Friday, July 14, 2006

G-8 Briefing

The National Interest held a briefing on the issues facing the G-8 on-site in St. Petersburg.

Here is my summary:

Dimitri K. Simes opened the session by noting that the summit should focus on fundamental issues of national security, especially when the current “picture around the world is not very pretty”, referring to the Iranian and North Korean nuclear crises as well as the threat of a major conflagration in the Middle East. He observed that this meeting could prove crucial in putting a troubled U.S.-Russia partnership back on track.

Robin West pointed out that there is no common definition of what constitutes “energy security” among the G-8 members. The American preference is to define energy security as ensuring a reliable supply of oil (and thus gasoline) at reasonable costs in an environmentally responsible fashion—but if that is the case, then we are entering an era of energy insecurity, where energy is both more expensive and more unreliable.

How Russia manages its energy resources is its business—but Russia does have an obligation as a G-8 member to do so in a responsible and efficient manner. The test before state-owned companies is whether they can do this—to open new reserves in the Arctic and Eastern Siberia—and to accept partnership with the international oil and gas firms in the process.

West warned that just as Russia’s G-8 presidency started on the note of crisis with Ukraine, trouble may be brewing on the horizon: Ukraine is already having trouble paying for its gas imports under the current arrangement and has little gas stored; a cold winter could cause Ukraine to again tap Russian gas in transit to Europe and create a new perception of “energy insecurity.”

Graham Allison reminded everyone present why a nuclear terrorist incident should be at the top of the security agenda; a single device is capable of killing millions. The risks of nuclear terrorism could be shrunk to near zero but this requires a full commitment to secure all loose nuclear weapons and materials, to ensure that there are no new nascent nuclear states capable of enriching uranium, to prevent the emergence of new nuclear weapons states, and to revitalize the nonproliferation regime. Overall, the G-8 has a poor grade. North Korea remains on track to emerge as a new nuclear weapons state while Iran continues to test boundaries with regard to enrichment. The G-8 meeting last year in Gleneagles said, “We call on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program” but what appears to be happening is that two relatively weak but determined states are moving ahead with their nuclear programs despite the stated opposition of the world’s leading powers.

Allison did see a ray of light in the proposed U.S.-Russia civil nuclear deal, which offers the opportunity to accelerate practical U.S.-Russia cooperation, especially in joint projects and research. As Nikolas Gvosdev, the editor of The National Interest, noted, this could help to make the proposals advanced in the magazine by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft for a new international regime to control all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle a reality.

Gvosdev noted that while it is not a G-8 summit item, the complex relationship between Russia and its neighbors, notably Ukraine, has cast its shadow over the Petersburg summit. The G-8, he feels, is not likely to address the core problem in the Russian relationships with its “near abroad” as well as with Europe more generally; that a process is in place which is encouraging greater economic interdependence, particularly in the field of energy, without a corresponding political process of integration that can help to mediate conflicts. In fact, many of Russia’s neighbors hope to balance political ties with the West as a way to offset continued economic dependence on Russia, which can help to exacerbate tensions.

Alexey Pushkov noted that Russia should be in the G-8, but not on the grounds of its level of democracy or economic development. Rather, Russia “fits” in the G-8 because of its geopolitical position, because the major strategic problems that beset the world, especially in Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea, cannot be solved without active Russian participation (necessitating a Russian seat at the table) and because the Russian economy, while it is not at the level of France or the UK, is nonetheless poised to become the world’s energy superpower. Russia needs to be taking part in these deliberations for practical reasons.

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