The awkward class photo will again be taken. A communiqu of earnest aims will be intoned. But don't be fooled. This year's G-8 summit of world leaders in London will have to grapple with an unusually full platter of very serious issues.
Among these, two stand out:
1. A coordinated response to India's nuclear tests, which raise economic, military, and weapons-proliferation concerns.
2. Work on the "transatlantic marketplace" (TM), which would link the US to the expanding European Union (EU) in a virtual economic supercountry. The TM nations would abide by agreed rules not only on trade but on financial services, antitrust and accounting procedures, telecommunications, health, and safety.
Among statesmen who think big, the TM is seen as a model for eventually bringing more reliable rules and structure to the global marketplace. None dare declare it a blueprint for a new world order. That risks suspicion and jingoist fears. But that's what it is.
So, to oversimplify: India's nuclear tests represent a threat to world order; the transatlantic market concept represents a giant experiment in shaping orderly economic rules.
A week ago, no one would have thought to put Indian military ambitions on the agenda. Now, at least informally, the G-8 summiteers (US, Britain, Japan, Germany, France, Canada, and Italy, plus new member Russia) need to discuss joint action.
If they seek to apply sanctions on trade and investment with India, they may widen the impact of Asian economic troubles on the global economy. But if they don't take strong action, they may be seen as paying only lip service to the idea of halting the spread of superweapons (nuclear, biological, and chemical warheads and missiles to deliver them). China, for instance, may be tempted once more to aid Pakistan's race to match India.
India's new Hindu-nationalist-led government has set back a peace process in the Asian subcontinent much as the Netanyahu coalition in Israel undid the Mideast peace progress of the Rabin government. Each is a challenge to the orderly world that both rich nations and wannabe rich developing nations need.
The Big 8 should also quietly discuss how to reshape the International Monetary Fund's role in anticipating and damping economic excesses and collapses. The orderly world implied by the transatlantic marketplace will have difficulty remaining orderly if tectonic lurches like the petro-dollar loan crisis of the '70s, the two Mexico crises of the '80s and '90s, and the still rumbling Asian money collapses of last year continue to pop up.
Most questions have to be answered in IMF discussions. But the Big-8, as suppliers of loan funds (Congress willing, in the US case), should thrash out answers in their own minds. Is it possible to anticipate and prevent economic crises? Should the IMF continue to be a nanny awarding dessert only to those who swallow the spinach of financial discipline?
The eight are engaged in a historic global exploration. It's essentially the opposite of "think globally, act locally." They are trying to find a way to make economic systems that work locally, within the borders of economic and political democracies, do likewise globally. You might call it building London bridges.
India's nuclear tests threaten world order. Transatlantic market plans are a blueprint