Leaders from eight of the world’s leading industrialized countries meet in Britain Monday and Tuesday for their G8 annual summit on the economy and world affairs.
The leaders will meet at this isolated lakeside resort in Northern Ireland. They will have two days of quality time, far from demonstrations like those in London by self-proclaimed ‘anti-capitalists,’ and far from any protests like this one in January just over 100 kilometers away in Belfast.
It was a reminder that the decades of Protestant-Catholic tensions in Northern Ireland are still not far from the surface. But it’s not the image Britain wants for the summit.
Officials are trying for something more like last year’s event at the U.S. presidential retreat at Camp David. British Prime Minister David Cameron wants the focus on trade, taxation and transparency, and on at least one key international issue - the conflict in Syria.
“We should use the G8 to try and bring pressure on all sides to bring about what we all want in this House: a peace conference, a peace process and a move towards a transitional government in Syria,” Cameron said.
The official U.S. determination that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons will harden Western resolve at the summit. But G8-member Russia will likely continue to oppose any outside move to topple the Syrian regime.
Kadri Liik is a Russia expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “They don’t necessarily agree with western visions for resolving the [Syria] conflict," he said. "But at the same time they don’t have the leverage and power to force their own solution.”
Meanwhile, the G8 efforts to tackle world economic issues will be hindered by not having many key players at the table, notably China and other countries that have gained economic clout since these summits started 38 years ago.
Stephen Pickford of London’s Chatham House used to help plan the summits. “A lot of the issues that they want to tackle are really quite difficult to tackle without the emerging markets being involved," he stated. "Nevertheless, it’s possible for the G8 to show a bit of a leadership role and to try to move things along.”
For the G8, ‘moving things along’ may be more realistic to expect than major breakthroughs.