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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

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Determining whether a country has complied with its Summit commitments requires at first a definition of what those commitments actually are. A commitment is defined as a "discrete, specific, publicly expressed, collectively agreed statement of intent; a ‘promise' or ‘undertaking' by Summit members that they will take future action to move toward, meet or adjust an identified target."1 To keep the task of identifying commitments as simple and scientific as possible, a standard set of definitional criteria ought to be employed. The concept of and coding method for identifying commitments can be broken down into four essential criteria.

First, commitments must be discrete.2 That is, each specified goal or target is represented by a separate commitment. If summit members have specified several measures to attain one goal, each measure does not represent a different commitment but rather one single commitment. To understand why, it is useful to keep in mind that different goals are what make commitments discrete, not different measures used to achieve that goal. Hence, if Summit members ‘pledge to attain goal x through method a, b, c' then they have made one commitment to attain goal x, not three.

Second, commitments must be sufficiently specific, in that the goal that the summit members have pledged to attain must be both identifiable and measurable.3 For example, a pledge to ‘promote global prosperity' is not sufficiently specific to be considered a commitment because while one can identify the goal—that being to promote global prosperity—it is not readily measurable. A pledge to ‘promote market liberalization' on the other hand does satisfy the second criteria because the goal—to promote market liberalization--is both identifiable and can be verified scientifically by examining whether countries have taken measures to reduce tariffs, quotas, and other trade barriers.

Third, commitments must be future-oriented, in that summit members must commit themselves to attaining a goal at some future date. This condition can be achieved by either rearticulating a commitment initiated in previous summits or agreeing on a new commitment, but it is not sufficient to simply endorse or welcome an initiative. For example, a statement that ‘reaffirms a commitment to strengthen the credibility of the multilateral trading system' is future-oriented whereas a statement that simply ‘recognizes the importance of strengthening the credibility of the multilateral trading system' is not.4

Finally, while the ‘action' of summit members is required in the future, this ‘future action' need not be specified.5 For example, a statement pledging support for the ‘establishment of a dynamic and competitive private sector in developing countries' is still a commitment because it identifies what the future action is—that being to establish a private sector—even though it doesn't specify how this future action is to be attained. A statement however that articulates, ‘concern over the lack of a dynamic and competitive private sector in developing countries' is not a commitment because it does not bind summit members to act in the future.

Level of Ambition

Having identified commitments according to four key criteria, the next step is to rank them according to their level of ambition. While the total number of commitments attained at a given summit is a useful indication of how successful that summit was in reaching agreement, it is important to recognize that not all commitments are created equal. Hence, it is also useful to establish how ambitious these commitments actually were. To see why consider the following example. Suppose that summit members were able to agree on ten international trade commitments in one year and only five the next. The fact that they attained twice as many commitments the first year does not necessarily imply that the first summit was more successful in creating cooperation in international trade. It may be the case that these ten international trade commitments were considerably less ambitious than the subsequent five. Hence, in order to further differentiate summit commitments, it is useful to determine how ambitious or far-reaching each actually was. An ambitious commitment is one which contains specific measures to be attained by a specific date, changes the status quo, is implemented through new international institutions, and refers to an issue that has not been addressed within the past five summits. In contrast to the commitment identification criteria, the five criteria used to measure ambition need not all be satisfied. It is possible for a commitment to only satisfy one of the five ambition criteria since this would simply mean that it is less ambitious than a commitment that satisfies all five.6 To elucidate this point, it is useful to examine the ambition criteria in more detail.

First, an ambitious commitment is one that either launches a new initiative through the G7/8 (changes the status quo actively) or through other international institutions (changes the status quo passively). A commitment that simply maintains the status quo, by reaffirming its pledge to an initiative launched in previous years is not ambitious. For example, the Cologne Debt Relief commitment to "continue to provide support and assistance to developing and transition economies" is not ambitious because it simply rearticulates a commitment initiated in previous years while the commitment to "strive gradually to increase the volume of official development assistance" is.

Second, an ambitious commitment contains specific measures by which to attain the targeted goal. That is, in order to be ambitious, it is necessary for a commitment to contain both an identifiable and measurable goal and specified measures by which to attain that goal. A commitment that only identifies goal x but not how to attain it is not ambitious. For example calling on ‘all nations to resist protectionist pressures' is nevertheless a commitment but calling on ‘all nations to resist protectionist pressures through measures a, b, and c' is considerably more ambitious.

Third, an ambitious commitment not only contains specific measures by which to attain a targeted goal but it also specifies a target date by which that goal ought to be attained. A more ambitious commitment therefore identifies three things: what the goal is, how it will be achieved, and when. The following debt commitment contains the what, the how, and the when: "We encourage all eligible countries to take the policy measures needed…[it then specifies what those policy measures are]…as soon as possible so that all can be in process by the year 2000."

Fourth, an ambitious commitment is one that is implemented through new international institutions as oppose to existing ones. For example a commitment that is to be implemented through the WTO or UN is considerably less ambitious than one that is to be implemented through a newly created institution. For example agreeing to work through the "OECD Development Assistance Committee" to "promote more flexible funding of aid and technical assistance programmes to developing countries" is considerably less ambitious than creating a new development assistance committee.7

Finally, an ambitious commitment is one that refers to a new agenda item, as defined by an issue that was not addressed within the past five summits. This five-year summit rule is simply used as an arbitrary measure to differentiate commitments which are the product of ‘iteration' and ones that are the product of new initiatives.

Level of Significance

While differentiating commitments according to their level of ambition is a useful analytic device, it is still possible to have highly ambitious commitments on issues which are simply not that important in the grand scheme of things. Hence, although necessary it is not sufficient to simply rank commitments according to their level of ambition. In assessing compliance with commitments, one must also rank the number of commitments according to their level of significance. In doing so, a commitment's level of ambition becomes one of several defining factors. To distinguish commitments according to their level of significance, it is useful to separate them according to the following four criteria:

    1. Ambition-a commitment that satisfies most of the ambition requirements is considerably more far-reaching than a commitment that satisfies only a few.
    2. Novelty- a commitment that both changes the status quo actively or passively and refers to a new agenda issue is more novel than a pledge that does only one of these things, and considerably more novel than one that does neither.
    3. Timeliness-a timely commitment is one that responds to a current crisis or takes measures to prevent a future one.
    4. Scope-a commitment that applies only to G8 countries is considerably less encompassing than one that applies to non-G8 countries and is thereby less significant.

A significant commitment therefore is one that is ambitious, novel, timely, and applies to both G8 and non-G8 members. Like the ambition criteria, the four criteria used to measure significance need not all be satisfied.


Having identified the major commitments, ranked them according to their level of ambition and subsequently according to their level of significance, the next task is to measure commitment compliance. Compliance, as defined in the 1997 G7 Compliance Report, "is measured according to governmental actions designed to modify existing instruments within the executive branch to accommodate the commitments reached."8 A commitment is considered fully complied with when a summit member succeeds in achieving a specific goal identified in the commitment. As in the case of assessing ambition, the possibility of having varying degrees of compliant behaviour means that compliance is most accurately assessed according to a five-point scale: official reaffirmation, internal bureaucratic review, budgetary and resource allocations, introduction of new policies or programs, and finally the attainment of full compliance.9

To begin with, there ought to be an official reaffirmation of the commitment, in that the government ought to demonstrate its intention to honour a Summit commitment by publicly acknowledging its existence and stating its plans to incorporate the commitment in its national agenda. This can be done through internal policy debates, speeches, or press releases. An official reaffirmation of a G7/8 commitment is therefore the first step in assessing compliance because it indicates that government officials are still intent on honouring their obligation.

Second, the official reaffirmation is then backed by an internal bureaucratic review and representation. This can be achieved through either a formal policy review, process of public consultation, or formation of a task force. The American decision to set up a Joint Economic Committee in 1999 chaired by Senator Connie Mack to focus on the social implications of biotechnology research is an example of such an internal bureaucratic review and representation.

The third stage of measuring compliance occurs when budgetary and resource allocations are made or changed. To complete this third stage of compliance, there must be evidence that a national government has allocated a significant sum of its own money for the purposes of achieving the commitment. Further allocations are made with regard to the distribution of money and other resources to international organizations from the national government.

The fourth stage of compliance occurs when broader changes are made in fiscal and monetary policy, when programs for the implementation of the Summit commitment are introduced or altered and recommendations are made for increased research and development projects. This usually coincides with budgetary announcements, and is most often evidenced in speeches by the heads of state or finance ministers

Finally, full compliance is attained once the commitment goal has been substantially achieved. Although measuring full compliance is inherently subjective, attempts have been made to make this process as unified as possible. The subsequent analysis sheds light on this regard.

In order to quantify these analytic results, this study will follow the methodology presented by Ella Kokotsis and John Kirton in their paper, National Compliance with Environmental Regimes: The Case of the G7, 1988-1995. A three-level measurement process is employed to assess compliance: allocating scores of –1, 0, or +1.

According to Kokotsis and Kirton, a complete or near complete failure to implement a commitment refers to a lack of movement or complete neglect of the particular issue and therefore receives a score of "–1". This occurs when only the first stage of compliance is completed: there is at most an official reaffirmation of the commitment but no evidence of a bureaucratic review, budgetary allocation, or altered program to further implementation.

If there is evidence that an issue is being discussed, debated, reaffirmed, or reviewed in the post-summit period then compliance with this commitment is considered a work in progress and is therefore awarded a score of "0". This occurs if there is evidence of both an "official reaffirmation" and "internal bureaucratic review". Additionally, if there is a recognizable attempt by the executive branch to allocate funds for the implementation of the commitment but non-executive forces impede this initiative, then the initiative is not considered a "failure" but rather an "inability to commit," and is also allocated a score of "0".

Full or almost full compliance with a commitment is assigned a score of +1. This usually occurs when the last three criteria have been satisfied: budgetary funds were allocated to implement the commitment, the government introduced or altered programs, and the welfare target was substantially achieved. Even if the final two criteria are not satisfied, evidence of substantial and appropriate budgetary allocation is almost always awarded a "+1" score since it is one of the strongest indicators that a specific issue is being implemented and progress is being made.

1 Kokotsis, Eleonore. Keeping International Commitments. (New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1999): p.21
2 Kokotsis, p.21
3 Ibid.
4 When examining the communiqués, one may find the following points helpful. Some key words and phrases which are characteristic of commitments are: " on.."; "…encourage…"; "…agree…"; "…pledge…"; "…seek…"; "…reaffirm commitment…"; "…urge…"; "…create…"; "…ought to/should…"; "…insist on…" Some key phrases which are not characteristic of commitments are: "…welcome…"; "…look forward to…"; "…emphasize…"; "…recognize importance…"; "…give particular emphasis to…"; and "…promote…"
5 Kokotsis, p. 21
6 These are not conceived as a scale, where there is a hierarchy among the five. Any cluster of specific components can yield a more ambitious commitment.
7 G8 Communiqué, Birmingham 1998. Debt Relief (See Appendix)
8 1997 G7 Compliance Report. What Constitutes Compliance. []
9 This five-point scale is adapted from Ella Kokotsis' book: Keeping International Commitments: Compliance, Credibility, and the G7, 1988-1995 (Garland Publishing Inc: New York, 1999).

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