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The Seven-Power Summit as a New Security Institution

John Kirton

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The Concert Principle

Four characteristics of the concert principle embodied in the summit institution are of decisive importance. The first is concentrated power: the overall capability represented in a group whose members collectively possess over half the world s GNP and other critical resources ensures that national governments and other international organizations will look to this group for authoritative action, and adjust to its agreements. The second is constricted participation: the small size of the body reduces potential veto points, lowers transaction costs, and increases transparency, thus making it more likely that its members will arrive at timely and meaningful agreements. The third is the common purpose among its members, whose shared attributes and values as major industrial, democratic powers make it more likely that similar problems and perspectives will be focused upon, and that strong agreements will be reached. The fourth is its character as a politically controlled rather than organizationally confined body: its direction by heads of state and government and its freedom from intergovernmental bureaucracy give it a unique flexibility to address, define, and legitimize emerging issues on the global security agenda, and to act on them in ways that individuals in the member governments find more difficult to resist. This unique combination of concentrated power, constricted participation, common purpose, and political control endows the seven-power summit system with an unusually high centrality and effectiveness in defining, addressing, and managing the new global security challenges.

As the seven-power summit system has increasingly acquired these characteristics of a concert, it has developed correspondingly greater institutional depth, policy breadth, and authoritative reach. This progression can be seen in the three phases through which the summit has passed. During its first phase, from 1975 to 1981, the summit served primarily to reinforce the existing international institutions under assault from new shocks, and confined its efforts towards the creation of an institutionalized world order to new issues on the economic and security agendas. During the second phase, from 1982 to 1988, it grew to rival the existing international institutions as the primary source of political direction for an expanding array of economic and security issues, both old and new. And during the third cycle, from 1989 to the present, it has moved to replace the existing international institutional systems as the leading source of governance of a new international order. This leadership has been particularly evident in regard to those new international security issues that the older international institutional systems are not flexible enough to handle.

To explore this progression, this chapter first defines the international security agenda in a way that distinguishes between old, new, and emerging security issues. It goes on to identify the four central criteria for an international concert, indicate how the summit system meets these criteria in ways that the United Nations and Atlantic systems do not, and examines how these features enhance the summit s effectiveness. The chapter then reviews the summit s development as an international institution, to demonstrate its increasing institutional desire and capacity to undertake this broad leadership role, and follows with an examination of the summit s expanding security agenda, to demonstrate how far its ambitions have reached into the security domain. Finally, it outlines the summit s agenda-, agreement-, action-, and adjustment-setting functions, and explores in a preliminary way how effective the summit system has become in reliably determining the shape of the new security order.

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