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The Seven-Power Summit as a New Security Institution

John Kirton

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The Summit's Authoritative Reach

Even as the summit's security agenda has become vastly more comprehensive, its attempts to influence the shape of world order have become progressively more ambitious. Throughout the summit's history, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether the summits are, or should be, deliberative (the French, 'librarian', preference), or decisional (the American, 'trilateralist', preference). This debate has somewhat obscured the secular evolution of the summit from a body with decisive impact on the politics of agenda-setting to one with an important role in producing agreements, taking implementative action, and securing specified adjustments in the policies and practices of member states other countries in the world, and other international organizations

The authoritative reach of the seven-power summit can be assessed along a fourfold continuum of functions. The first of these is agenda-setting, which includes the assignment of prominence to particular issues in world politics the establishment and legitimation of new areas or appropriate intergovernmental concern, the creation of new issue areas (including those created by new linkages such as debt-democracy, or trade-environment), and the specification of allowable considerations in their treatment. This agenda-setting function is the one emphasized by the 'librarians' favouring deliberative summits, who see the institution's primary value in educating the heads themselves, the watching media corps, and the public about otherwise neglected and difficult issues of international relations. Thus the agenda-setting function is conducted (and can be measured) through the summit's preparatory process, the discussions at the summit itself, its publicly issued documentation, and the media coverage of the event. Here evidence from both Canada and the United States (the weakest and strongest members of the summit respectively) demonstrate the ability of the summit to attract the attention of television news organizations and viewers to it and its participating members.

The summit's second function, focused on by the proponents of decisional summits, is that of reaching agreements. Agreements may take the limited form of giving retroactive approval to actions by the summit itself or other bodies, or the progressively more ambitious forms of committing members to action or calling upon others to act. Agreements may concern issues of process or substance, and may be confined to limited subjects or extend to broad package deals across an entire policy field.

The summit's third function, less well explored in the existing literature, is the creation of implementing action to give effect to its agreements. Such action may consist of the initiation of a summit process (e.g., the call for a report back by next summit), or the establishment of a summit group. It may also consist of instructions (with varying levels of specificity) to individual member countries and other international organizations to perform particular tasks. Such extension into the realm of implementing action is at its most ambitious when the summit issues instructions to other international institutions that are juridically separate, often much larger in membership, not formally controlled by the summit members, and busy with their autonomously identified work programmes.

The final summit function is that of ensuring that implementative activities have the desired impact by securing the specified adjustments from member and non-member countries as well as international organizations. This ultimate test of the summit's effectiveness is the subject of much pronouncement but little systematic exploration or evidence in the literature. (21) It includes the stages of outside actors' resisting (as opposed to simply ignoring) the summit's implementing actions, mobilizing to protect their policy turf or develop competitive regimes, and ultimately acceding to the summit-specified action.

In broad terms, an indication of the summit's increasing authoritative reach can be obtained by a simple comparison of the documentary records of the first summit (Rambouillet, 1975) and a more recent one (London 3, 1991) with a focus on the number and subjects of specific instructions issued to component and outside bodies ('adjustment setting'). In assessing the findings of this review, it should be recalled that Rambouillet in 1975 received some of the highest marks ever awarded by those who judge summit success by the welfare-maximizing standard of agreements reached and reliably implemented. (22) It should also be recalled that at London 3 the British hosts made an exceptional effort to restrict the length of the Declaration, in particular by eliminating references of endorsement to each participant's favourite international body, conference, or project; in addition, London 3 produced a rich array of references in its supporting security-oriented documentation, apart from the core Economic Declaration on which this review focuses.

The evidence shows a veritable explosion of such adjustment-setting instructions over the seventeen summits in question: the 6 such references at Rambouillet expanded to 88 at London 3. References to international institutions appeared in all 11 of the London Economic Declaration's subject areas -- most frequently in the section on the long-standing new security issue of environment (23 references), followed by the more recent new security area of drugs (14). Then followed the most recent old security area of Central and Eastern Europe (13), the developing countries and debt (11), trade (9), the Soviet Union (6), the Middle East (4), energy (4), migration (2), economics (1) and the introduction of the Declaration. (1). Finally, whereas Rambouillet referred to only 4 international institutions (GATT, IMF, OECD, CIEC), London 3 referred to 33.

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