Scholarly Publications and Papers
Help | Free Search | Search by Year | Search by Country | Search by Issue (Subject) | G8 Centre

Scholarly Pulications and Papers

Compliance with G8 Commitments:
Ascertaining the degree of compliance With Summit debt and international trade commitments
For Canada and the United States 1996-1999

Diana Juricevic
POL 495Y
Professor John J. Kirton
Department of Political Science
Centre for International Studies
University of Toronto

[Document Contents] [Next]


In an increasingly integrated and interdependent world, policy coordination and collective action among the major industrial powers has become an important part of the economic and foreign policy activity of many states. At the centre of this international initiative of building cooperative relations is the Group of Seven process, established in 1975 to address three fundamental needs: reconcile international economics and domestic politics, supplement and supplant hegemonic stability with collective management, and restore political authority over bureaucratization.1 More recently, in addition to providing a mechanism for synchronizing domestic macroeconomic policy, the summits have increasingly become a public forum for addressing complex global political issues as well—such as nuclear proliferation, international terrorism and crime, reform in Russia, environmental degradation and sustainable development.2 From this perspective, summit scholars such as Ella Kokotsis maintain "the annual seven-power Summits have become an increasingly potent dynamic in international politics as they continue to demonstrate their ability to influence and shape significant global economic and political events".3

To what extent has the summit process in fact influenced and shaped the course of economic and political events? How effective has it actually been in building cooperative relations between states? In addressing these questions, the effectiveness of the summit process has been challenged on a number of fronts. First, critics such as G. John Ikenberry argue that the summits are often concerned more with ceremony than with substance.4 Described as a "ritualized photo opportunity" with "bland official communiqués" and "vague joint commitments" that gloss over the problems in the international financial system, Ikenberry concludes that the summit's inability to address the new challenges of the post-Cold War world "constitutes an enormous failure of imagination and responsibility".5 While recognizing the importance of a great power "concert" responsible for substantive policy coordination, Ikenberry nevertheless maintains that the nature of cooperation among the major democratic industrial states should be reformed through the establishment of a G-7 Secretariat and Council of Ministers.6

Other critics of the Seven-Power Summit such as Robert Putnam and Sir Nicholas Bayne advance the argument that when the summit countries do in fact reach agreement and attempt to implement that agreement simultaneously, they tend to produce an exaggerated result beyond their original intention.7 This was most apparent during the first four summits in the 1970s when despite the agreed upon deflationary policies and measures to fix growth targets, synchronized macroeconomic policies among the summit countries resulted in ever increasing government deficits, sharp increases in inflation, and a recession of unprecedented severity—an exacerbation of the problems that they were in fact trying to resolve.8

The third and perhaps most serious criticism levelled at the G7/8 process centres on the issue of compliance. Summit scholars like W. R. Smyser argue that even when the summits do generate ambitious agreements, timely well-designed solutions to evolving economic and political problems, the G7/8 process is still rendered ineffective because these agreed commitments are not consistently implemented. There are several reasons for this. In addition to the national interest of the implementing country, ambiguity in the language of communiqués also makes it considerably more difficult to capture the precise meaning of commitments, allowing for differing interpretations of the summit document and thereby differing actions by participating governments.9 Even if communiqué commitments are made explicitly clear, it may not be advantageous for governments to implement some of them because such summit agreements may be rendered inappropriate in light of changes in the domestic and international environment. Additionally, some countries lack the necessary resources to ensure compliance: well trained bureaucrats to monitor and report on the progress of implementation and sufficient budgetary resources to enforce compliance through dispute settlement mechanisms and economic sanctions. Even when member states do honour their agreements, Smyser nevertheless maintains that the summit process is still rendered ineffective because the G7/8 governments are unable to impose their collective will on non-member countries or international organizations.10

While there are isolated instances of compliance with ambitious commitments—such as the deflationary and energy conservation measures concluded at the Bonn 1978 Summit—there are other instances where summit commitments were not honoured.11 By sanctioning the soviet gas pipeline in the wake of the Versailles 1982 summit, the United States unilaterally reneged on one of its summit agreements, and the wave of global protest that ensued revealed the disillusionment with the credibility of the process. In reaction to the American sanctions, French President Francois Mitterrand remarked: "We wonder what concept the United States has of Summit meetings when it becomes a matter of agreements made and not respected."12

It is the keeping of international agreements-this issue of compliance-that poses the greatest challenge to the credibility of the G7/8 summit exchange because in not honouring agreements, the process of negotiating them becomes irrelevant. Why reach agreement if these agreements are never implemented? For government announcements to reduce the costs of changing economic and political behaviour, there must be a sufficient degree of ‘believability'.13 Identifying the patterns, explaining the causes, and exploring the processes of compliance within the context of summit commitments is essential to ensure that this head-of-state and government exchange is believable, credible, and thereby worth maintaining. Moreover, compliance creates coordination, as member states are unlikely to reach ambitious agreements if they expect others will not honour them. Compliance is therefore at the very centre of the study of international cooperation. More specifically, cooperation is a necessary condition for compliance and likewise "non-compliance in issue areas can lead to non-cooperative behaviour in the future."14

The purpose of this article is to identify the patterns and processes and explain the causes of summit compliance. Due to time and research constraints, the impending analysis will be limited to examining the extent to which two summit countries complied with G7/8 commitments in two issue areas spanning across four years. More specifically, this paper will examine the extent to which Canada and the United States have substantively implemented their most significant G7/8 debt relief and international trade commitments from 1996 to 1999. The argument advanced in this paper is that no single theory on international cooperation adequately accounts for either summit compliance in general or cross-country variations in particular. This paper will build models for identifying commitments, ranking them according to their level of ambition and significance, and develop a framework for assessing compliance. In addition to this empirical analysis, this paper will enter the theoretical debate, expounding four core theories that account for compliance and assessing them in light of the new empirical evidence.

In order to explore the patterns, processes, and causes of compliance, it is first necessary to define the term itself. Within the international relations literature, there exist several competing conceptions on compliance. Harold Jacobson and Edith Brown Weiss associate compliance with "whether countries in fact adhere to the provisions of the accord and to the implementing measures they have instituted."15 They maintain that compliance with treaties may be either procedural by addressing the form of the treaty or substantive by addressing its content.16 Jacob and Weiss also suggest that compliance is not identical but rather tangentially related to effectiveness, in that compliance with a treaty obligation does not necessarily ensure that the treaty was effective in attaining its objectives. For instance, as Chayes and Chayes remarked, signatories of the International Whaling Convention who complied fully with the quotas set by its commission nevertheless critically reduced the whaling population because the quotas themselves were set too high.17

Oran Young is also concerned with the issue of whether countries comply with treaty provisions and by extension whether the measures implemented are effective in attaining desired objectives. His central position, however, goes beyond the distinction between treaty compliance and regime effectiveness to question whether the general level of compliance with international agreements can be empirically verified.18 Young argues that assessing compliance becomes considerably more difficult "as one moves away from simple binary choice situations to more complex political situations such as those found in international politics."19 He does not, however, provide an adequate solution for simplifying this process. Von Furstenberg and Daniels, on the other hand, attempt to do so. Given the imprecision of communiqué language, they maintain that compliance can and does occur "in part" or "to some a degree" and thereby employ a continuous scale of compliance measurement.20

In addition to Von Furstenberg and Daniels, Chayes and Chayes provide both a useful and applicable insight for simplifying this process. They argue that the focus should be on whether the "state" is in compliance with its international commitments since the "state" is ultimately accountable for failing to comply domestically with its agreements.21 To make the process of measuring compliance with commitments feasible, this study will focus on whether the "state" has passed the appropriate legislation and implemented the necessary regulations, thereby adopting the following definition inspired by Chayes and Chayes and subsequently refined by Kokotsis:

‘First Order Compliance' is defined to mean national government action geared towards the domestic implementation of the necessary formal legislative and administrative regulations designed to execute summit commitments…Compliance is measured according to governmental actions designed to modify existing instruments within the executive and legislative branch to accommodate the commitments reached.22

Given that governments are not legally bound to summit declarations, that there exists no formal means of enforcement, that there is no G7/8 secretariat to facilitate directly with the implementation process, and that some commitments are superseded by subsequent agreements, one might expect compliance with international commitments to be low. Advocates of a more optimistic view, however, expect compliance to be high in the G7/8 because realist states will only agree to commitments they have an interest in honouring, and there exists only one year in which these interests can be redefined. Indeed the nature of the negotiation process itself promotes compliant behaviour because Summit states do not arrive at commitments any one member greatly disapproves of. There are four core theories that address these issues and claim to account for compliance with G7/8 commitments.

The first of these is the American Leadership Model23, a subjective hegemonic theory of cooperation rooted in a "liberal perfectionist" perspective. Putnam and Bayne assume that with the right conditions, even in a condition of anarchy, leaders can attain the optimal degree of cooperation and more importantly compliance. Within this framework, cooperation is defined as episodes in which there is a mutual adjustment of policies to reduce the costs or enhance the benefits on the welfare for other states. In their view compliance should be measured on cooperative achievements that are both ambitious and comprehensive, consisting of policy coordination and large package deals spanning broad issue areas. Three key variables exist to account for compliance by national governments. The first of these, subjective hegemony, refers to the situation when the United States takes a strong lead on summit initiatives supported by at least one other power in the concert. It is seen as a necessary but not sufficient condition for attaining and implicitly securing compliance with cooperative outcomes. The second variable asserts that the dominant lessons of the past as interpreted by the leaders influences compliant behaviour. The third addresses the domestic pressures and interests of the participating states themselves. Here the recognition of shared interests, the absence of electoral uncertainties, and the existence of strong domestic political alignments in key countries allows for effective trans-national alliances between member states.

The second theoretical model—concert theory—identifies four key variables to account for compliance: constricted participation, concentrated power, common values and purpose, and direct political control by leaders, the latter being the most important in the present context.24 Since leaders make the decisions and have ultimate domestic authority, commitments become personal promises as well as national obligations. In being further subject to significant societal and political pressures—such as upcoming elections, party standing, and public opinion—leader's decisions abroad make them personally accountable to their domestic constituents at home. As Von Furstenberg and Daniels maintain, the fact that leaders are implicated in the negotiation process promotes compliant behaviour because of the high costs associated with reneging on any agreements.25 Indeed "the direct involvement in and dominance of the G7 by democratically elected heads of state and government serves as a strong cause of compliance behaviour."26

The third theoretical framework to account for compliant behaviour is the False New Consensus Model,27 established by Bergsten and Henning in 1996. Bergsten and Henning argue that the decline in the 1990s is due to "a growing consensus within the group that changes in global economic conditions make it impossible" for the G7 to pursue previously feasible alternatives.28 In contrast to the pure hegemonic theory of cooperation in which either a beneficent or coercive hegemon ensures cooperative behaviour, advocates of the false new consensus theory purport that "the decline in America's economic and security clout, which partly stems from the end of the Cold War and with America's inconsistent policies and inept performance," accounts for non-compliant behaviour with G7 commitments. This lack of compliance is further exacerbated by traditional differences among the key members, particularly the United States and Germany on several substantive issues.

The final theoretical model accounting for compliance behaviour, Democratic Institutionalism,29 builds on regime theory to examine the effects of institutional variables within the context of summitry. This occurs on three levels. First, at the domestic level compliance increases when states have established departments with well-defined structures, a strong institutional capacity for implementation, and strong institutional links to powerful multilateral organizations. For instance, since Canada has a permanent G7/8 Summit Coordination Office to execute summit undertakings, advocates of democratic institutionalism argue that its compliance with Summit commitments ought to be greater than a G8 country that does not have such institutionalized departments. Second, at the international level compliance increases if G7 members have a strong degree of control in international organizations that implement Summit resolutions. Given the G7's influence with such international organizations as the WTO, World Bank, and IMF for instance, Summit members ought to be better equipped to influence agenda and support G7/8 international trade and debt relief commitments. Third, at the G7/8 level, compliance is positively correlated with the level of institutionalization of the G7/8 itself. As the level of institutionalization within the G7/8 increases—through established ministerial and official forums and the expansion of a preparatory and follow-up process—advocates of democratic institutionalism argue that so too will the level of commitment compliance.

This study will apply each of these four theoretical frameworks—subjective hegemonic theory, concert theory, false new consensus theory, and democratic institutionalism theory—to provide a more comprehensive explanation of compliance with G8 commitments. It will build on the two major existing studies of the Summit's compliance record—those by Von Furstenberg and Daniels and by Kokotsis. Von Furstenberg and Daniels conducted the pioneer work on compliance in 1991. In analyzing 209 economic and energy commitments found in the annual summit declarations from 1975 to 1989, their findings suggest a weak but positive compliance record of +30.7%.31 This suggests that members do comply albeit weakly with their Summit commitments. Compliance was highest in the issue areas of international trade and energy, with Britain and Canada complying the most overall.32 While their findings suggest that the major industrial powers comply even with commitments contained in informal regimes, Von Furstenberg and Daniels do not propose sufficient explanations for the causes, patterns and processes of compliance.33

In a subsequent study, Kokotsis develops a democratic institutionalism model for explaining the causes of compliance. In exploring United States and Canadian compliance with G7 sustainable development commitments from 1988 to 1995, her findings suggest a slight increase in overall compliance levels: with relatively high levels for Canada, a significant rise in American compliance over the previous decade, and very high levels of compliance in the issue area of assistance to Russia. Although providing the first systematic review of the record of compliance with G7 decisions in the post Cold War world, her study remains limited in its analytic treatment of Summit commitments. Neither Kokotsis' study nor Von Furstenberg and Daniel's study systematically rank commitments according to their level of ambition or level of significance, treating instead each individual commitment as being of equal importance. This is problematic because presumably it ought to be easier to comply with less ambitious or significant commitments than more ambitious ones.

This study will attempt to make this analytic advance, by devising and applying a framework for ranking summit commitments according to their level of ambition and subsequently according to their level of significance. It will analyze the compliance record of Canada and the United States by exploring the patterns of compliance with the most significant international trade and debt relief commitments from 1996 to 1999; this during a time period when the memory of the Cold War has receded, globalization has become more acute, and Russia has become part of the new G8. There are several reasons for this. By examining an issue explored in Von Furstenberg's study (International trade) and another explored in Kokotsis' study (debt relief), this paper will attempt to trace the process of compliance by issue area building on the empirical analyses of the two earlier works. (For reasons addressed in subsequent sections of the paper, this will be a tentative exercise at best).34 Further by employing a two-country comparative approach as Kokotsis did in her study, this paper will examine the compliance record of two summit states that lie at opposite ends of the relative capability spectrum, thereby directly testing hegemonic theories of cooperation—those suggesting that there exists a correlation between a country's relative size, as measured in terms of GNP, and its overall compliance record.35 Additionally, a comparative approach between Canada and the United States allows for an examination of two predominantly English-speaking countries that differ in their national institutions and position within the international community. In that this study will shed light on whether an internationalist middle power operating under a parliamentary system of government (Canada) has a higher compliance record than a unilateralist great power operating under a presidential system of government (United States).36

1 Putnam, Robert D. and Nicholas Bayne. Hanging Together: Cooperation and Conflict in the Seven-Power Summits. (Rev. Ed). (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987): pp.18
2 Kokotsis, Eleonore. Keeping International Commitments: Compliance, Credibility and the G7, 1988-1995. (New York: Garland Publishing Inc, 1999): pp.3
3 Ibid.
4 Ikenberry, G. John. "Salvaging the G7." Foreign Affairs Vol. 72 No. 2 (Spring 1993): pp. 132
5 Ibid.
6 Ikenberry. pp. 136-137.
7 Putnam and Bayne. pp. 96-97.
8 Putnam and Bayne. pp. 91
9 Kokotsis, pp. 5
10 Ibid.
11 Von Furstenberg, George and Joseph P. Daniels. "Can You Trust the G7 Promises?" International Economic Insights 3 (September-October 1992): pp. 25
12 Putnam and Bayne, pp. 137-138.
13 Von Furstenberg and Daniels (1992), pp.24
14 Kokotsis, pp. 24
15 Jacobson, Harold and Edith Brown Weiss. "Strengthening Compliance with International Environmental Accords: Preliminary Observations from a Collaborative Project," in Global Governance Vol. 1, No. 2 (May-August), 1995: pp. 123
16 Kokotsis, pp. 17
17 Chayes, Abram and Antonia Handler Chayes. "On Compliance" International Organization, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Spring 1993): pp.176.
18 Oran Young. Compliance and Public Authority: A Theory with International Implications. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979): pp. 104, 160-192
19 Kokotsis, pp. 17
20 Kokotsis, pp.30
21 Kokotsis, pp.18
22 Ibid.
23 See Robert D. Putnam and Nicholas Bayne. Hanging Together: Cooperation and Conflict in the Seven-Power Summits. (Rev Ed.) (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1987)
24 See John J. Kirton. "The Seven Power Summit as a New Security Institution" in David Dewitt et al (Eds.) Building a new Global Order: Emerging Trends in International Security. (Oxford University Press: Toronto, 1993)
25 Von Furstenberg and Daniels. Economic Summit Declarations, 1975-1989. Princeton Studies in International Finance, no. 72. (Princeton, N. J.: International Finance Section, Dept. of Economics, Princeton University, 1992) pp. 6-7
26 Kokotsis, pp.26
27 See Fred Bergsten and Randall Henning. Global Economic Leadership
28 Kirton, John J et al. (Ed.) The G8's Role In The New Millennium (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 1999): Table 1A
29 See Eleonore Kokotsis. Keeping International Commitments: Compliance, Credibility, and the G7, 1988-1995. (Garland Publishing: New York, 1999)
30 For a detailed analysis of the G7 compliance record with economic and energy commitments from 1975 to 1989, please see George M. Von Furstenberg and Joseph P. Daniels, Policy Undertakings by the Seven Summit countries: ascertaining the degree of compliance. Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy 35 (Autumn 1991): 267-308.
31 This is on a scale from -100% to +100%.
32 Daniels, Joseph P. The Meaning and Reliability of Economic Summit Undertakings, 1975-1989. (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1993): pp. 276
33 Kokotsis, pp. 6
34 Both issue areas are ones in which the issue structure of relevant relative capabilities are relatively equal across G8 countries, leading to potentially higher results under a modified concert model.
35 Kokotsis, pp. 8.
36 An internationalist power is one that participates actively in world politics, supports and promotes international organizations and institutions, and "takes matters of international law quite seriously." [Kokotsis pp. 9]

[Document Contents] [Next]

G8 Centre
This Information System is provided by the University of Toronto Library and the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto.
Please send comments to:
This page was last updated .

All contents copyright © 1995-99. University of Toronto unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.