The G8 Summit Versus the NATO Summit: Which Is More Awesome?

In the day since Chicago got the G8 swept out from under us, there has been much lamentation about how the Second City just can’t catch a break. But the NATO summit is the one the cool kids actually enjoy. And anyway, not everyone can be Kananaskis (or Heiligendamm).



See update below.

Second City Syndrome: It’s terminal.

Greg Hinz:

And all the spin about Chicago still getting the playoffs, the NATO summit, doesn’t disguise the fact that the Super Bowl now will be someplace else, but we’ll still have to clean up after the crowds.


“We ain’t cutting it in the pursuit-of-greatness game,” says a veteran top Chicago civic player who asks not to be named. “That this came from ‘our own’ White House makes it all the colder.”


Either way, it’s clear that the Second City has yet to find its way.

Steve Rhodes:

I’m really disappointed that our big moment on the stage has been reduced to an Off-Broadway workshop while the marquee production heads elsewhere.

I’m a bit confused; apparently in the day since Chicago lost the G8 summit, it’s become a combination of the World Series, Cats, and the Trilateral Commission. (Which would actually be awesome.)

Everybody chill. Here’s a list of cities that have hosted the past ten NATO summits:

Lisbon; Strasbourg-Kehl; Bucharest; Riga; Brussels; Istanbul; Prague; Rome; D.C.; Madrid

And the past ten G8 summits:

Deauville (France); Huntsville (Ontario, Canada); L’Aquila (Italy); Toyako (Japan); Heiligendamm (Germany); St. Petersburg; Gleneagles (Scotland); Sea Island (Georgia, USA); Évian-les-Baines (France); Kananaskis (Alberta, Canada)

Parenthesis helpfully provided in case you had no idea where any of those quaint little places are. Hint: all but two are rich-people vacation spots, the better to conduct plutocracy in. One exception is St. Petersburg, but the summit was actually held in a palace outside the city. The second is L’Aquila, population around 100,000, where the summit was moved so that Berlusconi could show the earthquake-ridden town in central Italy some support. It was moved from La Maddalena on Sardinia which is… wait for it… a resort town famous for its beaches. Is it too late to hold the G8 summit in Door County?

Let’s take a look at some other metrics:

Number of Countries: NATO Then again, maybe it’s not as cool, since countries like Luxembourg get to come. (“Oh, you run Estonia, you say… I believe your table will be ready in an hour or two… how would you feel about something near the kitchen?")

Number of Delegates: NATO, from what I can tell. It’s hard to find estimates, but Canada had estimates of 2,500 delegates in 2010 for the G8, and Bucharest had an estimated 3,000 delegates in 2009 for NATO.

Actually does things: NATO People pick on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but it has troops, and has been conducting military operations for the past 20 years. No one’s really sure what the G8 is actually good for. If I’m contractually obligated to provide a sports metaphor for the G8 summit, I’d replace “Super Bowl” above with “BCS.”

Has better acronym: Push. OK, fine, the G8. But the French acronym for NATO, OTAN, clearly wins. OTAN!

I will grant that I don’t follow geopolitics all that closely (I follow their metaphor, sports, much closer). But I can’t for the life of me figure out how the NATO summit is some sort of chintzy consolation prize compared to the G8. The usual just seems to have happened: the former’s going to be in a big city, the latter’s going to be in a pretty place that’s historically welcoming to the powerful. If it’s a SNAFU, the emphasis is on the SN.

Update: In comments, Steve Rhodes says that I took his argument out of context. He’s got a point, and I should have gone into it more initially. It’s a compelling argument, and deserves more attention:

The Occupy movement may still hold its Chicago Spring, but it won’t be the same. The fact that the world’s leaders must hold a meeting in isolation far away from the people they govern - and whose lives they their economic power rules over - is poignant to say the least. I would have preferred it otherwise at this particular moment in time, so a moment could have been had. A moment that might have lasted a month, and whose impact might have lasted far beyond that.

It reflects some mixed feelings I’ve heard about the decision to move the G8; initial reactions of victory gave way to frustration that it’s really just a reversion to business as usual (i.e. the summit being moved from the center of a city, where it hasn’t been held since the Genoa mess, to yet another enclave). As Rhodes puts it, “Getting the meeting moved to a secluded spot - if that’s what the protesters did - hardly seems like a preferable outcome to me. No one is happier today than the G8 ministers, don’t you think?” But this I’m still not sure about:

Instead we get NATO, still a target as the military arm of the G8’s agenda, but not the G8. If only they had taken NATO from us instead. But they knew better.

On one hand, you could argue that the G8 is a better target because it represents, broadly speaking, the political agendas of the big industrialized democracies, which, even as they make up a decreasing percentage of world GDP, still share amongst them the advanced financial systems (and austerity policies) that are the target of Occupy. Representing what it does, it makes a good hook to hang a protest on.

On the other, the G8’s agenda, such as it is, is so broad as to be virtually meaningless. And Occupy’s success has come from its relevance to everyday concerns: debt, health costs and care, the social safety net. Protesting the G8 itself seems more like swatting at vapors. (Some of the G8 member states, after all, have domestic policies that would seem preferable to Occupy, like Canada’s health care or Germany’s industrial and collective-barganing policies.)

This, I guess, is the common thread I’m trying to get at. Hinz’s anonymous civic player thinks “we ain’t cutting it in the pursuit-of-greatness game,” but hosting the G8 summit has never been on the checklist for global cities; as mentioned, it’s more a marker of rich backwaters. Rhodes is frustrated because it takes the wind out of the Chicago Spring, but I can’t help but think the G8 would have been tangential to Occupy. If it’s austerity policies that people want to protest, there’s plenty going around, not just on the national level, but throughout the Midwest. What’s going on in Wisconsin, for example, seems vastly more relevant to our near-term future than anything that’ll come up at the G8, which seems like the kind of plutocracy we want: small, vague, and kind of feckless.


Photograph: Davebot (CC by 2.0)



2 years ago
Posted by SteveRhodes

You're totally misreading and taking my sentiment out of context, and to compare my view with Greg Hinz's is pure rubbish. By "our moment," I'm talking about the Occupy moment of a grand confrontation, not the city's moment on the "global stage." I could give a fuck about "global city" aspirations, and you know it. I've written from the start that, like the Olympics, the notion that somehow *this* will make us a global city is yet another absurdity taken from a familiar playbook elites use to "sell" their costly events to the public. Each is never enough, though; there's always *one more* we need. I also state in the same column you quote from that it was folly from the government's perspective to site both NATO and G8 in the same city - especially in the Occupy environment. My disappointment about being left with an Off-Broadway production, as it were, instead of the marquee event refers to the fact that protesting NATO is hardly the equal of G-8, indeed the big event. So you've got me exactly backwards. (And by the way, there actually is a big difference between a NATO summit and G-8. Duh. It's the economic summit that has always been the focus of protest, not the Western foreign policy coalition summit.)

2 years ago
Posted by wmoser

"My disappointment about being left with an Off-Broadway production, as it were, instead of the marquee event refers to the fact that protesting NATO is hardly the equal of G-8, indeed the big event."

This is my problem: the G8 is significant because it's perceived as a protest magnet, not because it matters or does anything. It's not even really an economic summit; it's kind of a catch-all breakout session for a handful of Western democracies to talk about everything from foreign aid to sharing information about pedophiles.

I guess it's as good an excuse to protest as any, and that the G8 is not really the target of the protests; it's more of a vague metaphor for the target of the protests.

Whether or not that matters is another question. My opinion is that the success of Occupy is that it actually targets a tangible problem where it originates, and directing it towards an useless appendage like the G8 is a distraction at best and watering down the protest at worst.

As to taking you out of context: fair enough point. I'll update or write a new post shortly.

2 years ago
Posted by SteveRhodes

Thanks for the update. The only other thing I'll say is that the G8 summit became the focal point for Occupy regardless of the actual G8 agenda - which supposedly hasn't even been set yet - and that's because holding G8 and NATO in a large city (and in Chicago in particular, for all kinds of reasons) offered a rare platform with, yes, the whole world watching. Protesting in Wisconsin or locally will continue but this was a chance for a global movement to show its strength (or not). And I don't think the success of Occupy is because of local issues; to the contrary, Occupy has "chapters" worldwide in cities, suburbs and towns big and small because the central grievance that Wall Street's greed (and criminality) destroyed world economies and they got bailed out while everyone else is left with the devastating aftermath is universal. How to translate that into local action is, in fact, the trickiest part of the movement when so much of the action is with agencies like the SEC and national austerity programs. But that's all up for debate. Mostly I wanted to clear up my position and what I meant when I wrote what I did, and I think you're update does that.

Submit your comment