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Analytical Studies

Performance Assessment: G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting, Whistler, British Columbia, June 12-13, 2002

John Kirton, G8 Research Group


The G8 Foreign Ministers met in the Canadian resort town of Whistler, British Columbia on June 12-13, 2002, for their pre-Summit set-up meeting. This meeting they had instituted in 1998 when the foreign ministers meeting was separated from that of the Summit leaders themselves. This year's gathering featured the unique combination of relatively new foreign ministers confronting a unusually formidable array of acute international crises, and doing so in an informal format that brought them together after an intense nine months of activity in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks. It was a promising context in which to set aside traditional differences and competitive national interests or policy approaches and to mount a vigorous collective assault on the common enemies to which all G8 members were vulnerable. As it turned out, two days of intimate discussions in the Canadian mountains did indeed see the G8 foreign minister establish new bonds of solidarity, backed by new ambitious concrete actions, in regard to some of the critical issues they faced.

The Participants

Gathering at Kananaskis for their first G8 gathering were host William Graham of Canada, Japan's Yoriko Kawaguchi, France's Galouzeau de Villepin, and Italy's Mr. Giovanni Castellaneta, the Personal Representative for the G8 and Diplomatic Advisor of Prime Minister Berlusconi. Attending their second such pre-Summit G8 foreign ministers' meeting were America's Colin Powell, Britain's Jack Straw and Russia's Igor Ivanov. The only experienced veteran at Whistker was Germany's Joschka Fisher, attending his fourth such gathering. Also present on behalf of the European Union were Spain's Joseph Pique i Camp, Christopher Patten and Javier Solana. With half of the eight representatives of the G8 countries attending their first such gathering, the group brought a total of six years of G8 foreign ministers meeting experience, or an average of less than one year apiece, to the forum. Electoral distractions also led France's Villepin to leave after the first day, to return for the second round of voting for National Assembly elections on the weekend. His German colleague also left early.

Although a newcomer to the ranks of G8 foreign ministers, host Bill Graham came with a rich legacy of G8 expertise and experience. As an academic at the University of Toronto, he had led a major program of public education on the G7 Summit held in Toronto in 1988. As chair of Canada's House of Commons' Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade since 1993, he had produced hearings and a report as a contribution to Canada's hosting of the G7 at Halifax in 1995. And in that capacity he had chaired an innovative civil society forum, held as part of another plurilateral democratic Summit, when Canada hosted the Summit of the Americas at Quebec City in April 2001.

The Whistler results were thus likely to be shaped less by the inexperience of the host, or longstanding disagreements among his colleagues than by the heavy Eurocentric character of the forum. Together with the inexperience of the Japanese foreign minister, in office only a few months as an un-elected appointment after Mrs. Ogata had declined the offer, this reinforced the relative lack of attention to traditional Asian issues, beginning with the Korean peninsula. Similarly, while the political spectrum represented at the meeting formally ran from Germany's Green Party on the left to the Italian Prime minister's sherpa on the right, there were few ideologues in the group to impose rigidities. Rather the group had a centrist core that could help move the process of consensus formation along. Further reinforcing this momentum was the intense array of co-operative activity the ministers had undertaken since the September 11th terrorist attacks This included their usual autumn dinner on the opening of the United Nations General Assembly session and the issuing of several collective statements, most recently that on May 31 on the India-Pakistan dispute. More broadly, they met at Whistler knowing that the commitments made by them and their leaders on security and terrorism last year had been complied with to an abnormally high degree. In all, conditions were ripe for new, open-minded, self-confident ministers joined by a common bond to address their agenda in innovative and productive ways.

The Agenda

That agenda was heavily shaped by the several acute international crises that hovered in the critical zone at the time the ministers met. During their first afternoon session, the ministers were slated to deal with counter-terrorism, Afghanistan and the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, with a working dinner to follow on the Middle East. Non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament were scheduled for the morning session the following day. Absent or absorbing less attention along with the traditional Asian issues were those from other global regions such as the Americas and Africa, the Balkans, and the conflict prevention program that the G8 foreign ministers had developed since 1999.

Much like the "mother" G8 Summit that was to follow at Kananaskis, this foreign minister's agenda was the most thematically focused since the Group's pre-Summit meetings started in 1998. In addition to the acute crises surrounding most of the issues, they were very geographically concentrated. Moreover, all were tightly tied to the Kananaskis theme of combating terrorism. They also were issues where no well-established regional organization, such as NATO, existed to claim a leading role or divisively command the primary attention of some G8 members. This agenda thus offered the prospect that the G8 foreign minister could concentrate on this single theme, make major advances, and thus free up some of their leaders' precious time to devote to the Kananaskis centerpiece subject - poverty reduction in Africa.

The Format

As Bill Graham emphasized in his pre-meeting introductory briefing, the Whistler format followed the Kananaskis model of a simple, informal gathering, with maximum time for leaders to engage together, without the distractions of negotiating a formal consensus communiqué. In place of the latter, Whistler offered a chairman's statement at the end of the meeting, regular media briefings, news releases and website material. More broadly, the Whistler meeting, like Kananaskis to follow, took place in an isolated resort lodge located in Canada's western mountains, attached by only one thin winding road to an urban center an hour and a half's drive away, and peopled by those least likely to give any imported civil society protestors a helping hand. Partly as a result, Whistler featured none of the noisy or violent demonstrators that had appeared at such international gatherings over the past few years. Here it represented a repetition of last years pre-Summit foreign ministers meeting in Rome, which had attracted none at all.

The one way that the Whistler format appeared to differ from the known plan for Kananaskis was its host's openness to the views of civil society. In his introductory briefing, Graham emphasized his personal interest in having the citizens of democratic societies make their views known to their assembled ministers, in a peaceful and non-disruptive way. In keeping with his leadership of the civil society forum at the Quebec City Summit of the Americas, he looked forward to meeting with the representatives of the interested civil society coalition just prior to the meeting, and conveying their views to his foreign minister colleagues.

The Session and Their Results

At the first conference session, the focus was on counter-terrorism, Afghanistan and the India-Pakistan situation. On counter terrorism, the ministers planned to respond to the leaders' request of September 19, and hoped to issue a progress report outlining what various countries were doing and how they had been co-ordinating their efforts. Here the aim was to secure a clear understanding on how best to coordinate counter-terrorism measures at all levels of government and to assist poorer countries with airport security, documentation, and document control. Here they succeeded, even without clear deciding to pursue the "adopt-a country" approach that had been under consideration as the meeting was being prepared. The new element they added was to co-ordinate their counter-terrorist assistance efforts to non-G8 countries, to avoid duplication and get maximum impact.

On Afghanistan, ministers planned to discuss the development and reform of the security sector, the eradication of opium in Afghanistan, the co-ordination of G8 work in this area, and the progress of Afghanistan's Emergency Loya Jirga in establishing a transitional authority. Here the aim was to take concrete measures to prevent the return of Afghanistan as a breeding ground for terrorism by helping the Afghan military perform, preventing warlord financing, and rebuilding the government and civil society in Afghanistan in accordance with standards of good governance. In practice the ministers agreed on three things: the importance of moving simultaneously, as Japan wished, on all dimensions of Afghanistan's many needs; investing in security as an immediate requirement; and the urgent need to act against narcotics, which financed the regional warlords and the terrorists they protected.

On India-Pakistan, ministers were to review the visits that many of them had paid to the parties, following their statement on May 31. Here ministers were encouraged by recent signs of de-escalating tensions, but conscious of the need to maintain the pressure on both parties to ensure a dialogue that would prevent new problems from arising. By sharing first hand accounts of their recent visits, G8 foreign ministers concluded that their concerns continued to be "deep and undiminished", that real dangers of misperception between India and Pakistan remained, and that the G8 must continue to be engaged and explore how to help the two countries over the longer term.

At their evening dinner, the Middle East was the subject of concern. The ministers shared their perception of a region where many had recently visited. Colin Powell briefed his colleagues on the meetings President Bush had just held in Washington with Egypt's Mubarak and Israel's Sharon. The ministers did little to narrow their differences on the specific features, as opposed to the general concept, of an international conference on the Middle East and the value of setting a timetable for the realization of a Palestinian state. However, as a foundation for moving forward, they agreed on four principles: terrorism must end; there should be two states - Israel and Palestine; they would co-operate with all parties; and they welcomed the conclusions of the Arab League's Beirut Summit and the U.S. initiated plan for an international conference.

The next morning, the ministers focused on weapons proliferation, while also covering the Balkans and touching on Cyprus, the Korean peninsula and conflict prevention. While the latter cluster was relegated to a brief reference each in the concluding Chair's Statement, the discussion on weapons proliferation proved highly productive. In addition to approving a comprehensive framework for dealing with weapons of mass destruction that might fall into terrorist hands, the ministers were able in a frank talks with their Russian colleague to identify practical ways that would allow a proposed new US$ 20 billion fund to decommission and destroy Russia's weapons of mass destruction to proceed.


At the end of the concluding news conference, Russian foreign ministers Ivanov, on behalf of his colleagues, congratulated host Bill Graham for the "very strict way" in which he ensured that the group covered all of its highly challenging agenda in the limited time available. Even allowing for diplomatic politesse, this comment signaled that, as a Kananaskis precursor, Whistler did prove that a mountain lodge format, with a firm business-like chair, could productively cover an ambitious agenda in the very short time available. More directly, on the key issues of weapons of mass destruction, India-Pakistan and Aghanistan, the foreign ministers were able to advance their agenda in a way that would reduce the time their leaders needed to devote to these subjects at Kananaksis itself.

Whistler also proved highly effective in finding a formula to deal with civil society participation at G8 meetings. Protestors were virtually absent at Whistler and civil society representatives fully pleased with their pre-Summit meeting with the host minister. The Whistler formula would thus be taken to Kananasksis, where the Prime Minister had asked Bill Graham to go to Calgary to meet with NGO representatives, and, as Graham had at the Quebec City Summit, receive their recommendations, and pass them on to the Prime Minister for forwarding to his colleagues. While some might still ask for the host Prime Minister himself to meet with civil society, as he had at Okinawa 2000, given the choice of the Kananaskis format, the Chretien-Graham formula was a most forthcoming step.

Another feature of the Kanansksis formula that was proven up at Whistler concerned the use of a chair's statement in place of a formal, pre-negotiated and collectively approved communiqué. The Chair's Statement, at three single spaced pages, was similar in length to some previous communiqués and extensive and detailed enough to provide an adequately transparent, directional and decisional record of what had been discussed and agreed. Together with the two separate subject-specific Statements issued on the first day of the meeting, and three additional documents released through the Canadian government's website on June 13, those desiring documentation from such meetings could feel satisfied with the result. Indeed, Whistler's paper product amounted to six documents of almost two-dozen single-spaced pages in all. However those wanting ministers to release their own full reports on the implementation of last year's agreements, as the foreign ministers started to do on conflict prevention at Rome, would have to wait for another day.

From a broad Canadian perspective, Whistler allowed for the advance of several objectives, making it well worth its modest, under-one-million dollars, expense. Graham and others were able to highlight the advantages of Whistler as a tourist destination, and its credentials as the prospective site of the 2010 winter Olympics at an early stage of the international competition for hosting this event. It also enabled Graham to again intervene with Powell on their bilateral trade dispute over softwood lumber, where U.S. protectionist action was costing Canada 25,000 jobs. More broadly, the meeting enabled Canada to educate the foreign media and their audiences about Canada's often otherwise unrecognized position on a host of critical global issues, and enable other countries, such as Japan, to perform a similar educational service within Canada itself. With Graham appearing relaxed, fully in command, and enjoying a particularly good relationship with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, there was no doubt about Canada's place in or valuable contribution to the G8 club. Indeed, even on the one issue where Canada was not a first tier player, the Middle East, Powell was able easily to identify how Canada, along with Japan, could play an important new role.

In developing the G8 foreign ministers process as an institution, Whistler did nothing of note. In declaring that they would next meet as usual at the United Nations General Assembly in the autumn, the ministers signaled that they were content even after September 11th with their sparse meeting schedule, rather than wanting to move to the more dense, year round cadence employed by their finance ministers colleagues or that their foreign minister predecessors had launched in 1999. Nor did any major mandates for future action or new working groups arise.

On the substance of its international agenda, Whistler produced no specific breakthroughs on critical issues, such as the prospective peace conference and plan on the Middle East that consumed most of the attending media's attention. Even here however, Whistler helped deepen the consensus on shared principles among eight major powers that had each long had a quite distinctive approach. The G8 was able to advance the task of bringing durable peace and reconstruction to traditionally difficult areas such as the Balkans and Cyprus, where past progress meant that they were no longer in the headlines of today. The foreign ministers also agreed on a co-ordinated strategy to ensure that the very recent move to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan would continue and, as an incentive, discussed how they might help these countries over the longer term. On Afghanistan they developed a consensus on how their respective resources could be deployed in a more co-ordinated fashion, to ensure that the new Afghani government could bring security, the rule of law, a functioning civil society, and eventually democracy and prosperity to all of Afghanistan. On terrorism, the ministers agreed to act in a co-ordinated way to assist outside countries implement their international obligations in the campaign against terrorism.

Probably the most meaningful accomplishment concerned the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in particular, keeping them out of terrorists' hands. Here ministers agreed on a program embracing improved multilateral treaty compliance, facilities security, and border controls. Very frank discussion with Russian foreign minister Ivanov about what would be practically required by way of implementation if a US$ 20 billion fund were to be approved by leaders at Kananasksis importantly advanced this issue. However ultimate success would depend on Russia's willingness to accommodate Japan on the return of Japan's northern territories which Russia had long occupied. It was thus left to the leaders at Kananaksis, in keeping with the logic of the G8 Summit system, to build on the achievements of their foreign ministers at Kananasksis to produce breakthroughs of truly historic proportions.


G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting, Progress Report on the Fight Against Terrorism, June 12, 2002, Whistler, Canada.

G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting, Statement on Afghanistan, June 12, 2002, Whistler, Canada.

G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting, Canadian Chair's Statement, June 13, 2002, Whistler, Canada.

G8 Foreign Ministers, G8 Conflict Prevention, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, June 13, 2002.

G8 Foreign Ministers, G8 Initiative on Conflict and Development, June 13, 2002.

G8 Foreign Ministers, G8 Recommendations on Counter-Terrorism, June 13, 2002.

13 June 2002

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