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

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In its definitive statement on Canadian foreign policy, issued on February 7, 1995, the Government of Prime Minister Chretien presented an ambitious conception of Canada's place in the world, of the Group of Seven's (G7) place in Canadian foreign policy, and of Canada's role in the G7. The statement opened with the bold declaration: "Canada occupies a position of leadership among the open, advanced societies which are becoming increasingly influential as world power is dispersing and becoming more defined in economic terms ... Canada can further its global interests better than any other country through its active membership in key international groupings, for example hosting the G7 Summit..."[2] As the analysis unfolded, the G7 was presented as a forum which allowed Canada not only to exercise world leadership and further its global interests, but also to reform the existing array of international economic and financial institutions, and even to secure its shared values in the world.

Such far-reaching assertions might be readily dismissed as the rhetorical flourishes characteristic of government foreign policy reviews, unusually inflated in this case by the presence of a Canadian-hosted G7 Summit a mere four months following the statement, and by Prime Minister Chretien's use of Canada's Summit membership as an argument in the debate surrounding a Quebec sovereignty referendum long thought to be due one week after the 1995 Summit. Such an interpretation would come easily to many media commentators and most scholarly observers, who treat the annual G7 Summits as little more than a great "global hot tub party" and Canada's involvement as merely one of "being there" to bask in the reflected glory of the great powers and global media elite,[3] Even those few scholars who see some scope for Canadian initiative in the Summit still underscore Canada's inability to exercise real influence in and through the forum.[4] Moreover, observers who credit the G7 as having some real relevance for Canadian foreign policy portray the body as a malevolent force, diverting attention and support from the United Nations and other venerable multilateral institutions, middlepower partners and common policies at the heart of the liberal-internationalist vision of Canada's place in the world.[5] Those analysts pointing to an influential Canadian role in, and beneficial results from the G7 and Canadian diplomacy in it have thus far tended be former government officials once responsible for producing Canada's Summit success.[6]

A review of the Summit's record, and Canada's performance within it, suggests, however, that there is some real foundation for an expansive view of Canada's Summit influence. Indeed, the advent of the Summit in 1975 and Canada's membership since 1976 have progressively led to a transformation in the historic post World War Two pattern of Canadian foreign policy, from the practice of the traditional "diplomacy of constraint" to that of the modern "diplomacy of concert."[7] More specifically, the Summit has allowed Canada to move beyond joining coalitions of like-minded middlepowers in broadly multilateral forums such as the United Nations in an effort to constrain the unilateral actions of a predominant United States. Instead, it has enabled Canada to assemble issue- and interest- specific coalitions of fellow major powers in the plurilateral concert of the G7 and thus successfully shape international order on the basis of distinctive Canadian interests and values, even over the initial opposition of such powerful partners as the United Kingdom and United States. In return Canada has given the Summit a highly committed and capable member that has broadened the Summit's agenda, that has helped secure a forward-looking consensus on critical subjects, and that has complied with its collective commitments to an exceptional degree.

To support this thesis, this essay develops three arguments. Firstly, since its 1975 inception, the G7 Summit system has become the effective centre of global governance, replacing the order earlier provided by the 1919-1945 United Nations and 1947 Atlantic family of institutions, and recurrently creating consensus and inducing compliance among its members and other states and international institutions. Secondly, Canada has increasingly used its position in the Summit to successfully reinforce its major power presence, assert its national interests and values, form fluid interest- and issue-based coalitions, and secure agreement for its positions, in ways that attract domestic acclaim. Thirdly, given what is known about the causes of collective and Canadian Summit performance, the 1995 Halifax encounter promises to continue this trend toward Canadian Summit success.

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