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Analytical Studies

G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting, Rome, July 18-19, 2001
Performance Assessment

Sir Nicholas Bayne, G8 Research Group

Introduction

The G8 foreign ministers met in Rome on July 18-19, 2001, to prepare for the Genoa G8 Summit later in the week. Newcomers to the G8 group were as follows: Renato Ruggiero as Italian foreign minister (although he has more than twenty years' experience of the G7/G8 process, having been sherpa the Venice summits of 1980 and 1987); Colin Powell, U.S.; Machiko Tanaka, Japan; Jack Straw, UK; and John Manley, Canada.

The ministers issued a total of four documents: General Conclusions; a separate Statement on the Middle East; the Rome Initiatives on Conflict Prevention; and a progress report on the conflict prevention initiatives taken at Miyazaki, Japan, a year before.

At the final press conference, Ruggiero said that the ministers' discussions had focused on the Middle East, the Balkans (including Macedonia), Africa, and Korea, among regional issues. The general issues discussed were conflict prevention and disarmament, together with the political response to the anti-globalization movement and closer consultations with developing countries. The language agreed by foreign ministers on the Middle East, Macedonia, Africa, and Korea was not published in full but was being transmitted to the leaders. The foreign ministers' conclusions also covered terrorism, the United Nations, and eleven other regional issues (Cyprus, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Asia, Indonesia, East Timor, Colombia, and four African topics).

Regional Issues

1. Middle East

Both Ruggiero (from the chair) and other ministers (Powell, Ivanov, Vedrine, Fischer) stressed their complete agreement to put the G8's collective weight behind the Mitchell plan for reconciliation, rather than to promote any new initiatives. The Mitchell plan had the explicit support not only of all G8 members but also of the United Nations. It provided for a cooling-off period leading into negotiations (Powell called this a road map); but for negotiations to begin, there must be an end to violence. Ruggiero also said that all members believed that impartial monitors would be in the best interest of both parties in order to implement the Mitchell report. This looks like a positive reaction to the EU proposal for observers, although this proposal had not been broached with Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

2. Macedonia

Ruggiero noted that policy negotiations were underway to a ensure multi-ethnic society and to encourage the people to live together in harmony. The G8 members remained in touch in order to facilitate negotiations and solve larger problems.

3. Africa

Ruggiero reported very serious discussions among the foreign ministers about the problems of Africa and the need for measures both to reduce poverty and to bring conflicts to an end. The G8 heads of government would meet with African leaders together with Kofi Annan before the Summit on July 20-22, and were expecting to discuss the plan worked out by the Organization of African Unity.

General and Procedural Issues

1. Conflict Prevention

The Italian presidency had made conflict prevention one of the three leading topics for the Genoa Summit, and this was the first item in the foreign ministers' conclusions document. The ministers concentrated on methods of averting the causes of violence before military intervention took place. However, they appear not to have recommended this issue for treatment by the heads.

The ministers endorsed a report on the actions taken over the last year in the areas targeted at their Miyazaki meeting last year (small arms and light weapons, conflict diamonds, children in conflict, civilian policing, and conflict and development). They called for work in two new areas: the role of women and the contribution of the private sector in conflict prevention. Both these new items depend on involving non-governmental actors.

2. Disarmament

Ruggiero said the ministers had had a “reassuring” discussion on this topic, which is treated at length in the Conclusions. Powell was asked whether the passage that reaffirmed “the universality of the fundamental treaties related to weapons of mass destruction” was compatible with the U.S. stance on the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. He replied that the Conclusions dealt with the whole family of treaties concerned with arms control, all of which contained provisions for future changes. The United States was a signatory to the ABM treaty and would comply with it until its current programs obliged it to seek relief from the treaty's provisions. Ivanov then pointed out that the G8 had agreed on the universal character of the treaties – politely implying that the U.S. was bound by them like everyone else.

3. Political Response to the Antiglobalization Movement

The foreign ministers meeting began with an exchange on how to react to the anti-globalization demonstrators and the ministers returned to this subject over dinner. Ruggiero insisted that the G8 were the representatives of legitimate, democratic governments based on parliamentary regimes and the sovereignty of their people. They opposed violence but were open to dialogue with those prepared to engage in it. Globalization presents risks but also great opportunities, especially for developing countries. It was up to the G8 to formulate and project a message of hope and confidence that the world could be changed for the better.

4. Future Discussion and Relations with Developing Countries

Ruggiero looked forward to the next meeting of the G8 foreign ministers in September on the margins of the UN General Assembly. This would provide an opportunity to take forward their discussion on the response to globalization. He also hoped that the Canadians, as host to the G8 Summit of 2002, could develop ideas on adding a broader forum to involve developing countries.

The discussion on globalization and the “broader forum” was not reflected in the written conclusions and appeared to have arisen spontaneously among the ministers. It was not clear whether the involvement of developing countries would take place at the level of foreign ministers (comparable to the G20 finance ministers) or of the heads of government themselves.

Other Summit Issues

1. Climate Change

Although this was a subject for the heads at the Summit, rather than for foreign ministers, Powell responded to a question about the U.S. attitude at the sixth Conference of the Parties (COP6) on climate change, now going on in Berlin. He said that the U.S. was concerned about global warning but the Kyoto Protocol was not the way forward. The U.S. delegate to COP6 would only make some technical proposals. The U.S. was working on alternatives to the Kyoto Protocol for submission to COP7. They needed time to develop a position that could get broad support, would involve all countries, and would be economically tolerable.

Assessment

This appeared to be a low-key meeting, especially as the detailed conclusions on the most important regional issues – the Middle East, Macedonia, Africa, and Korea – were not announced at once but held over for the Summit. The elaborate security precautions contrasted with a total absence of civil society protesters. Media interest outside Italy seemed low, with everyone's attention focused on the massive demonstrations expected in Genoa.

The issues that attracted the greatest interest were the Middle East and arms control. On the Middle East, the G8 foreign ministers conveyed a very solid front in support of the Mitchell plan, without being distracted by any alternative approaches. But beyond this show of unanimity, the G8 have limited influence over what happens on the ground. On arms control Powell went out of his way to sound reasonable and to show that he could work with Ivanov, for example over the Middle East. But he did not show any flexibility over the ABM treaty.

The Italians – at least, the foreign ministry – will be disappointed that their chosen topic of conflict prevention is unlikely to be taken up by the heads themselves. Even the foreign ministers seemed more exercised by specific conflicts, for example, in the Middle East, than by conflict prevention in general. However, the individual initiatives launched at Miyazaki remain active, and have been expanded.

The foreign ministers showed great interest in how the G8 process could make a more positive impact in the outside world, both with civil society and with developing countries. The Canadians have been given a remit to develop a forum bringing the G8 together with developing countries, but this is still in its very early stages.

In general, the run-up to the Genoa Summit reveals some of the drawbacks of separating the meetings of heads, finance ministers, and foreign ministers. Both foreign and finance ministers are sending messages to their heads of government about ways of helping and connecting with non-G8 countries in the developing world. But there is some inconsistency between them. The foreign ministers meeting, just concluded, has concentrated on methods and procedures for making better contact with developing countries (as well as with civil society), but has been vague about actual measures of assistance. By contrast, the finance ministers were involved with the substance of relations with poor countries, such as debt relief and the work of multilateral development banks. But their attitude to poor countries seemed more paternalistic and less inclusive. It may be difficult for the heads of government, meeting on their own, to reconcile these different messages.

For information, contact Madeline Koch at (39) 335 310 172 or at madkoch@tvo.org.

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