G8 Summit: Eight Things to Know About the G8

G8 Logo/iStock PhotoBy Katie Kormann and Nick Miller
The Red Line Project

Posted: Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Although the 38th G8 summit has moved from Chicago to Camp David, one thing hasn’t changed -- it remains a stage for debate of hot-button international issues. 

Its close ties to the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago makes the G8 an important event for those who live in the Windy City, as it focuses on economic, environmental, immigration and other global issues that hit close to home.

So for those following the G8 summit scheduled for May 18-19, here are eight key things to know: 

1. The G8’s History

The G8, or “The Group of Eight” is a forum of nations with eight of the largest economies in the world. The G8 summit is held annually by a rotating calendar of host member countries each year. What started with six member countries as a response to the 1973 oil crisis has grown to a total of eight countries. The first summit met in 1975 in France and has been held each year since.

The heads of each of the eight participating governments attend the annual G8. These heads of state meet in one of the member countries each year to discuss major global issues.

2. The Key Players

The six original member countries, called The G6, first met in 1975. These countries were: United States, Japan, United Kingdom, France and Germany. The following year, Canada was added to the roster and the summit became known as the G7. In 1997, Russia was added to the summit – totaling the current number of countries involved to eight. The European Union is also represented in the G8 but cannot host summits.

3. No, It’s Not in Chicago

The 2012 G8 Summit was originally schedule to take place in Chicago, at McCormick Place, just before the NATO summit. But on March 5, the White House released a statement changing the location to Camp David, a more secure, secluded location.

The official statement from The White House Press Secretary read, “To facilitate a free-flowing discussion with our close G8 partners, the President is inviting his fellow G8 leaders to Camp David on May 18-19 for the G8 Summit, which will address a broad range of economic, political and security issues.”

Mayor Emanuel, who seemed caught off guard by the decision, offered his support for the location change.

In a prepared statement, Emanuel said, “We wish President (Barack) Obama and the other leaders well at the G8 meeting at Camp David and look forward to hosting the NATO summit in Chicago.”

Many in the media speculated that the expectancy of mass violent protests were to blame for the location change.

Professor of history at DePaul University and terrorism expert, Tom Mockaitis, offered another suggestion about why the G8 summit may have been relocated from Chicago. “On the other hand, they may have looked at Chicago and said we’re not confident you can provide the security without it being sufficiently undisruptive of the proceedings,” he said.

4. Location, Location, Location

This is the sixth time the United States has hosted the G8 summit since 1976. President Obama will host his counterparts at Camp David in Catoctin Mountain Park in Frederick County, Maryland. 

"G8 tends to be a more informal setting in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a pretty intimate way, and the thinking was that people would enjoy being in a more casual backdrop," Obama told reporters at the White House as reported by Reuters.

CampDavid, which is formally known as the Naval Support Facility Thurmont, is the standing President’s country home. The camp is located 100 miles from Washington, D.C.

"Somebody pointed out that I hadn't had any of my counterparts, who I've worked with now for three years, up to Camp David ... I think that the weather should be good that time of year," he said.

5. Key Issues and Topics

Typically, the participating countries discuss the war-on-terror, controlling weapons of mass destruction and food security.

At a recent meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the G8 in Washington D.C. the major topics discussed surrounded the volatile international political climate: North Korea’s threat to use ballistic missile technology to launch a satellite into orbit, the ceasefire in Syria and implementation of the Annan peace plan, and the nuclear program in Iran.

Special interest groups also petition the summit to address specific issues. For instance, since one in seven people is affected by hunger, a UK-based organization called Agriculture for Impact – which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – hopes that the G8 countries will make a global commitment to reduce hunger. 

6. The Criticism

Some question the relevancy of the G8. In an op-ed written for Financial Times in 2005, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote: “The problem is that the G8 is increasingly an anachronism. No one today would propose an annual meeting that includes Canada (population of 31m, gross domestic product of $870bn [£485bn]), Italy (58m and $1,200bn) and Russia (144m and $615bn) but not China (1.3bn and $1,650bn) and India (1.1bn and $650bn). The G8 needs to become the G10. Both China and India deserve a seat.”

It’s not just the world’s largest countries that are left out. The group’s exclusive membership may not fully represent the needs of the rest of the world. The group is composed of industrial countries and tends to neglect the needs of their developing counterparts.

An article posted on the Council on Foreign Relations’ website detailing the group of eight industrialized nations, states Daniel Tarullo, professor of law at Georgetown University and former President Clinton’s representative at the G7/G8 summits, argued that the G8 wasn’t formed to decide policies on development.

7. Security Concerns

The President’s personal retreat is in a fairly remote location heavily guarded by the military and Secret Service. It is still expected that many protestors will head to Maryland to attempt to get their message across.

Chicagoans are not in the clear though. Protestors who planned to flock to the city for the combined G8 and NATO summits are still planning to make an appearance.

"Guess what? The protests are going to happen anyway because if (protesters) are upset about G8, they have just as much reason to be upset about NATO," said Andy Thayer, leader of the Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism and the Gay Liberation Network, to The Associated Press.

8. The Economic Benefits

While it may be difficult to determine the full and long-term financial benefits of hosting a major summit, some of the more immediate benefits are clear.

City officials expect a surge in tourism dollars spent at hotels, restaurants, and other local merchants with the wave of visitors who will come to town that weekend. This may even create temporary jobs for local residents as business owners seek additional help that weekend.

The media attention could mean increased tourism in the future. If the summit goes smoothly, that could draw even more interest.

Past host cities of the G8 and G20 summits have reported monetary benefits in the $100 million to $1 billion range.

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