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From Okinawa 2000 to Genoa 2001

The 2001 G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting:
Prospects and Potential

Professor John Kirton, Director
G8 Research Group, University of Toronto
Wednesday, July 18, 2001, 16h00

For information please contact Madeline Koch in Italy at (39) 335 310 172 (until July 23, 2001) or in Toronto at 416 588 3833.

From mid afternoon of Wednesday, July 18, to noon the following day, the G8 foreign ministers will meet for their annual pre-Summit meeting to help prepare the political/security agenda that their leaders will discuss during their coming weekend summit in Genoa. As a diplomatic event, four features of the meeting stand out. It is taking place closer in time to the leaders meeting than ever before, ever since the foreign ministers were banished from the Summit itself at Birmingham in 1998. It is taking place in Rome, at the Italian foreign ministry, in a last-minute change of venue that reflects the feared disruptions from the rumoured 120,000 protesters said to be converging on Genoa to protest globalization and the G8. It is contributing to the overall G8's move to greater inclusiveness, with a number of representatives from outside the G8 having been invited to participate. And even more than the leaders meeting, it features an unusually large majority of six new foreign ministers: host Italy's Renato Ruggiero, America's Colin Powell, Canada's John Manley, Britain's Jack Straw, and Japan's Makiko Tanaka. Only Germany's Joschka Fischer, France's Hubert Vedrine, and Russia's Igor Ivanov can show the newcomers from first-hand experience how such meetings such work.

With so many G8 novices and outsiders, and fewer than 24 hours to address the world's many political/security problems, there will inevitably be an important element of meeting-and-greeting and learning about one another's priorities, perspectives, personalities, and private game plans, in ways that news releases, editorials, or diplomatic cables have difficult conveying. Just how does Colin Powell, a foreign minister with impeccable military credentials, intend to handle National Missile Defence, the relationships with the new Russian partners and chilly Communist Chinese, and the broader regimes for arms control and proliferation? Will the new Anglo Canadian duo downplay or dump the ethical foreign policy and primacy for human security pioneered by their predecessors, leaving Joschka Fischer to carry on alone to advance the G8's conflict prevention program, introduced when Germany hosted the G8 in 1999? Will Renato Ruggerio, with his rich trade background, and John Manley, with his in industry and the Internet, forge news ways to mobilize economic instruments more effectively for foreign policy purposes?

The great ghost at this G8 banquet is, of course, the issue of "strategic stability," or the U.S.-proposed concept and perhaps program for National or even Allied Missile Defence. Inspired in part by a successful U.S. test of the core interception technology a few days ago, and recent U.S. musings that Japan might want to change its constitution to participate in the program, there are renewed fears within many G8 countries that the U.S. might launch into a burst of unilateralism and militarism without the careful intra-G8 consultations that the Bush administration has hitherto done so well. Here the challenge, led by the British, Canadians, and Italians, is to relax the atmosphere to allow a genuine dialogue on U.S. thinking, and develop a new strategic concept and approach that can be made to work for the entire G8, global democratic community, and all the innocent civilians within. At the same time, there is much work to do in strengthening the many other arms control regimes, including that for small arms and light weapons, that remain far more relevant to security in the twenty-first century than the obsolete ABM treaty of the ancient cold war era of 1972.

While G8 leaders at Genoa will emphasize the many key global transnational issues, their foreign ministers are free to focus a little more than usual on the many challenges to regional security confronting the world. By Summit tradition, the host's geographic location, and different French and American approaches, the Middle East, with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute at the core, has pride of place. The first two considerations make Macedonia a close second, as it is here that the troops of G8 member countries are most likely to see die if things go wrong. But the nuclear-charged India-Pakistan dispute, the still frigid Korean peninsula, and many other problems deserve and should get a close look.

Perhaps the most important long-term challenge, if least a dramatic one, comes over conflict prevention. Launched with such energy in 1999, there is a danger that it may lose momentum, with the leaders at Genoa finding no time at all to discuss the subject or include even a reference to it in their communiqué. Unlike last year's G8 foreign ministers meeting at Miyazaki, Japan, it appears there will be no separate statement on conflict prevention, as the wary new U.S. administration, apparently indifferent French, and free-riding Japanese stop an enthusiastic Germany, Canada, Italy, and Britain from proceeding. Meanwhile, Chechnya-burdened Russia will disingenuously try to inject its agenda on strategic stability into the conflict prevention domain. Nor do the ministers seem likely to transform their Conflict Prevention Officials Meeting into a publicly announced, transparent Conflict Prevention Working Group, thanks to the French who usually protest any institutionalization of the G7/G8, especially in the security sphere, but who secretly fear that conflict prevention will slowly transform the G8 into the world's real Security Council and thus erode the 1945-like privileges and glory that they assume their P5 status confers.

Nonetheless, the Rome G8 should do yeoman-like work in advancing the conflict prevention program. This includes celebrating and expanding the success on blood diamonds, an issue pioneered by Canada's former ambassador to the United Nations Robert Fowler, and finding a way to move beyond the failure currently unfolding on small arms at the United Nations. It means advancing on the new issues of gender and conflict and corporate responsibility, while seeing what preparatory work on early warning systems and conflict and development might be done. The cumulative edifice will not amount to a breakthrough that Rome will build in a day. But neither will it reduce to Roman ruins or construct the conflict prevention cathedral erected at Cologne in 1998. Rather it will provide a solid foundation for the Canadians to carry on when they host the G8 the following year.

For information please contact Madeline Koch in Italy at (39) 335 310 172 (until July 23, 2001) or in Toronto at 416 588 3833.

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