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The Diplomacy of Concert: Canada, the G-7 and the Halifax Summit
by John Kirton[1]

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The Summit As An Effective Global Concert

In the broadest terms, the G7 system of institutions is the late 2Oth century, global equivalent of the Concert of Europe that helped produce peace among the great powers, and prosperity more widely, from 1818 to 1914.[8] Since its 1975 creation it has grown to reinforce, rival and in part replace the influence of the post World War Two United Nations family of institutions (modelled on the failed early twentieth century model of collective security), and the Cold War, Atlantic family of institutions (inspired by concepts of regional defence and functionalism). Its pre- eminence, at least in the economic field that has acquired centre stage in the post Cold War years, has been acknowledged by those most knowledgeable about and committed to the United Nations.[9]

This centrality rests in part on the fact that membership in the G7 has been fixed since 1977. The original six which launched the group at Rambouillet in November 1975 (France, the United States, Britain, Germany, Japan and Italy) were joined by Canada in 1976 and the European Community in 1977. Since then the G7 has consistently rejected a steady succession of candidates whose capability-based claims have, in retrospect, not stood the test of time. The candidates have included Belgium and the Netherlands in the early years, Australia in the late 1970's and the early 1980's, the major developing countries invited by Francois Mitterrand to dine with the G7 before the Paris summit of 1989 (and since institutionalized as the G-15), and more recently Spain in 1992 and Indonesia in 1993.[10] Despite Russia's inheritance of the USSR's permanent veto seat on the United Nations Security Council, its assertiveness, and the temporary sympathy of leading G7 members such as Germany and at times the U.S., Russia has yet to prove that it is a durable democratic market-oriented major power and responsible foreign policy partner worthy of full membership in the group.[11]

Upon this fixed membership platform, the G7 system has grown steadily in institutional depth, policy breadth, and authoritative reach. The growth in institutional depth at the ministerial level was slow to emerge, as the first Summit cycle, from 1975 to 1981, consisted solely of the annual meeting of leaders, accompanied by their ministers of foreign affairs and finance. However the second cycle, from 1982 to 1988, added regular stand-alone meetings of ministers of trade starting in 1982, foreign affairs in 1984, and finance in 1986, as well as an intersessional special Summit (absent France) in 1985. The third cycle from 1989 to 1995 saw the birth in 1991 of the annual G7 post-Summit meeting with the USSR and then Russia, the emergence of environment ministers meetings in 1992, and a flurry of ad hoc ministerial meetings from 1993 onward dealing with assistance to Russia and Ukraine and the microeconomic issues of jobs and the information highway. Below the ministerial level the growth of supporting G7 processes and bodies has been even more extensive.

Institutional depth has been accompanied by policy breadth, as the Summit's regular and ad hoc agenda has expanded well beyond its core concern with macroeconomic policy, trade and north-south relations, and its early interest in east-west economic and global energy issues. It has come to embrace a host of microeconomic, environmental, transnational and political-security subjects, demonstrating a timeliness and flexibility of focus that other treaty-based, purpose- specific, international institutions have often lacked.

The authoritative reach of the G7 arises initially through its ability to create consensus among its members, at the highest political level, on the major global issues of the moment. It does so in three ways. The first is through the G7's deliberative function of forcing the leaders to get acquainted, listen and learn about one another's national constraints, priorities and goals, exchange confidences directly and privately, and thereby create the trust that leads to effective ongoing relationships, especially at times of shocks or crisis. The second is the directional function of setting the agenda, defining the priorities and establishing the parameters in world politics (including new linkages among previous separate issue areas). The third is the decisional function of reaching concrete agreements on specific subjects, at times in the form of package deals of policy co-ordination or programs with specified targets and timetables for individual countries.

During its first two decades, the annual G7 Summit, in the judgement of academic analysts, media observers and participating personal representatives of the leaders, has been neither a continuous success nor continuous failure, but has exhibited a widely varying performance over the years.[12] In overall terms, the high performance Summits of the first, 1975-81, cycle were followed by low performing Summits in the second, 1982-1988, cycle, with a stronger, medium-level performance coming from those of the third 1989-1995 cycle thus far.

A further dimension of the authoritative reach of the G7 Summit is the ability of participants to respect their collective agreements, and reliably adjust their national policies in accordance with the consensus reached. The most systematic study thus far has found that compliance by members with Summit decisions falls in the positive range, if not very strongly."[13] However these findings also show a widely varying record of compliance across issue areas and among members.[14] Compliance is very high in the fields of international trade and in energy (a category which has now broadened to include the global environment), very low in the monetary policy areas of foreign exchange, inflation and interest rates, and somewhat better in the Keynsian fundamentals of demand composition, fiscal adjustments, official development assistance, and GNP growth. Among Summit members Canada is second only to Britain in complying with Summit commitments, while the two Summit founders, the United States and France, comply the least.

A wealth of detailed historical material confirms that the Summit alters the domestic political decisionmaking of member countries on long-stalemated priority issues, in ways that conform with, and are caused by, the collective consensus the Summit produced or the dynamic process of its production. This is certainly true for the least powerful member of the club, Canada, where the leading examples are the 1978 Bonn Summit-bred budget austerity program, the 1979 Tokyo-bred Clark budget with gas price increases, and the 1993 financial assistance package for Russia.[15] Of more importance, however, are the domestic policy adjustments to Summit decisions made by the most powerful member, the United States, notably in President Carter's energy policy of the late 1970s, and more recently in President Clinton's budget deficit reduction package of 1993.[16]

The most ambitious conception of the authoritative reach of the Summit in securing compliance focuses on its role in transforming not merely member behaviour, or international regimes and institutions, but the international behaviour and domestic polities and societies of the outside non-members, including the most different and defiant systems in the former "East" and former "South".[17] Given the creation of the Summit to combat the "crisis of governability" that gripped the major industrial democracies of the west in the mid 1970s, the ultimate test was whether the developing countries in particular would accept the western rather than the communist system. Although there are multiple causes, the role of the G7 in organizing the major industrial democracies against the south (after the 1979 oil sock) and the east (after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) suggests that by this seminal standard the G7 has been a striking success.[18] Explaining the success of the G7 Summit in reaching and keeping collective agreements remains a matter of ongoing exploration. The initial argument suggested that the key factors for producing co-operation at the Summits are active American leadership, strong support from a second key country, policy failures prompting new reigning policy ideas (particularly economic theories favouring international co- operation) and the domestic political incentives of leaders to co-operate internationally.[19] A subsequent analysis suggested the importance of trends in relative capability, with strong Summit performance arising from movements toward declining U.S. primacy, on indicators that were sufficiently visible to U.S. leaders to provide them with an incentive to co-operate.[20] In the realm of compliance, the record by country suggests that the weak comply while the strong do not (with Germany's relatively high compliance and France'es relatively low compliance requiring additional explanation). Yet the pattern across issue areas further suggests the compliance is high only in areas where national governments retain control over transborder movements, markets and society in an interdependent and globalizing world.

In the most general terms, collective Summit success, in both co-operation and compliance, rests on the ability of the G7, relative to its United Nations and Atlanticist competitors, and increasingly over time, to empirically embody the four essential characteristics of a concert system.[21] The first is concentrated power, embracing both an effective equality of relative capability among members (so no one dominates) and collective control of the international system as a whole. The second is constricted participation (which reduces veto points and transactions costs and increases transparency). The third is common purpose among its members, grounded in their common attributes and values as major industrial democratic powers. And the fourth is political control, enabling leaders to transcend bureaucratic and domestic divisions and logjams, create broader coalitions and inject the ultimate political will.

Thus far the Summit has retained its essential institutional characteristics as a leaders- dominated and delivered institution of major industrial democracies limited to the same small group of major powers (and, for many functions, the European Union). More importantly, relative to the central governing institutions of the United Nations and Atlantic community, and increasingly over time, the G7 Summit has embraced as equals the rising powers in the international system while excluding those in decline. As Table 1 indicates, at the inception of the Summit in 1975, the United States by itself, commanded 38 per cent of the relative (economic) capability among the nine major powers that managed the international system, and 45.5 per cent among the G7. In the wake of its defeat in Vietnam and the end of America's postwar pre-eminence, the United States thus needed its G7 allies to maintain its previously unilateral management of the international system, and within the G7 needed at least one other ally to secure a majority capability share. Two decades later, by 1994, the U.S. share had declined to 36 per cent among the nine major powers and to 39.9 per cent among the G7. The United States' growing need for co-operation from likeminded major powers was reinforced by the rise of Japan as a dominant challenger and an alternative pole that was able (and increasingly willing) to lead. In 1975 the United States alone could lead and Canada alone, by supporting it, could restore a North American, if no longer all- American, majority. By 1994, however, both powers needed additional G7 partners to secure a majority within the Summit forum.[22]

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