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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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There are few international institutions as maligned, mistrusted and misunderstood as the G7. To some, who focus only on by the annual gathering of the leaders of the world's seven major market democracies and now Russia, the G7 is little more than a global hot tub party which lacks the formal powers and organizational capacity of established international institutions such as the European Union or United Nations (Ikenberry 1993, Smeyser 1993, Whyman 1995). To others, it is a closed club of an obsolescent rich white plutocracy, which lacks either legitimacy or effectiveness because it excludes such robust and rising powers as China, India, Indonesia and Brazil, and has yet to fully incorporate the new monetarily unified European Union (Commission on Global Governance 1995, ul Haq 1994, Jayarwedna 1989, Labbohm 1995, de Silguy 1997, Henning 1996). To still others, it is a club that has not lived up to its potential in the 1990's, due to a false new consensus that its leaders lack the power to perform its core functions of macroeconomic management in a world where markets and multinationals dominate (Bergsten and Henning 1996). In sharp contrast to the optimism that surrounded the G7 as a governing global concert at the dawn of the post-cold war decade (Lewis 1991-2, Odum 1995), there are few who proclaim its centrality, effectiveness or even potential now (Bayne 1995, Ionescu 1995, Kirton and Kokotsis 1998).

The prevailing pessimism, however, stands in sharp contrast to the observed proliferation and performance of the G7 over the past decade. From 1998 onward Russia has been admitted as a full member, many other countries have become associated through a variety of innovative mechanisms, and several contenders, for reasons of status and function, continue to quietly press their case for inclusion. The G7's agenda has proliferated as the linked economic and political issues that inspired its creation have been joined by a host of subjects once considered entirely domestic but which now clearly call for a co-ordinated transnational response on a global basis. With the broadened agenda has come deeper institutionalization, and domestic engagement with the annual gathering of the leaders now supplemented by ad hoc meetings of the leaders and their finance and foreign ministers, regular forums collectively embracing a majority of the ministries of government, and a subterranean web of working groups that even the leaders personal representatives find it difficult to track and control. Finally, despite periodic delays and disappointments, the G7 of the past decade has produced major achievements in international co-operation, constraining its members' behaviour in accordance with its collective commitments, and responding to the major crises of the moment. In short, as the post cold war, globalizing world of the 1990's, moves toward the new millenium the G7 and now G8 is emerging as an effective centre and is prospectively the effective centre of global governance.

Created to contain the offensive of a communist east and largely socialist south in the 1970's, combating an expansionist USSR in the new cold war of the 1980's, and emerging victorious in the 1990's, the G7 and its core values of a market economy and democratic polity have now not surprisingly acquired a global predominance at present. But its enduring and enlarging success in forwarding, against formidable resistance, the new core values of inclusive democracy, ecologically sustainable market economies, and international openness and engagement rests on several deeper foundations. The first is a growing systemic predominance of capability from, and equality of capability among, G7 and now G8 members, as Russia's inclusion has removed the major outside rival, and the hard military capabilities where the United States predominated have diminished in relevance in the new era. The second, amidst rampant regionalism, is a growing interdependence among G7 members, whose increasingly deep integration and international exposure is generating a common intervulnerability that forces them to co-operate (Nye and Keohane 1977, Doran 1985). Providing a shared trust, epistemology and reference point for co-operative solutions, despite the inevitable systems friction, is the common commitment to core democratic market values, and the edifice of more specific principles such as human rights and social equity constructed on them. Finally, the increasing capacity of the G7 system to provide political control by popularly and democratically elected leaders has enabled it to make the high-level linkages and provide the detailed oversight of once domestic issues that governance in the new era of globalization requires.

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