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More Efficiency, Less Dignity:
British Perspectives on the Future Role and Working of the G7

Michael Hodges
London School of Economics & Political Science

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Expanding G-7 Membership

There is a strong consensus in Whitehall that the G7 should not expand its membership any further. Although the British are happy with the G7+1 formula, in which the Russian President attends meetings after the G7 summit proper is over, it takes the view that the G7 annual meeting is an economic summit of likeminded and advanced industrial democracies and that Russia, as a country undergoing fundamental economic and political reform (and needing external assistance to do so), is not in that category. Certainly a political dialogue, because of Russia's status as a nuclear power and as successor state to the Soviet Union, is appropriate -- and, following the rout of the reformists in the December parliamentary elections, of even greater importance.

The problem in expanding membership is where to draw the line: aside from Australia (whose membership Japan has advocated in the past), the most obvious candidates are all European and this would overweight Europe. Certainly the majority of British officials view the participation of the European Commission as an advantage; the only problem (partly one of coordination and experience, partly because of the overweighting of European views that results from six European delegations) is the participation of the EU presidency when it is held by a non member of the G7 - this will not be a problem in Naples because Germany will have the presidency at that time.

The problem of opening up G7 membership is where to draw the line. At present the British do not view the membership question as a current issue, since no- one is knocking on the door -- except perhaps for the Russians, who would like their political importance recognised. Instead it prefers to engage Russia as a full participant in serious discussions on international political issues, using the G7+1 format but with Russia having equal status in genuinely multilateral discussions on world issues. Prime Minister Major considers that past G7+1 meetings have tended to be more of a dialogue on purely Russian issues between the G7 on the one hand and Russia on the other, with Russia being treated as a second class citizen. In Tokyo, for example, there were discussions on with Russia on Armenia, Georgia, the Baltics and other successor states of the FSU, but these exchanges still tended to be a G7-Yeltsin dialogue rather than a genuinely world-wide discussion. It was for this reason that Prime Minister Major on his visit to Moscow in February 1994 gave support to President Yeltsin's request for full representation in the political deliberations of the G7 (rather than the "obserber" status implicit in the G7 + 1 format of the last two summits), although Britain does not favour Russia's participation in the G7's economic deliberations. (18)

While such a move may be tacitly supported by President Clinton and Chancellor Kohl, it seems less likely to be welcomed by Japan (at least until its territorial dispute with Russia over the Kurile Islands is solved) or by France, which would not want to see a bifurcated structure with a G8 for political matters overshadowing the economic discussions of the G7. One possible solution to the Russia problem is by developing the political side of G7 activities on an ad hoc basis, with Russia included from time to time as appropriate, perhaps joining meetings of the G7 Foreign Ministers if they develop -- the Tokyo G7+1 meeting of Foreign and Finance Ministers was a "one-off" specifically for a meeting with the Russians. This form of "variable geometry" would serve to engage Russia in a process of building international order, without diluting the key G7 criterion of "likemindedness" or distracting the G7 from their more traditional preoccupations and relationships.

Source: The International Spectator, 29, No. 2 (April/June 1994), Special Issue, pp. 141-159. Copyright ©, Istituto Affari Internazionali. Reproduced by permission of the author and Istituto Affari Internazionali.

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