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Analytical Studies

A Summit of Historic Significance: A Gold Medal for the Kananaskis G8

John Kirton, Director, G8 Research Group
Published in the Calgary Herald, June 28, 2002

At Paris in 1989, developing world leaders who dined with the G7 at the start of the Summit, and Mikhal Gorbachev who sent a letter at its end, first signaled that the long-separated "south" and the "east" of the old cold-war world finally wanted into the democratic and thus developed world. At Kananaskis in 2002, the G8 has finally delivered. It has thus ended the cold war and its destructive global legacy, and brought the G7's central democratic values to critical areas of the developing world. The Kananaskis G8 Summit has thus proven to be a strikingly successful summit, indeed one of the most successful ever held since the Summit started work 28 years ago. It will also, as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recognized, go down as a summit of historic significance, but only if G8 leaders and their new African partners stay the course in the years to come.

At Kananaskis, the G7 finally brought Russia fully into the new G8 club, by declaring that it would host the Summit in 2006. The G8 thus signaled that it intended to remain in business as an international institution, with its current membership, for the next ten years, to provide effective global governance for a rapidly globalizing world. It further produced a new CAD30 billion fund to dismantle and disarm Russia's nuclear weapons, and do so in a way that ensures that the former Soviet Union's nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological weapons and materials do not fall into terrorist hands. It thus transformed Russia from a nuclear-laden rival into a full partner against the common enemies that threaten all governments and their peoples.

Across the old North-South divide, in the poorest region of Africa, the Kananaskis G8 and their new African partners made history as well. They kept their agenda and the world's attention focused on Africa, a region that had dropped off the rich world's radar screen and excluded by the benefits of globalization. They produced the ambitious, innovative Africa Action Plan and pledged the money needed to make it worthwhile. Above all, Nigerian president Obasanjo, on behalf of African leaders, said they were "satisfied," and Kofi Annan pronounced the package "good."

In its design, the Africa Action Plan was carefully, creatively constructed to meet the need. It started with the call to stop the wars that, as proven over the past decade in the Balkans, kill any chance for democracy and development to emerge. It then backed "good governance" as the essential foundation. It went beyond the Africans' own and G8's past enthusiasm to put gender equality and empowering women in a prominent place. Only after peace, order and good government came the trade and investment liberalization that the Africans require with the north and among themselves if they are mobilize the market to help meet their development needs.

In its delivery, the G8's Africa Action Plan built in some processes to ensure it takes hold. By promising that at least half of the USD12 billion of the newly added official development assistance would be sent to those African countries that lived up to their democratic principles, the G8 leaders gave their African partners at Kananaskis a powerful weapon with which to convince reluctant countries to get on board. The G8 added another USD1 billion to relieve the debt of the highly indebted poorest countries, mostly in Africa, so they could keep their money at home to spend on health, clean water and educating young girls. Chretien came in with an all-Canadian contribution that opened Canada's market to the exports of these countries. Moreover, the G8 leaders instructed their personal representatives for Africa to work for another year, and committed themselves to review how well they are doing when they met in France next year. Most promisingly, at the conclusion of the Kananaskis Summit, French president Jacques Chirac declared that for his summit next year he would adopt the Canadian formula of focusing on a single central theme, and African development was his choice.

The Summit did yeoman-like work on a surprisingly broad range of issues, from securing global transportation from terrorists to moving to ensure primary education for all the world's children by 2015. Even so, the leaders missed a few easy opportunities, such as promising to attend the forthcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa and inviting their new African partners back to the G8 Summit in France next year.

A final Kanansksis accomplishment was finding the formula for future G8 summitry. Led by Chirac, Chretien's colleagues gushed about how much they loved their intimate, informal summit in the sun-drenched splendour of Kananaskis, amid the peaceful, polite Albertan political atmosphere. At the same time, the leaders generated a large number of clear commitments for their government to implement and for their citizens to judge them against in the coming year. It was thus hardly surprising that Chirac declared he would follow the Canadian model next year.

In their thirty hours alone together in Alberta, the G8 leaders and their new African partners thus did much to change the world. They clearly deserve the gold medal for their daring, high-risk Kananaskis downhill run. They must now move to the cross-country marathon event in their ongoing geopolitical Olympics, by taking the model and momentum of Kananaskis to France next year and by sustaining the pace and path in the years beyond.

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