The Irish in U.S. altruism
By PAUL KNOX, Globe and Mail Update
You can talk, if you want, about new partnerships and stripped-down agendas and unilateralism versus multilateralism. But perhaps an easier way to look at the Group of Eight summit at Kananaskis, Alta., is to simply ask the question: How big is Bono?
The Irish rock star, lead singer for the band U2, appears to be having as strong an impact on world affairs as your average elected leader. Seasoned observers of global summitry say one of the most important questions at Kananaskis is how strong Bono's impact has been on the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.
The key person there is Mr. Bush's Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill. A former corporate executive, Mr. O'Neill isn't exactly known as a friend of the world's downtrodden. "You can only go so far with tears," he said in a speech earlier this year.
But then he invited Bono to spend two weeks in May travelling around Africa. Who knows why? Reflected glory, maybe. At any rate, they visited the sick, the needy and the struggling. Bono bent his companion's ear about the virtues of foreign aid, debt relief and a focus on AIDS, and called him "not just a suit and tie he has a heart and a head." (Earlier he convinced crusty Republican Senator Jesse Helms to back an emergency legislative initiative on AIDS.)
A well-connected friend in Washington tells me Mr. O'Neill "still has his head in the clouds," three weeks after the Africa visit. Now the question is: How warmly will the United States embrace the recovery plan put forward by African leaders, and how attentive will the other G8 leaders be to Mr. Bush's own agenda in return?
The U.S. President appears to realize there are potential rewards in being visibly nice to the world's poorest continent. This is a U.S. congressional election year, and majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives are razor-thin. Mr. Bush announced this week a $500-million (U.S.) contribution to AIDS relief and $100-million to aid education in Africa, and there may be more largesse in store.
But he isn't coming to Kananaskis with pure altruism in mind.
He'll sign on to an "action plan" for Africa at the summit's end, but check in a year or so and see where any new U.S. aid money has been directed. My guess is that a lot of it will go to countries deemed sufficiently attentive to U.S. interests. Criteria could well include willingness to allow U.S. companies access to local markets, as well as co-operation on counter-terrorism.
If Mr. Bush is in a good mood when the leaders discuss Africa on Thursday, it may be because he makes headway the day before on his own hard issues.
The biggest is counter-terrorism. The other G8 leaders are alarmed by Mr. Bush's appetite for pre-emptive strikes against so-called rogue states. This is his chance to defend it, and explain why he has ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to undertake covert action aimed at toppling Iraqi Preisdent Saddam Hussein.
Violence in the Middle East will be another theme. Four leaders will arrive in Kananaskis fresh from a European Union summit at which they're expected to call for an international peace conference. By Wednesday, Mr. Bush may have given a much-anticipated speech outlining his proposal for a Palestinian state. If he does, expect a lot of attention to be paid to the Europeans' reaction.
Finally, Mr. Bush will seek support for what's known as the "10 plus 10 over 10" proposal. This is aimed at putting Russia's Cold War-era stockpiles of nuclear material and biological and chemical weapons out of reach of terrorists and organized crime.
The plan would see the United States spend $10-billion (U.S.) over 10 years, matched by $10-billion from Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Japan. (Canada's share could be as much as $1-billion.) Among other things, the money would pay for dismantling nuclear submarines and plutonium-producing plants, as well as improving accounting and export control systems.
Hard money for a nuclear cleanup and soft promises for Africa? Bono would not be amused. The leaders will be keenly watched for the balance they strike.
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