UofT G8 Information Centre: G8 Online Program 2004

G8 Information Centre, G8 Online 2004 Program


Lecture 3: Compliance and the G8 Summits, Ella Kokotsis

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Hello, my name is Dr. Ella Kokotsis, Director of Analytical Studies of the University of Toronto G8 Research Group.

In this session, "Compliance and the G8," I will explore the issue of compliance with commitments reached at the annual G8 summits by examining some of the empirical findings on compliance and offering explanations for three important questions:

  • To what extent and under what conditions do G8 members abide by the collective commitments and decisions reached at the summit table?
  • How does the pattern of compliance vary by issue area and over time?
  • What accounts for causes of high and low compliance?

Questions have traditionally arisen over the effectiveness of the G8 as a collective institution inducing its members to fulfill their commitments once the summit is over, the media have dispersed and the leaders have returned home. Because the G8 consists of autonomous, sovereign states with democratically elected leaders who are driven by differing national interests and domestic demands, there are real limits to how much commitments collectively made at one moment can constrain or produce compliance in national government behaviour the coming year.

I will argue, however, that it seems to very make little sense for the leaders to invest their time and resources, potentially risking their political and personal reputations, in order to generate collective agreements if they do not comply with these commitments once they return home at summit's end. As such, these meetings do matter, for they have proven over time to yield tangible and credible commitments that are timely, appropriate and, in many cases, highly ambitious.

Defining Commitments

Prior to explaining patterns of summit compliance, we must first define what is meant by a commitment. Commitments are defined as discrete, specific, publicly expressed, collectively agreed statements of intent; in other words, they are promises or undertakings by leaders to take future action to move toward an identified target or commitment. A number of criteria fit this definition:

  • commitments must be discrete - meaning each target represents a separate commitment;
  • commitments must be specific, identifiable and measurable and must contain specified parameters;
  • commitments must be future-oriented rather than present endorsements of previous actions; in other words, they must represent a pattern for future action; and, finally
  • commitments must not consist of statements that identify the agenda or priority of issues, or offer descriptions containing logical language (for example, "sustainable development is a critical concern" or "debt relief helps promote democracy").

Given our definition of a commitment, what constitutes compliance? Compliance is achieved when national governments alter their own behaviour and that of their societies in order to fulfill the specified goal or commitment. In other words, leaders legitimize their commitments by:

  • including them, for example, within their national agenda;
  • referring to them in public speeches or press releases, or in internal policy debates;
  • forming task forces or assigning personnel to negotiate the mandates;
  • launching new diplomatic initiatives;
  • allocating budgetary resources; or
  • making recommendations for increased research and development in projects relating to that particular commitment.

Charting Compliance

What do we know about summit compliance? The classic study by George von Furstenberg and Joseph Daniels (1992) measured summit compliance scores with economic and energy undertakings between 1975 and 1989, finding overall compliance scores to be 32%. Compliance varied by country and issue area, with the highest compliance by Canada and the United Kingdom in the areas of international trade and energy, and lower compliance by the United States and France in the areas of interest and exchange rate management. Subsequent compliance studies by Ella Kokotsis and John Kirton (1997), in the areas of the environment and development between 1988 and 1995 (with particular focus on Canada and the U.S. within the broader G7/G8 framework) found compliance to be generally positive with an overall compliance score of 43%. Again, compliance scores varied, with Canada at 53% and the U.S. at 43%. Higher compliance was found in the areas of debt and international assistance, than in the environment, specifically climate change and biodiversity.

Every year since 1995, the University of Toronto's G8 Research Group has assessed the compliance records of the G7/G8 with the major commitments identified in the summit communiqué using similar methodological approaches to previous compliance studies. Compliance scores have varied over this period as follows:

  • 36% in Lyon in 1996;
  • 13% in Denver in 1997;
  • 32% in Birmingham in 1998;
  • 38% in Cologne in 1999;
  • 81% in Okinawa in 2000;
  • 50% in Genoa in 2001; and
  • 35% in Kananaskis in 2002.

Average compliance scores between 1996 and 2002 have therefore averaged around 41%, consistent with results found by Kirton and Kokotsis during the earlier summit cycle. Compliance has been highest during this period in the political security domain at 49% (including traditional east-west relations, terrorism, arms control, landmines, human rights, regional security and conflict prevention). Global/transnational issues (including the environment, nuclear safety, health, infectious diseases, crime and biotechnology) follow with an average score of 41% during this period. The core economic sector follows at 37% (with issues including trade, development, employment, debt of the poorest and reform of the international financial institutions). And governance issues, focused primarily on United Nations reform, are at 14%.

During this period, Britain continues to lead, with Canada in second place overall, the U.S. in third, followed by Italy, Japan, Germany and France. Russia remains last among its G8 partners.

Explaining Compliance

What do these findings suggest? What accounts for overall positive compliance patterns over time?

First, the direct involvement of leaders, and not lower level officials, means that the heads of state and government themselves have discussed and altered the agreements and have forged a consensus on how these agreements will be implemented domestically. Deep public support for summit leaders and the commitments they embrace grants the leaders an enormous amount of political capital. For example, during the last summit cycle, the G8 was less afflicted by electoral uncertainties and therefore enjoyed longer lived governments. This meant leaders had more political experience, leaders had greater summit skills, there was greater socialization of the leaders at a personal level and there were more balanced expectations - thereby generally resulting in greater overall possibilities for summit compliance.

Second, compliance is highest when a country's domestic administrative and bureaucratic structures are organized in a way that allows for prompt implementation. For example, where departments of finance or foreign affairs serve as repositories for implementing G8 agreements, smaller, less institutionally entrenched departments (such as the environment), typically tend to lack co-ordinating centres for G8-related activity and oversight.

Third, higher levels of compliance are assured in such cases where the G8 are members of existing broader regimes, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank and subsequently extend commitments reached in other regimes into their own annual meetings.

Fourth, domestic political factors also matter because commitments are generally complied with when the leaders who made them enjoy credibility, popular and party support and have demonstrated a strong personal commitment to both the issue at stake and the G8 as an institution.

Fifth, the depth and breadth of G8 ministerial institutions has also increased over time, particularly during the third and fourth summit cycles. The growth of ministerial and official institutions takes the pressure off leaders by allowing others to prepare and implement G8 consensus and commitments within their areas of competence, thereby freeing leaders to focus on only the most difficult and timely issues. With the rise in compliance levels in 1998, for example, for the first time the leaders found themselves without their foreign and finance ministers, which gave them the opportunity to focus on specific themes. This situation generated a stronger depth of understanding and personal commitment to the agreements that carried through into more effective compliance the following year.

And finally, the sharp drop in compliance in 1997-98 followed by the sharp rise in 1998-2001 suggests the impact of changes in the summit format introduced in those two periods. In 1997, the Russians were admitted to the "Denver Summit of the Eight," leaving little time for the seven other leaders to meet alone. The new diversity of membership and lack of grappling with substantive issues may have produced less psychological "buy in" on the part of the leaders and thus less compliance with their commitments the ensuing year. By contrast, the 1998 Birmingham Summit was the first permanent G8, giving Russia a level of assurance with its membership, and hence contributing to higher overall compliance scores.


The issue of how well each summit member performs with respect to complying with their commitments in previous years is a critical one, for its answers point to areas where the G8 needs to take remedial action. Furthermore, it allows us to assess how much credibility the leaders bring to the summit table, and whether the products of the summits, proudly announced at their conclusion, deserve to be treated with any degree of seriousness at all.

Systematically assessing compliance with summit commitments is, however, a formidable exercise, involving a number of analytical complexities and heavy data demands. These studies are useful to the extent that they offer a definition of identifying commitments, and a procedure for recognizing them. These studies also analyze what qualifies as compliance behaviour and present a scale for measuring compliance. However, these scores are offered with an invitation for others to challenge, confirm, enrich and supplement them. We welcome contributions to this ongoing empirical, methodological and analytical exercise.

As we look forward to the 2004 Summit in Sea Island, Georgia, we find that a relatively experienced group of leaders will be represented, with summit veterans including French president Jacques Chirac, German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and British prime minister Tony Blair. Canada's new Prime Minister, Paul Martin, comes to office with many years of summit experience in his capacity as Canada's finance minister. And with Russia inserted into the hosting rotation in 2006, scrutiny on President Vladimir Putin's performance will surely mount. But with less than five months to go until the U.S. presidential election by the time of the summit, all eyes will be on President George Bush as he undoubtedly positions the Summit on key re-election issues, including the U.S. economy and the ongoing crisis in Iraq.

As we continue our analytical assessments of Evian, we look forward to the Sea Island agenda, with strong expectations that summit success, measured by compliance with commitments achieved, will continue during the fifth cycle of summitry.


Kokotsis, Eleanore and John J. Kirton (1997). "National Compliance with Environmental Regimes: The Case of the G7, 1988-1995." Paper prepared for the annual convention of the International Studies Association, 18-22 March.

von Furstenberg, George M. and Joseph P. Daniels (1992). "Economic Summit Declarations, 1975-1989: Examining the Written Record of International Cooperation." Princeton Studies in International Finance No. 72.

References and Recommended reading

Daniels, Joseph and Ella Kokotsis (1997). "Summit Compliance: Are Summit Commitments Meaningful?" Paper presented at "Explaining Summit Success: Prospects for the Denver Summit," University of Colorado at Denver, June 19.

Juricevic, Diana (1999). "Compliance with G8 Commitments: Ascertaining the Degree of Compliance with Summit Debt and International Trade Commitments for Canada and the United States, 1996-1999." Paper prepared for G8 and Global Governance course (Professor John Kirton), Department of Political Science, University of Toronto.

Kirton, John and Ella Kokotsis (2001). "Compliance with G8 Commitments: The Peace and Security and Conflict Prevention Agenda, From Okinawa 2000 to Genoa 2001." Paper prepared for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade's Policy Planning Division, October 24.

Kirton, John, Ella Kokotsis and Diana Juricevic (2002). "Okinawa's Promises Kept: The 2001 G8 Compliance Record." In John Kirton and Junichi Takase, Eds., New Directions in Global Political Governance: The G8 and International Order in the Twenty-First Century. pp. 269–280. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Kokotsis, Ella (1995). "Keeping Sustainable Development Commitments: The Recent G7 Record." In John Kirton and Sarah Richardson, Eds., The Halifax Summit, Sustainable Development and International Institutional Reform. Ottawa: National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.

Kokotsis, Eleanore and John J. Kirton (1997). "National Compliance with Environmental Regimes: The Case of the G7, 1988-1995." Paper prepared for the annual convention of the International Studies Association, 18-22 March.

von Furstenberg, George and Joseph Daniels (1992). "Can You Trust G7 Promises?" International Economic Insights 3 (September/October): 24-27.

von Furstenberg, George M. and Joseph P. Daniels (1992). "Economic Summit Declarations, 1975–1989: Examining the Written Record of International Cooperation." Princeton Studies in International Finance No. 72.

Discussion Questions

  1. Are high levels of compliance always a good thing? Why or why not?

  2. How would you reform your own country's government in order to improve its compliance score?

  3. Do the patterns of compliance with summit commitments confirm the traditional realist adage, based on relative capabilities, that large countries do what they want and small countries do what they must? Or do scholars of comparative politics, with their emphasis on the differences in domestic political system - such as the difference between the parliamentary and presidential systems - have a better explanation?

  4. Why was compliance so high with the commitments made at the 2000 Okinawa Summit?

  5. Is compliance higher in issue areas where the G7/G8 have their own well-established set of ministerial and official level bodies to assist with implementation and preparation?


  1. From 1975 to 1989, G7 members complied with their economic and energy commitments at an overall average level of:
    1. 0%
    2. 12%
    3. 32%
    4. 86%
  2. From 1988 to 1995, Canada and the United States complied with their environment and development commitments at an overall average level of:
    1. 17%
    2. 32%
    3. 43%
    4. 67%
  3. From 1975 to 1995, Canada's average compliance score is:
    1. higher than that of the U.S.
    2. lower than that of the U.S
    3. equal to that of the U.S.
    4. cannot be assessed because data are missing
  4. The summit with the highest overall measured compliance score is:
    1. Toronto 1988
    2. Evian 2003
    3. Cologne 1999
    4. Okinawa 2000
  5. The country that consistently has the highest measured level of compliance is:
    1. Canada
    2. Britain
    3. France
    4. U.S.

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