The G8: A lesson in how the powerful can be powerless

G8 foreign ministers pose for a photograph before their meeting in London today. Photo: Reuters

On paper and around last night's dinner table, this meeting is very important. The Foreign Ministers of eight of the most powerful nations in the world gathered in London to discuss three crises involving war and two nuclear threats.

Yet the irony of this G8 meeting is that these countries are almost powerless to solve any one of these crises.

Syria tops their agenda, yet the nations are divided. Russia is on one side, still supporting the regime of President Assad with weapons and advice; Britain, America and the rest are supporting rebels and poised to send them more practical help on the battlefield.

There will be a joint statement at the end of this meeting but Russia and the rest are arguing fiercely about how to word the section on Syria.

"Something must be done" is clearly a sentiment they all share but how exactly to end a conflict that has now cost more than 70,000 lives is a contentious matter they will not resolve at this meeting.

There is more unanimity on North Korea. But the key nation that might solve the issue and the North Koreans' only real ally, China, is not represented at the G8.

Those nations that are here have more problems with what they should say, never mind what they can do.

Three of the nations are directly affected; Japan shares a maritime border with North Korea and, like America, has been directly threatened this week. Russia has a land border with Korea and was once its ally.

All eight nations condemn Kim Jong-Un's threats of nuclear war. But if they condemn him in the strongest possible terms, labelling his warlike rhetoric outrageous, which they believe it is, they risk further inflaming a volatile situation. So their words will be measured.

Actress Angelina Jolie arrives at the G8 meeting in London.

On Iran, half a dozen of the countries have just failed to reach any agreement with Iran on its nuclear programme at the latest round of talks. They'll get no further in London today.

And then there's the personal project of William Hague, who chairs this meeting: doing something to stop sexual violence in war and conflict. It's a laudible aim; but a bit like banning war itself.

The presence of the actress Angelina Jolie might raise the temperature of the men at the meeting but it will not raise the likelihood that this noble aim will advance one jot as a result of eight blokes in suits agreeing that it's a good thing.

Even the relatively modest aim of creating "child friendly spaces" in refugee camps seems sensible but is, in most cases, impractical.

So, it's a necessary meeting but don't hold your breath. The powerful can be all but powerless at times, even on issues they agree on.