The List

Mean Groups

As world leaders depart Pittsburgh, Foreign Policy explains how the G-20 came about and how the G-8 became obsolete.

So much for the G-8.

At the Pittsburgh G-20 summit, most discussion focused on trenchant issues such as the global financial recovery, climate change, and revelations about Iran's nuclear program. But still, U.S. President Barack Obama made headlines by announcing the consortium of the world's 19 biggest trade economies plus the European Union will supplant the more selective G-8, as the global go-to group on international economic issues.

Emerging-world powerhouses China, India, and Brazil applauded the decision. But the announcement also demonstrated that chatter about which countries are and aren't included in a given summit --  which countries participate and which countries can only "observe" -- often has too prominent a role in the summit itself.

Indeed, Obama's warm, wide arms can't hide a brutal social truth. The 36-year history of the Gs -- starting with the "Library Group," and ending, for now, with the G-20 -- is the story of global economic and financial policy. But it's also the story of vicious Mean Girls-type exclusion for any country whose trade volumes, GDP growth, and politicking can't hack it.

Here is how the in-crowd has evolved.

George Shultz testifying at a hearing.

Mario Tama/AFP/Getty Images

1973: In the wake of the oil crisis and devaluation of the dollar, U.S. Treasury Secretary George Shultz invites finance ministers from Britain, Japan, France, and West Germany to Washington to discuss policies on international trade and economics. This secretive "Library Group" continues to meet periodically.

From left to right, German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, U.S. President Gerald Ford, and France's Valery Giscard d'Estaing meet in Helsinki in the summer of 1975, shortly before the creation of the G-6.

AFP/Getty Images

1975: In November, French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing hosts the finance ministers of the "Library Group," plus Italy, in a castle outside Paris. A French statement diplomatically reports that the countries "consider it their duty to consult among themselves to assure a sustained growth rate for their own economies, and, in cooperation with other countries, greater world prosperity."

But already, other countries are feeling left out of the closed-door talks on topics such as inflation and trade. World Affairs notes, "Although Canada was not mentioned in the announcement, U.S. officials said it was also expected to attend." (It did, though just as an observer.) This November meeting establishes the G-6. The countries agree to meet with developing countries in December.

Alan Greenspan holding his head during congressional testimony. 

J.DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images

1976: Alan Greenspan, then the chair of U.S. President Gerald Ford's Council of Economic Advisers, suggests another economic summit of the G-6 countries. The meeting is held in Puerto Rico during the run-up to the Ford-Carter presidential contest.

Latecomer Canada knocks at the door again and officially joins the group, which becomes the G-7. But the original G-5 finance ministers continue to meet without anyone else. And, in 1977, The Economist suggests opening the summits up to more middle-income and developing countries, with the headline, "A summit for only seven?"

 James Baker stands with former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.

Bob Pearson/AFP/Getty Images

1985: Despite the growing of the G-5 to the G-7, and the increasing frequency of calls to expand the group, the original members continue to meet alone.

This year, after heated discussions at New York City's famed Plaza Hotel, U.S. Treasury Secretary James Baker convinces the other G-5 finance ministers to help him in depreciating the dollar. This "Plaza Accord" is hailed as one of the most important international agreements to emerge from the high-level economic summits. The Washington Post describes it as an "unprecedented display of international harmony."

The G-5 also bands together to help stop the burgeoning developing-world debt crisis. Three weeks after the meeting, Baker announces a $29 billion loan plan.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

1987: Over the course of 1986, the G-5 finance ministers repeatedly discuss in private the sustained economic turbulence due to the declining value of the dollar. This angers Italy enough to make its trade minister boycott the official G-7 summit in February 1987. (Apparently Canada didn't mind as much.)

The cabinet-level ministers meet in Paris to debate and eventually sign the "Louvre Accord" -- after the building which houses the museum and, at the time, the French Finance Ministry. It puts in place measures to stop stabilize the value of the dollar.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, U.S. President Bill Clinton, French President Jacques Chirac, and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien meet in 1997.

Tim Brakemeier / AFP/ Getty Images

1994: Russia, which had been one of the "observer nations" to the various G-groups' summits, participates in a meeting of the G-7 in Naples, Italy. This consortium is, somewhat awkwardly, called the G-7+1.  

Russia had gone through a highly rocky transition from a planned to a free-market economy, with a plunge in economic well-being and hyperinflation. Still, the former Soviet outsider promised to become a central player in Europe, given its ample commodity reserves. Thus, in 1998, in Birmingham, England, the G-7 agreed to let Russia in, and the G-8 was officially born.

Members of the dwindling G-22 meet in 2003.

Ali Burafi/AFP/Getty Images

1999: At a 1997 summit in Vancouver, U.S. President Bill Clinton creates the "Willard Group" (also known as the G-22) -- the G-8, plus 14 developing countries.

Summit fever leads, in 1999, to the creation of the G-33: a working group of the G-22 plus even more developing nations. But it has a short life. G-8 ministers scotch the whole-world approach and create the G-20, which meets for the first time in Berlin in March. The group attempts to deal with the collapse of the Asian market and ensuing economic crisis in Russia. The European Union, independent of its constituent countries, also wins a spot at the table.

In the coming years, the G-20 continues to meet with regularity to discuss economic issues. (The G-8 does as well.) Member-nations come and go -- but the group sticks with the moniker "G-20" to avoid confusion.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, left, stands before a screen reading "L'Aquila and all the rest" earlier this year.

Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

Recent years: G-8 and G-20 memberships remain politicized -- and gossipy.

In 2008, U.S. Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman call on the United States and other G-8 countries to expel Russia as punishment for its military incursion into Georgia. Lieberman, an independent on the Senate Armed Services Committee, says, "We're not going to let Russia, so soon after the Iron Curtain fell, to again draw a dividing line across Europe. It is simply unacceptable."

A year later, shortly before the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, ministers from several countries reportedly call for the suspension of, well, the host country. The United States had taken over the "Sherpa calls," the telephone meetings before the summit, and determined that the main topic of discussion would be aid to poor countries. One unnamed official told The Guardian, "[This] is just unprecedented. [The U.S. calls are] a nuclear option. The Italians have been just awful. There have been no processes and no planning."

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The List

The Top 10 Craziest Things Ever Said During a U.N. Speech

History is rich with memorable orations delivered by the world's leaders as nations convene to discuss the critical issues of the day. From the impassioned to the provocative to the truly bizarre, here are  the 10 most unforgettable remarks to come out of the United Nations general assembly speeches in the last sixty years. 

Indian Diplomat Filibusters Himself to (near) Death

Year: 1957

Quote: "The Security Council regards this as a dispute. It is not a dispute for territory. There is only one problem before you ... that problem is the problem of aggression."

Impact: With this epic filibuster during a debate on Kashmir, Indian U.N. envoy Krishna Menon holds the record for the longest speech in the history of the U.N. Security Council. In total it lasted over eight hours. Menon actually collapsed from exhaustion partway through and had to be hospitalized. He returned later and continued for another hour while a doctor monitored his blood pressure.

Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Castro Goes Long

Year: 1960

Quote: ''Were Kennedy not a millionaire, illiterate, and ignorant, then he would obviously understand that you cannot revolt against the peasants.''

Impact: He's not quite in Menon's league, but Cuban President Fidel Castro's  debut speech at the U.N. clocked in at four and a half hours, the longest ever in the General Assembly. Castro's first visit to the United States in 1959 had been a bit friendlier, but by 1960 he was firmly in the Soviet Camp and used his speech to blast U.S. imperialism and insult John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the U.S. presidential candidates at the time. Castro provided another bizarre memory from that year's assembly by keeping live chickens in his hotel room.


Krushchev Puts His Foot Down

Year: 1960

Quote: "Mr. President, call that toady of American imperialism to order."

Impact: Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev provided one of the cold war's most iconic moments when, in an attempt to silence a Filipino delegate who was railing against Soviet imperialism, he issued the above epithet, removed his shoe, and began banging it on the table. The gesture has become a classic example of overheated rhetoric, but it shouldn't have been all that surprising coming from the man who coined the phrase, "we will bury you."

Lodge Spies a Bug

Year: 1960

Quote: "It so happens that I have here today a concrete example of Soviet espionage so that you can see for yourself."

Impact: Colin Powell famously used a vial of "anthrax" while trying in vain to win Security Council support for military action in Iraq, but there are times when props have been used a bit more effectively. During a debate over the shooting down of an American U-2 spy plane over Soviet territory, U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge decided to go on the offensive. He took out a wooden seal that had been presented to the U.S. embassy in Moscow by the Soviet-American Friendship Society and then proceeded to extract a tiny microphone out of the eagle's beak with a pair of tweezers. The Soviet resolution condemning the U.S. spy flights was defeated.

Arafat Preps for Battle

Year: 1974

Quote: "An old world order is crumbling before our eyes, as imperialism, colonialism, neocolonialism, and racism, whose chief form is Zionism, ineluctably perish."

Impact: The Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman was invited to address the General Assembly for the first time at the request of the non-aligned movement, a coalition of developing countries that has been historically critical of Israel in the U.N., Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat took the stage wearing fatigues and delivered a blistering attack on Zionism. One year later, the notorious "Zionism equals racism" was passed and Israel's relations with the U.N. have been, at best, uneasy ever since.

AFP/Getty Images

Ortega Goes Rambo on Reagan

Year: 1987

Quote: "Before consulting the hotheads who present various military options such as a military invasion: remember, President Reagan, Rambo only exists in the movies.''

Impact: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega used the platform of the U.N. to assail U.S policy in Central America, particularly the financing of the Contra rebels and supporting the Somoza dictatorship, which Ortega said "bled the Nicaraguan people dry." The angry speech prompted a walkout from the U.S. delegation. "The people of Nicaragua may have to sit and listen to him, but I don't," said then U.S. Ambassador Vernon Walters.

Chavez Sniffs out a Sinner

Year: 2006

Quote: "The devil came here yesterday, and it smells of sulfur still."

Impact: Venezuela's theatrical president, Hugo Chavez, has always loved the spotlight that the General Assembly provides and it was never more in evidence than when, with a flourish, he compared U.S. president, George W. Bush, to Satan. Chavez also began his regular habit of using his speeches to plug books by prominent leftists authors, when he held up a book by U.S. professor Noam Chomsky. Chavez referred to this famous moment in his speech this year, saying that it "no longer smells like sulfur" now that Barack Obama is president.


Bashir Denies a Genocide

Year: 2006

Quote: "The picture that volunteer organizations try to give in order to solicit more assistance and more aid, have given a negative result."

Impact: At the 2006 speech, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir claimed that the ongoing slaughter in Darfur, which then President George W. Bush had recently referred to as "genocide," was in fact a scheme cooked up by Western aid organizations to solicit funding. On the sidelines of the meeting, Bashir went further, blaming Israel and Zionist organizations for spreading lies in order to weaken the Sudanese government. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made this claim as well.

Ahmadinejad Hates on Zionists

Year: 2008

Quote: "The dignity, integrity and rights of the American and European people are being played with by a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists. Although they are a minuscule minority, they have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the U.S. in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner."

Impact: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has regularly used the UN as a platform to rail against Western powers, particularly his arch-enemy Israel. In his 2008 speech he accused "the Zionist entity" of an array of crimes including causing the South Ossetia war. Another notable feature of Ahmadinejad's speech is the heavy use of religious rhetoric and his use of Shiite religious teachings.

What is Qaddafi Doing?

Year: 2009

Quote: "It should not be called a security council, it should be called a terror council."

Impact: After 40 years in power, Libyan Leader Muammar al-Qaddafi spoke to the United Nations for the first time at this year's general assembly and certainly made up for lost time. In his 100 minute speech, Qaddafi listed half a century's worth of grievances and conspiracy theories including accusing the Untied States of developing swine flu and questioning the official record of the Kennedy assassination. Most of Qaddafi's wrath was reserved for the U.N. Security Council, which he likened to al Qaeda. Qaddafi's accommodations provided another sideshow at this year's assembly, as the Libyan leader was rebuffed in his attempts to set up a Bedouin tent in several New York-area locations before finally making up camp in Donald Trump's backyard.