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2004 G8 Pre-Summit Conference
Security, Prosperity and Freedom: Why America Needs the G8
June 3–4, 2004
Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

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Looking Ahead:
Prospects for the G8 Summit
in America 2004, Britain 2005 and Beyond

Nicholas Bayne, KPMG
London School of Economics and Political Science
Draft: May 2, 2004

In these remarks I am invited to look forward into the future. But I shall also look back into the past, as I am a historian of the summits. I shall at times use the full 30-year perspective since the summits began. But I shall mainly focus on the seven-year cycle since Tony Blair inaugurated the current “heads-only” model of summits at Birmingham in 1998. This year’s Sea Island summit will be last of this cycle, so that next year Blair gets the chance to host a second summit, the first British prime minister to do so. I will naturally give you a British perspective on what may happen next year, but I will not forget that in 2006 Russia will host the summit, for the very first time.

I shall try to capture the evolution of the G8 summit in three respects: how well the heads-only format is working; the interaction of politics and economics in the summit process; and the prospects for collective management of the international system by North America, Europe and Japan.

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The Heads-Only Format

The regime whereby only the heads of government come to the G8 summit, without supporting ministers or large delegations, is often presented as a return to the original vision of the summit as an informal, personal encounter. In fact, that early vision was never achieved, even at Rambouillet in 1975 — I know, I was there. Today’s summits are in fact more intimate than those of the 1970s: there are fewer people at the summit table, even as G8; delegations are kept small and all housed close together. So everything is done to encourage a personal rapport between the leaders during the time that the summit lasts.

The Birmingham reforms were intended to limit the numbers, the agenda and the documentation. The first has of these has worked better than the other two. For Birmingham 1998 and Cologne 1999, and again for Genoa 2001 and Kananaskis 2002, the summit hosts chose a short agenda of precise topics well in advance and stuck to it. The documentation from those summits was kept within limits. But Japan in 2000 and France last year preferred an agenda of broad themes that could accommodate almost anything. The consequence was that by the time the summit arrived, the agenda had become something of a Christmas tree. Long agendas also inflated the documentation, so that last year’s Evian summit produced a record number of Action Plans.

The G8 recognised that Evian was over-ambitious and this year the Americans promised a much more austere summit. But they too have preferred broad themes — freedom, security and prosperity — which set no limits to the agenda. There is a risk that at Sea Island, as at Evian, more and more items will crowd on to the agenda and the summit documentation will sacrifice quality to quantity. The British are determined to avoid this risk next year. Blair has made clear that the agenda will be short and specific and has already identified two key items — Africa and climate change.

Because the Birmingham format limits the official participation at the summit, it has allowed the G8 to reach out to other circles, such as non-G8 countries and non-state actors like business and civil society. The real breakthrough here came in 2000. The Japanese hosts consulted civil society worldwide and provided facilities for them at Okinawa; and they invited selected non-G8 leaders to join the G8 over dinner before the summit. Both practices have developed further at subsequent summits, with a strong representative gathering of non-G8 leaders (including China) at Evian in 2003. This year, however, the American hosts have resisted both trends, at least at first. There has been no engagement with civil society, as far as I know. There was no intention to invite non-G8 leaders, though this may change as the summit approaches. Middle Eastern countries are being involved in the preparatory meetings of finance and foreign ministers; and leaders from the “Greater Middle East” or from Africa may be invited to Sea Island itself (as I write, on 1 May, the position is unclear). There is no such uncertainty about what the UK intends to do: civil society will be involved as closely as possible; and African leaders will be invited to the summit.

Many civil society bodies are equally ready to sit down and make suggestions to G8 governments on summit issues and then to mobilise massive demonstrations against the summit when it is held. The riots associated with these demonstrations at Genoa in 2001 caused the Canadians to decide to hold the next summit in a remote Rocky Mountain resort, well away from the public eye. Fears of terrorist attack after September 11 reinforced this isolation, which has determined the choice of summit site by the US this year and the UK next year. But isolation has its drawbacks: the G8 are close to each other, but cut off from the outside world, including the media, who are increasingly sceptical of the value of the summits.

How will the Russians cope with the demands of this unusual format when their turn comes in 2006? I believe they will not try to innovate, but will stick to established custom as closely as they can. The re-appointment of Illarianov as Russian sherpa is evidence of this, while Putin will by then be a veteran of six previous summits. They would be wise to choose a limited agenda of items where Russia can contribute — I'll say more in a minute on what these items might be. Finding a secluded location should cause no problem for them — a palace outside St Petersburg, perhaps — while they will be happy to follow the US lead in keeping civil society at a distance.

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Politics and Economics

The early summits were meant to be exclusively economic, with politics excluded. But politics began to encroach on the agenda very early on and gathered strength during the long US presidency of Ronald Reagan. The end of the Cold War revived the economic agenda, with help first for Central Europe and then for Russia, while new issues arrived like the environment and money-laundering. But the political component was always present and Russia’s growing involvement made it stronger.

Blair’s Birmingham reforms were intended to focus the summit on a concise economic agenda, with politics only on the side. The next three summits kept to that pattern, except that the Kosovo crisis of 1999 generated a new interest in conflict prevention. But after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it was inevitable that political issues, like terrorism and non-proliferation, would move up the G8 agenda, driven especially by the United States. Since the Kananaskis summit of 2002, political issues have had at least equal weight in the summit agenda with economic ones. This year’s Sea Island summit, with George Bush as host, has two political themes to one economic.

Heads of government can deal equally well with economic issues and political issues; they can also integrate the two. In earlier years the summits dealt with economics and politics separately. Since Birmingham, however, they have learnt how to combine political and economic components. The clearest example of this is their involvement in Africa, where the G8 Action Plan combines provisions on security, governance and economic growth, matching the content of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) in this respect. But the “Global Partnership” to clean up chemical weapons and nuclear installations, also integrates politics and economics, as does transport security; both issues, first treated at Kananaskis, return to the agenda this year. In my view, these combined political and economic initiatives are what the G8 now does best, because only heads of government can integrate all the aspects involved.

The principal topic originally chosen by the Americans for this year’s summit — the Greater Middle East Initiative — fits these criteria precisely. The region it would cover, from Morocco to Pakistan, is marked by both political unrest and economic sluggishness, with each feeding on the other. A programme of linked political and economic reform, to enhance democracy and stimulate market economies, would be a very suitable subject for the G8 leaders. The American proposals are new, but they have the same objective as the “Barcelona process” launched by the European Union in 1995 to enhance political and economic development round the Mediterranean. This programme is still in being, though it has made only very slow progress. There is therefore the basis for a common G8 agreement, comparable with what has been done over Africa.

The great difference, however, is that in Africa the G8 were responding to an initiative that came from the African leaders themselves. The Africans had clear ownership of NEPAD and the G8 has taken care to preserve this. In the Middle East, however, as word of American intentions leaked out, leading regional powers, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, reacted strongly against them. These countries insisted that they must be in control of their own reforms — they could not accept dictation from outside. The Arab League has since tried to launch its own reform process, but has failed to agree what that should be.

In my view, the success of the Sea Island summit will be judged on whether it can agree on a programme of political and economic reform in the Middle East that proves acceptable to the regional powers. But the difficulties are formidable. It may well be that the content of any Middle East programme agreed in 2004 will be modest and strictly voluntary, which individual countries of the region may approach on an à la carte basis. But it remains, in my view, a very suitable G8 subject.

As for the 2005 summit, it is already clear, as I said, that Blair will give priority to Africa, where the G8 needs to maintain its involvement in this deprived and unstable continent, using both political and economic instruments. Because the results on the Middle East this year are likely to be modest, the British expect to build on the Middle Eastern programme at next year's summit too, again combining economics and politics.

What would be a suitable topic for the Russians in 2006 that meets these criteria? One subject clearly stands out: energy policy. In the G8 economic agenda, the Russians have little to contribute on trade or finance or development. But on energy matters they are world players — and the summit has not had a serious discussion on the economics of energy policy for decades. Politically, energy issues would fit squarely into the on-going Middle East programme and Russia has a strong interest in the region. A focus on energy in 2006 would also mesh well with the work on environmental issues, especially climate change, planned by the British in 2005.

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Collective Management

One original aim of the summit, right from 1975, was to bring about a transition from American hegemony to a regime of collective management of the international system, with responsibility shared between Europe, North America and Japan. But US hegemony continued to cast a long shadow. For the first 15 years or so, the G7 process depended heavily on US initiative. If the Americans took the lead, with one or more G7 partners, there were good results. If the Americans tried to lead alone, the outcome was disappointing. If the Americans did not lead, nothing much happened.

During the 1990s, as the summit revived after the end of the Cold War, this pattern changed and became much closer to real collective management. While the Americans usually led on monetary and financial issues, the Europeans began to take the lead in other areas: the environment, debt relief for poor countries and even, by the late 1990s, in international trade. Japan and Canada were also initiators, especially in the years when they chaired the summits. Genuine shared initiatives emerged, for example on drugs, crime and money laundering and on employment.

When George Bush became US President in 2001, there were fears that he might draw back from the concept of collective management and insist that only US initiative counted. There were some backward moves, for example on climate change. But in many G8 subjects the Americans proved ready to follow the lead of others, as on Africa, or to work for joint initiatives, as shown by the strong alliance on trade between Bob Zoellick and Pascal Lamy. Immediately after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the Americans developed a strongly multilateral strategy in response and this attracted strong G8 and worldwide support.

So in many of the issues on the agenda for the Sea Island summit, the impetus for collective management is strong. This applies to non-proliferation, the leading political topic. The Americans may lead, but other G8 members make substantive contributions, for example, in dealing with Libya, with Iran and withNorth Korea. It also applies to the cluster of economic issues that will be discussed, focused on development: food security, HIV/AIDS, engaging the private sector and transparency in government operations. G8 members may have different approaches on these issues, but all, including the Americans, agree on the merits of a collective strategy.

The greatest uncertainty is over the Middle East issues. Last year the G8 was painfully split over the US invasion of Iraq and only came together again at Evian. This year the Americans need the support of their G8 partners if they are to convince the states of the greater Middle East to buy into their reform proposals. This support will not be easy to win. The problem lies not with the Greater Middle East initiative as much, which fits well with earlier EU policies, but with US policies on Palestine and Iraq. The Europeans have not denounced the outcome of Bush's meeting with Ariel Sharon in April, but they have grave reservations about it. They are also deeply disturbed by recent trends in Iraq, which tend to confirm their earlier anxieties, though they welcome the growing involvement of the UN. To win over the rest of the G8, the American hosts will have to show greater readiness than before to accept collective, rather than sole, management in this area. In a tense election year, Bush will want to avoid anything that looks like American weakness. But he will also want his Middle Eastern proposals to earn the full support of his G8 colleagues.

Looking forward to 2005, these anxieties appear less serious. The British, as hosts, are enthusiastic promoters of the concept of collective management, so that they will try to build bridges between all the participants. Whether there is a brand new President Kerry or a re-elected Bush who has turned sceptical about the summit, the British are the best equipped of the G8 to engage the Americans in the process. Indeed, in 2003 Blair angered Chirac and Schroeder by leaning too far towards the US. But in 2004 he has mended his fences with France and Germany; and in 2005 he will be even more concerned to show the benefits of Britain's EU membership, as he prepares for a referendum on the new European Constitution.

The British will also aim to act as mentors to the Russians, for when they host the summit in 2006. For Russia the idea of being part of the world's collective management is very appealing. While their old super-power instincts may incline the Russians to seek bilateral deals with the Americans, this is offset by the enlarged EU being by far their biggest trading partner, while Japan is important for their Asian interests. So collective management looks secure in Russian hands.

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Concluding Reflections

Let me pull the strands together and look a bit further ahead than 2006:

· The summits of the cycle since Birmingham in 1998 have performed fairly well, thanks to reforms in the G8 format. But Evian last year was a disappointment and the Russians in 2006 are an unknown force. So a lot depends on the Americans this year and the British in 2005 in keeping up momentum in the G8.

· Birmingham and its three successors were essentially economic summits, concerned with managing globalisation. But from Kananaskis onwards, because of September 11, political issues have gained ground. Most of the economic items focus on development, rather than the G8's own economies.

· I believe present-day summits are most useful in driving forward programmes that combine economic and political elements. This is most evident from Africa, but appears also in parts of the anti-terrorism agenda. This is why the US is right, in my view, to make the Middle East the central issue for Sea Island, despite all the difficulties, because a combined economic and political strategy is essential here too.

· For the near future, the British intend to focus on mixed economic and political subjects in 2005. They have already selected Africa and expect to carry on work started this year on the Middle East. In 2006, the Russians would be well advised to focus on energy policy, another mixed economic and political theme where they have strong credentials.

· But there is not an inexhaustible supply of international problems needing a combined economic and political strategy. From 2007, I believe the summit will need to take a new direction. In my view, this should be a revival of the summit's original economic vocation. The G8 members have done too little in recent years to resolve economic issues among themselves on trade, finance and the environment.

· If this happens, it should prompt a new look at the G8’s outreach to the outside world from 2007. Whatever economic understandings the G8 reach among themselves must be accepted in emerging markets, so that the G8 should do more to engage major players like China, India, Mexico and Brazil. The G8 summit gains enormous benefit from being a small, intimate group that can meet around one table. But they should give more attention to the way their agreements are spread more widely, both to other countries and to the world at large.


Putnam, R. D. and Bayne, N. (1987), Hanging Together: Cooperation and Conflict in the Seven-Power Summits, Sage, London.

Bayne, N. (2000), Hanging In There: the G7 and G8 Summit in Maturity and Renewal, Ashgate, Aldershot.

Bayne, N. (2003), “G8 Performance from Birmingham to Evian and Beyond,” paper for the conference on “Governing Globalisation: G8, Public and Corporate Governance,” INSEAD, Fontainebleau, 27 May 2003.

Kirton, J. J. (2004), “Explaining G8 Effectiveness: A Concert of Vulnerable Equals in a Globalizing World,” paper for the International Studies Association, Montreal, 17–20 March 2004.

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