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Explaining G8 Effectiveness in the Approach to the New Millenium

Professor John Kirton
University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada

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2. The G8's Growing Co-operation, Compliance and Crisis Management

A further sign of the G7's emergence as an effective centre of global governance is the improving and relatively high performance it has achieved during the 1990's in its core functions of forging co-operative agreements, inducing national compliance with those collective commitments, and responding to regional crises before they endanger systemic stability.

During its first two cycles, the ability of the G7 Summit to generate ambitious, timely and well tailored agreements varied widely from year to year, as scored by the classic evaluation of the Summit's performance during those years. However amidst this high volatility, there was a three stage sequence, consisting of high performance from 1975 to 1979, low performance from 1980 to 1984 and medium performance in 1986 and 1987 (Kirton 1989). The pattern of the most recent decade, based on a modified application of the Putnam-Bayne scoring system, suggests, as Table F details, a return to relatively high level of performance. What is particularly striking is the consistency in this performance, with only the 1994 Naples Summit being a poor performance outlier. This consistency may reflect the deepening institutionalization of the Summit system in the 1990's, providing a firmer foundation of preparation and progress than the unreinforced leaders-sherpa process of earlier times.

This consistency is appropriate to the sustained impetus the G7 has given to central processes of system transformation during the 1990's, in contrast to the sole, often crisis-response achievements of the apparently permanent cold war system of earlier decades. The central contemporary achievement has been the largely peaceful end of the cold war and Soviet Union, and the transformation of the remnant Russia into a stable, market-oriented, democratic polity, as the G7 incrementally and judiciously provided large-scale financial assistance, and participation in the G7 itself to reinforce domestic coalitions that conduced to this end (Kirton 1998). This process, begun with the Gorbachev letter at Paris 1989, will be completed at Birmingham with the transformation of the G7 into a G8. A second achievement has come, in the realm of north-south relations, in relieving the debt of the poorest, a process begun at Toronto in 1998 and within reach of being completed at Birmingham in 1998. Another has been in global environmental protection, where G7 leadership importantly assisted the conclusion of the Rio conventions and subsequent additions dealing with high seas overfishing. Further pointing to a record of routine high accomplishment is the large number of concrete commitments for sustainable development and assistance to Russia the G7 has generated from 1988 to 1995 (Kokotsis 1998, Kokotsis and Kirton 1997).

The Summits of the 1990's have also been effective in constraining the actions of their members, as judged by the record of the latter in complying with the major concrete commitments they collectively encode in the Summit communique. Although direct overtime comparisons are difficult to make due to the different methodologies employed, and while compliant behaviour may result from factors other than Summit commitments, the overall pattern is suggestive. Von Furstenberg and Daniels, examining compliance with G7 economic and energy commitments from 1975 to 1989, found a weak but positive performance of 30.7%, with Britain and Canada complying the most, and compliance highest in the areas of international trade and energy (Von Furstenberg and Daniels 1992, Daniels 1993). Kokostis' exploration of United States and Canadian compliance with G7 sustainable development commitments from 1988 to 1995 shows a slight increase in overall compliance levels, with particularly high levels for Canada, a sharp rise in US compliance from the previous era, and very high levels of compliance in the area of assistance to Russia (Kokotsis and Kirton 1997, Kokotsis 1998). An analysis of compliance of commitments in 19 issues areas at the 1996 Lyon Summit by the G7 Research Group shows an overall level of 30.7% for economic issues, 47.5% for transnational issues, and 31% for security issues, with the highest compliance coming from Germany, Canada, the United States and Britain (G7 Research Group 1998a). A similar analysis of compliance with the 1997 Denver commitments in six key areas (crime, development, employment, environment, landmines, and Russia) reveals an overall compliance record of 57.6%, led by Britain and Japan, and the areas of landmines and the environment (G7 Research Group 1998b).

The Summits of the 1990's have also acquired a respectable record in responding to, if not preventing, regional crises which threaten the stability of the global system. In the defining case of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-8, collective G7 action was more robust, came at an earlier stage and has been thus far more effective than the US-centric effort in the Mexican peso crisis of 1994 (Kirton and Kokotsis 1998, Kirton 1995a, Kirton 1995b). In addition to the far reaching agreements forged by the G7 finance ministers at Hong Kong in September 1997 to reform the international financial system, by November the G7 was acting collectively to create a second line of defence to reinforce IMF reserves. By December it had activated its second line to successfully stem the assault by markets on Korea, and subsequently acted to punitively single out an Indonesia still unwilling to reform.

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