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Analytical Studies

The Promise of the Kananaskis Summit

John Kirton, Director, G8 Research Group
Published in the Calgary Herald, June 26, 2002

The forthcoming Kananaskis G8 Summit constitutes one of the most ambitious and high-risk gatherings the leaders of the world's eight major market democracies have ever had. Its leaders have chosen to focus on only three themes, rather than the usual broader agenda where some easy deliverables can be found. For their thematic trilogy, they have selected some of the most difficult dilemmas of the past half century - sustaining global growth, combating terrorism and reducing poverty in Africa. To succeed on their centrepiece African agenda, they need to create consensus not only among themselves, but also among the African leaders who will join them as full partners for the Summit's second day, and between the African leaders and the G8. As Kananaskis is one of the shortest summits in G7/8 history, they will have little time, amidst the last-minute crises that might distract them, to reach the right consensus at the right time.

The Kananaskis leaders will thus be engaged in the geopolitical equivalent of a World Cup downhill ski run, with no second chance or margin for error as they speed past their ever more difficult gates. After a very brief meeting of the G7 (without Russia) on finance matters, the G8 will start the first day discussing sustaining growth in the G8 and globe. They will consider how to advance the Doha round of trade liberalization in the face of the U.S. protectionism devastating Canadian and African farmers, how to deliver sustainable development amidst antagonism about the Kyoto Protocol, and how to ensure universal primary education for all the world's children by 2015. They will then turn to terrorism, to take stock of their progress since September 11, chart their path ahead, keep weapons of mass destruction out of terrorists' hands and protect the global transportation system. Over dinner, they will grapple with how to produce peace in the Middle East and between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

On day two, the democratic leaders of the most powerful countries across Africa will outline their new vision for development. They will promise good governance and a new process of peer review in which Africans will ensure that fellow Africans keep their freely adopted democratic faith. The G8 leaders will respond with an African Action Plan that promises the faithful the resources needed to render democracy durable and thus deliver sustainable development. The Plan will reflect not the particular passions of wealthy, largely white G8 preachers but will reinforce the Africans own priorities - good governance, peace and security, knowledge and health, trade and investment, agriculture as a key economic sector and water as a fundamental public good.

Despite their difficult agenda, the leaders are likely to deliver a strikingly successful summit, perhaps one of singular historic significance. It could well do for Africa during the next decade what it has done for the former Soviet world during the past decade - provide critical outside support to ensure deep democratic governance, and thus social and economic development, in regions long trapped on the other side of the east-west and north-south divides.

The leaders will come to Kananaskis having already complied with the important promises on development and Africa they made at their violence-plagued, terrorist-threatened Genoa Summit last year. They know that combating terrorism and African poverty flow directly from the democratic values the G7 club was created to protect and promote. With Canada, Japan and Russia now leading the G8 in economic growth, and with "America-the-victorious" now transformed by September 11 into "America-the-vulnerable," they understand that all members can and must pull their weight if each is to be secure. Having all agreed at Genoa to focus on Africa at Kananaskis, they can get on with the job, confident that their satisfied voters back home will follow where they lead. And while at Kananaskis there is less time and a larger number and more diverse group of leaders than usual at such summits, the G7/8 has proven it can cope with such a configuration when it is chaired by an experience and skilled host.

Here Kananaskis has, as its ultimate Alberta advantage, Canada's Jean Chrétien. Chrétien has been doing G7/8 summitry for decades and proved he could pull it off when he last hosted at Halifax in 1995. Moreover, he has designed Kananaskis to bring out his determined, no-nonsense, business-like best. Behind his professionalism lies a longstanding passion for Africa that he shared with his political mentors, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. Above all, Chrétien and his accomplished Summit team have learned a lot from what Trudeau did right and did wrong when he hosted Canada's first G7 summit at Montebello, Quebec, in 1981. By delivering an improved version of an informal, isolated, retreat-like resort-located Summit where the world's most powerful leaders can personally confront the largest challenges of the day, Chrétien is well positioned to realize the Trudeauvian vision of creating a new, equal north-south partnership based on good governance and producing the self-sustaining, secure social and economic that Canadians know Africans deserve.

How will we know if Chrétien and his colleagues have really succeeded when the Summit ends on Thursday afternoon? They will have done so if they produce a credible strategy for sustaining the G8 and the global growth needed to fuel and finance the Africa Action Plan, through ODA and other measures. This strategy must include an honest and sophisticated approach to ensure that the still shaky U.S. and Japanese economies stay on the strong growth path. The leaders will need to produce close to one billion dollars to fund the HIPC initiative to relieve the debts of the poorest. They will need to do a deal so that Russia can start to give the Northern Territories, which still occupies, back to Japan so that Japan can politically give Russia the money it needs to keep its obsolete nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction from falling into other hands. Above all, at the end of the Summit, the African leaders will have to say -- with passion and conviction, rather than mere diplomatic politesse -- that they are committed democrats who really trust the G8 to support them as they move to make their historic changes back home. Only then will the old north-south divide be replaced by a new partnership and democracy and development brought to a long cut-off and forgotten south.

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