The G8 Agenda: Mideast Push

Mideast upheaval was a top issue at the G8, which is winding down today in France, along with nuclear safety, leadership of the IMF, and aid to Africa. This Backgrounder profiles the eight participants and their priorities.

May 25, 2011 3:02 pm (EST)

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France --which currently holds the rotating presidency for the Group of Eight and the G20--is hosting the annual G8 summit in the resort town of Deauville May 26 and 27. The meeting is slated to feature a general lineup of issues including the global economy; political and security issues such as drug trafficking and terrorism, exiting from Afghanistan, and Iran’s nuclear program; and Internet governance. A significant agenda item will be nuclear energy safety in the aftermath of March 11Japanese earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima nuclear plant.

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A summit priority will be two sessions on the Arab Spring events in North Africa and the Middle East with the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and the heads of the Arab League, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank. Other G8 sessions will be devoted to African economic and social development. There are also likely to be sideline discussions about candidates for the next head of the IMF, a vacancy created after Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest and resignation.

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Following are some of the key concerns of the individual G8 members heading into the summit.

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United States

United StatesIn a major Middle East speech May 19, Obama pledged to forgive $1 billion in Egyptian debt and supply another $1 billion in loan guarantees for Egypt and Tunisia. He also supports new investment across the region, including billions in aid from institutions like the World Bank, and is expected to outline a plan for reforming the Middle East at the summit. He also may meet on the sidelines with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to discuss a planned U.S. missile shield in Europe. Because of challenges in Congress, Obama is unable to provide Russia with the "binding guarantees" it seeks that the missile shield would not be use against them, Brookings Institution’s Steven Pifer notes. However, he argues that Obama can offer political guarantees and greater cooperation, such as "a jointly manned early warning center." Obama is already threatening to veto a bill (AP) that would attempt to limit the administration’s implementation of the strategic arms agreement with Russia. Obama also is expected to meet bilaterally with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan to talk about nuclear safety and with German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the eurozone crisis.


FranceIn the wake of the May 14 arrest of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a chief political rival of President Nicolas Sarkozy, the summit could provide Sarkozy a chance to earn much needed political points (AFP). The Economist noted in February Sarkozy had hoped to use the G8 and G20 summit "as a perch to reassert French influence in the world. But the wave of revolution spreading through the Arab world has caught France unprepared, exposed its complicity in the region and weakened its voice." Sarkozy is expected to tout the country’s military involvement in helping rebels in Libya overthrow Muammar al-Qaddafi and to back monetary aid (AHN) to Arab Spring economies via the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Also on France’s agenda are international governance (WSJ) of the Internet, intellectual property issues, and taxing multinational Internet companies (Bloomberg). Paris also is expected to defend nuclear power, a major French industry domestically and internationally.


RussiaPresident Medvedev will meet with President Obama on the summit sidelines to discuss a dispute over a planned U.S. missile shield for Europe, which Russia warns could start a new arms race. "If we do not agree, what we will get is Europe in the early 1980s," Medvedev has said (Reuters). Moscow is looking for binding guarantees (NTI) from the United States and NATO that the missile defense will not target Russia and would like to see greater cooperation on missile defense, including having a say the shield’s construction and operation. Some Russia experts say the country will be a dissenting voice (AFP) on more aggressive actions to support pro-democracy movements in the Middle East. Russia abstained from the UN Security Council vote backing a no-fly zone for Libya and has opposed any intervention against Syria--an ally (TurkishWeekly). Some reports suggest G8 leaders will try to persuade Russia not to veto a UN resolution on Syria. Medvedev argues NATO has overstepped the UN Libya mandate (VoiceofRussia), and may propose a ceasefire or peacekeeping plan. Moscow, which is looking for a mediation role (MoscowTimes), has hosted envoys from the Libyan government and rebels. A major exporter of nuclear technology, Russia also is expected to lay out its plan for a binding international nuclear safety regime, which could include an agreement that governments should take over emergency response (NYT) of major nuclear accidents.


GermanyIn March, the country blocked G8 discussions (Guardian) for a Libyan no-fly zone and later abstained from the UN vote on Resolution 1973 approving military action. Germany said economic reforms should accompany political reforms (DeutschePresse) in Arab Spring countries and is advocating for those countries to have more access to European markets and to the EBRD--though it is unlikely any specific pledges will be made at the summit. CFR’s Charles Kupchan says Germany’s vote on Libya represents considerable discontent politically."The core of the problem is that the German electorate is very uncomfortable with the bailouts for Greece, Portugal, and Ireland, which has caused a broader discontent about European integration as a whole," he says. Chancellor Merkel has come out strongly for another European IMF head to replace Strauss Kahn, largely reflecting her concern over the eurozone (derSpiegel). Germany also will likely use the forum to discuss the phase-out of its nuclear program--a decision made shortly after the March Fukushima crisis. The phase-out has been criticized by the International Energy Agency for potentially causing an increase in energy prices across Europe (UPI) because it will increase demand for energy sources like coal and natural gas.


JapanPrime Minister Kan is expected to use the summit to reassure other members that it has the nuclear problem well in hand (BusinessRecorder). The country has faced international criticism for its handling of the Fukushima crisis, which led to new safety evaluations at nuclear facilities around the world. Despite over two months of efforts, the situation at the plant remains dire (TIME), with at least three of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors believed to have melted down. Japan had hoped to grow its nuclear program (NYT) in the next two decades, but the crisis has upended those plans. Instead Tokyo has said it will refocus long-term plans toward more renewable energy. At the summit, Kan is expected to tout its new energy policy (DeutschePresse), which includes plans for construction of large-scale offshore wind farms, the full-scale introduction of next-generation biomass fuels in the 2020s, and significantly reducing the costs of solar panels (NHK). Kan also may meet with Merkel on the summit’s sidelines to discuss a new bilateral trade agreement.


CanadaPrime Minister Stephen Harper is expected warn against excessive government borrowing (TorontoSun), encourage leaders to keep 2010 G20 promises to halve their deficits by 2013, and start working toward balanced budgets. "Canada has plenty of skin in the game," the country’s Globe and Mail notes. "It’s among several Group of Eight countries now at war in Libya; it has experienced firsthand the kind of cyberattacks this week’s Internet summit will try to tackle; and at a seminar on the social impacts of globalization, Canada will get the chance to tout its own recessionary recovery plan." Harper also is expected to discuss securing funds for the Muskoka Initiative, a $7.2 billion five-year maternal, newborn, and child health plan he launched at the 2010 G8 meeting. Canada says it is "working in close concert with the international community" to respond to Arab uprisings and hopes to "bring an important voice to the table" (PDF). Harper’s government is considering sanctions against Syria, a step already taken by the United States and the EU.


BritainBritish Prime Minister David Cameron met with President Obama in London on May 25 ahead of the G8 meeting to discuss issues including withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, and the Arab Spring (Telegraph). British Foreign Minister William Hague said ahead of the Obama-Cameron meeting that "Britain is committed to working with the United States to increase pressure on the [Syrian] regime, including at the United Nations." Hague also said Britain would work with the United States at the G8 on support for Arab democracy, and that Britain would use the G8 to propose a plan to coordinate on financial assistance (Mirror) to the region. British defense officials are pushing for an escalation (Guardian) in the Libya conflict to oust Qaddafi. Hague has agreed an intensified campaign (DailyStar) is needed, but has not endorsed sending in attack helicopters.


ItalyItaly’s mounting economic problems (FinancialPost) may not play prominently in this year’s G8 meeting as leaders devote considerable attention to the Arab Spring. The credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s outlook from stable to negative last week. However, a Financial Times editorial notes that the country deserves credit "for the steady course it has charted through the financial sector and sovereign debt crises of the past three years." Still, it is unclear how much clout Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi brings to the G8 table. He is mired in corruption and sex scandals as well as political problems (IOL) over his decision to join the coalition against Qaddafi.

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