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As G-20 Summit Closes, A Look At Its History

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As G-20 Summit Closes, A Look At Its History


As G-20 Summit Closes, A Look At Its History

As G-20 Summit Closes, A Look At Its History

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

As this year's G-20 Summit comes to an end, Robert Siegel talks to David Shorr, program officer and foreign policy specialist at the Stanley Foundation, about the summit's history and why it's so difficult for its members to reach a consensus.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block at NPR West in California.


And I'm Robert Siegel in Washington.

The Group of 20 Summit in Mexico wrapped up today. It has produced a communique that mentions progress toward a European banking union and toward greater European economic integration. Those steps are seen as potential remedies for the eurozone crisis. The Group of 20, or G-20, grew out of the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. Its first summit was in Washington in the fall of 2008, an emergency gathering to address the financial crisis that was just engulfing the U.S.

Well, since then, have the G-20 summits done anything to improve the world economy, and what about this summit? Earlier today, I spoke with David Shorr, a foreign policy specialist at the Stanley Foundation. He watches the G-20, and he was at this summit in Baja, California. And I asked David Shorr if we saw a communique pledging work toward global economic growth. Should we assume that anything positive would be done on the basis of that?

DAVID SHORR: Well, the G-20 does have its own agenda, and has been working on some areas, but faces the problem that the major challenge to the global economy right now is regional and specific to Europe. So they had to deal with the urgent threat here but have been slogging along on some of their own issues in the time since that first summit.

SIEGEL: For listeners who can't quite keep track of their G groups here, what is the significance of the G-20? Why do these 20 members meet?

SHORR: When the financial crisis hit in 2008, President Bush knew that he had to convene a summit. It couldn't just be the old Western club of the G-8. Basically, the decision he made was to pull the G-20 that, prior to then, had really only been meeting among finance ministers. So it was reaching for an off the rack group.

SIEGEL: The first G-20 Summit in Washington in November of 2008 was billed by many observers as Bretton Woods II - that was a reference to the 1944 conference that set up the postwar economic order. With hindsight, did it come close to that kind of leadership?

SHORR: No. I think we probably all need to adjust our expectations. In this day and age, it's gotten harder to do Bretton Woods or to do a lot of things. No, it didn't quite live up to the Bretton Woods II billing. On the other hand, the leaders in that crisis moment of 2008-2009 deserve a lot of credit for helping avert an even bigger disaster.

SIEGEL: But the very size of the G-20 - and its composition as opposed to the smaller Group of 8, let's say - is supposed to reflect the new realities of a world economy in which China and Brazil and India are much more important players. Does it make it a group too big to be effective? That is, can you imagine, hypothetically, a U.S.-German-Chinese summit that can actually make bigger decisions about growth and debt more easily than a gathering of all these countries?

SHORR: I suppose. But then again, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a smaller combination of countries that we could reliably say will reach agreement a lot more easily than the bigger group.

SIEGEL: You know, I read a quote from Professor Scheherazade Rehman of George Washington University when she was asked about what she expected from this G-20 Summit. And she said: I think you can expect very little in terms of anything grand or brand new, unless they sit down and reconsider seriously a new world order to tackle the financial crisis. And I doubt that's going to happen.

But why, if say, in the post-war years leaders were able to get together and craft a world economic order? Why are they incapable of doing that today?

SHORR: Oh, I think we see all around us that power and authority isn't concentrated the way that it used to be. There are more stakeholders. There are more spoilers. There are more players. And that simply makes it harder to do most things.

SIEGEL: David Shorr, thank you very much for talking with us.

SHORR: Thank you.

SIEGEL: David Shorr of the Stanley Foundation. He is in Baja, California. He follows G-20 summits, writes about them, and he watched this one up close.

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