Eurocrisis was the main reason for the G20’s inability to move on, but there were a number of other reasons as well, including the length of time it has taken to put an updated financial regulatory framework into place.
The ability of the 2015 Antalya G20 summit to deliver a successful result depends on bridging the gap between the function of a crisis committee and a global steering committee. Echoing the 2014 Brisbane summit, the Turkish presidency has indicated its support of ensuring inclusive and robust growth through collective action. The difference is that Turkey has rejigged the priority to place a greater emphasis on the benefits accruing for low-income, developing countries. The fact that this agenda is not entirely new is actually a positive factor as it highlights the like-mindedness among the MIKTA countries. After all, it was Korea that pushed forward with the Seoul Development Consensus in November 2010. Moreover, Mexico advanced an approach that prioritized issues such as youth unemployment at the 2012 Los Cabos summit.
The difficultly of concentrating on this technical-oriented, albeit highly salient, issue is that the delivery of this agenda is only going to be noticed if there are robust movements towards mobilizing the G20 as a global steering committee. As noted in an article written by the MIKTA foreign ministers in November 2014 and published in the Daily Sabah, there could be several scenarios in terms of prioritization. One is the promotion of post-2015 development cooperation, with particular respect to infrastructure upgrading. Another is a focus on health governance, and yet another is an emphasis on disaster risk management and humanitarian assistance.
In terms of MIKTA dynamics, disaster risk management and humanitarian assistance appears to be the most attractive of these choices in terms of comparative advantage. All the MIKTA countries have experience in this functional arena. For example, Turkey mobilised impressive relief efforts in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013.
Still, as with the creation of the G20 at the leaders’ level in 2008, shocks on the ground caused the Turkish government to move in another direction. Since the 2014 Brisbane Summit, Turkey has signalled its intention of giving considerable attention to the Syrian refugee crisis.
If the G20 is going to embed itself as the premier go-to forum, it must address the major problems before the global community. Otherwise, the G20 should revert to a forum of financial ministers and central bankers, as it was before 2008.
When the G20 was put into place, the reference was to an updated concert of powers, but if credibility is to be retained by the summit, and such credibility will be sought in the November Antalya G20 summit, it must be a problem-solving focal group for the ambit of 21st century problems. The Syrian refugee issue certainly fits this criteria.
Although this would be a decisive break from the general culture of the G20, such a transition has built-in logic. Confirmation of the G20's indispensability in terms of global governance will only come by dealing with a range of issue areas. Indeed the skillset of most leaders attending the Antalya G20 summit are more in sync with a wider, rather than a deeper, technical-oriented agenda. And, most significantly, the demand for key leaders to do something – and to be seen as doing something – is no longer just in regards to crises pertaining to the legacy of the global financial crisis.
This article was firstly published in Analist Monthly Journal's November issue in Turkish language.
Andrew F. Cooper is a professor in the Department of Political Science and the Balsillie School of International Affairs as well as the Director of the Centre for the Study on Rapid Global Change at the University of Waterloo. Among the books he has authored is Group of Twenty and among those he has edited or co-edited is the Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy. His article “MIKTA and the Global Projection of Middle Powers: Toward a Summit of Their Own” was recently published in Global Summitry.