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The Seven-Power Summit as a New Security Institution

John Kirton

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The Summit's International Security Agenda

With increasing institutional depth has come expanding policy breadth. From its very start the seven-power summit, while publicly cast as an economic institution, also dealt importantly with political issues. For example, two issues discussed at Puerto Rico in 1976 were the mechanism for preventing the Communist party from joining the coalition government in Italy (a re-run of the concern that had bred the North Atlantic Treaty concluded in 1949), and unco- ordinated and hence excessive lending by Western banks to the Soviet Union (a precursor of the recent issue of aid to the Soviet Union, and now Russia). However, from the start France -- neoGaullist in instinct and anxious to dilute neither its inflated five-power status as a permanent Security Council veto power nor its four-power status as part of the Berlin Dinner group -- felt strongly that the summit should deal only with economic, as opposed to political or security, issues. As a formal summit co-founder and first host, France held considerable sway, to the point where in 1978 it successfully called a four-power summit in Guadeloupe focusing on political and security issues, which the United States, Britain and Germany attended.

But despite continuing strong French resistance (even after the Socialist Mitterrand became president in 1981), the structural characteristics of the international system favouring the seven-power summit gave this institution a growing role in the political and security domain. While this growth was particularly pronounced in regard to the new and emerging security agenda, where the organizational prerogatives, capacity, and 'imperialism' of the established institutional systems were less pronounced, it also flourished from an early stage in the more traditional security areas of East-West relations, broadly defined, and regional conflict (in Europe and the Third World). Thus the most rapid and far-reaching expansion took place in new and emerging security issue areas; economically intensive (balance-of-payments support, financial lending, economic sanctions) and new areas (horizontal non- proliferation in nuclear fuels and ballistic-missile technology) of the old security agenda; and emerging, new, and old security issues involving the Third World and directly affecting the rising great powers of the international system as a whole Japan, Germany, Italy, and Canada).

A complete understanding of the summit's expansion into the domain of international security would require a full-scale review of the subjects actually discussed by the heads at their annual summit, by the heads and sherpa teams in the preparatory process, and by the groupings created by the heads collectively to implement summit agreements. A broad overview, however, can be provided by focusing on the subjects of the authoritative, subject-specific statements the heads collectively issue at their annual summit. Despite a tendency to dismiss these as mere paper products, they do generally, if imperfectly, map the actual discussions at the summit table and in the preparatory process, and reveal what the leaders have been able to agree on and wish it to be publicly known that they are concerned about.

Whereas Rambouillet in 1975 produced only an Economic Declaration, the following summit declarations included reactions and directives in other areas, specifically air-hijacking, refugees, hostage-taking, East-West relations, and European and regional security.

Thus by the end of the first cycle of summitry, and the start of the 1980s, the summit had become a full-blown security institution. This process had begun with the new security issue of terrorism, through the concern with air-hijacking starting in 1978, and diplomatic hostage-taking added in 1980. It continued with the emerging, potentially new, security issue of refugees, beginning with the Indochinese refugees in 1979. It then moved to the economically and Third World-related area of East-West relations in 1980, with the Afghanistan issue. And by 1981 it had added the regional security issues of Europe, the Middle East, Lebanon, and Cambodia. By 1981 it had thus reached the point of issuing a general political-security statement covering East-West relations and Third World issues in two selected regions (the Middle East and the Vietnamese War remnant of Cambodia). In emerging as a security organization, then, the seven-power summit seemed to be driven first and most powerfully by the unprecedented shocks of new challenges.

The 1982 Versailles gathering added a lengthy statement on Technology, Employment and Growth, which took the summit in a major way into the micro- economic domain. By the end of the second cycle, however, the summit's full- scale development as a security institution was virtually complete. It had taken up the new security agenda with separate documents on terrorism (1978), the environment (1986), drugs (1987), and AIDS (1987). It had addressed the emerging security agenda with separate statements on refugees (1979) and democratic values (1984). In the sphere of the old security agenda it had taken up East-West relations with documents on Afghanistan (1980), and East-West relations and arms control (1984); regional security with Lebanon (1982), and Iran-Iraq (1984); and finally the global post-World War Two security order with the Political Declaration on the 40th Anniversary of the End of the Second World War (1985).

To the emerging security agenda the third cycle added human rights with a 1989 Declaration. It was at its most prolific, however, on the old security agenda. In the area of regional security it added China (1989), the Arab Israeli conflict (1989), Southern Africa (1989), Central America (1989), Panama (1989), and Cambodia (1989). In 1990 it added a new class of transnational issues including non-proliferation, and in 1991 it issued a separate Declaration on Conventional Arms Transfers and NBC nonproliferation. From 1990 onward East-West relations disappeared as a separate item, in favour of a focus on the more comprehensive and integrated transformation of international order discussed in Securing Democracy (1990) and Strengthening the International Order (1991).

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