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The G-7 and the Need for Reform

Cesare Merlini

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The Role and Composition of the G-7

To date, the G-7 has been a meeting of the seven major industrial democracies, all important members of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the GATT. The European Community came in, initially as an economic institution representing all its member countries-including those participating in the summit's-above all in the field of trade. Thus, the G-7' has formed a kind of core within the various international institutions. Its configuration as an "industrialized" group, and the fact that it sprang from the oil crises (which some have called the first war between the poor South and the rich North) has distinguished the G-7, particularly with respect to developing countries. Indeed, the initial Japanese reluctance to enter the G-7 referred to this factor, although deeper feelings of cultural rejection for this institutionalized, Atlantic, Western bloc may have played an even more important, though less open, role (it should be recalled that Japan had no foreign links at the time other than a bilateral alliance with the United States).

With time, this economic significance has also acquired political connotations, characterized by the common value of democracy and common opposition to the Soviet system or, less explicitly, to all communist countries (and therefore also China).

This initial differentiation from the South and subsequent differentiation from the East, has resulted in the fact that the G-7 represents the West unlike any other institution (NATO does not include Japan; the OECD is only economic, etc.).

Two questions automatically follow: Does the notion of the "West" still exist? And if so, can and must the G-7 continue to represent it?

Does the West still exist?

Since 1945, the West has generally been identified with the countries of the Atlantic Alliance. As mentioned, Japan was included later. After the two world wars ("civil" wars, as Europeanists like to call them), European countries lost their role as leading actors on the world scene and the Atlantic Alliance sanctioned their need for protection. But Europe continued to be the main bone of contention in the confrontation between the East and the West; Europe was still the central strategic theater. The end of the Cold War brought this centrality to an end as well.

To say that consequently the United States is turning its back on Europe and dedicating its attention to Asia would be an exaggeration. Actually, what is happening is no more than a rebalancing that reflects the current situation. But the rebalancing also reflects a sociocultural shift in the American population, resulting from the emergence of its Asiatic and Hispanic components and the decline of its European component." (13).

The new balance of interests and attention also responds to another consideration: the fact that the European theater is no longer- central does not necessarily mean that its place has been taken by some other area. In reality, it has been replaced by a number of "hot spots", all of which are located on the Asian continent and in two areas somehow linked to it: the former Soviet Europe and North Africa. These areas form a kind of ring around the two physical giants, Russia and China: the former more unstable but also more cooperative internationally than the latter. It is beyond the scope of this article to develop this geopolitical scenario, but it is important to underline that it differs from the one recently described as a "clash of civilizations", which has enjoyed some popularity (14).

What is deemed to be the West today comprises the "trilateral" area composed of North America, Japan and Western Europe, characterized by common interests and values, extending to various degrees to the central-eastern reaches of Europe, Latin America, southeast Asia and perhaps India, including such important strategic partners as South Korea, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and possibly Pakistan. Geographically, it does not differ substantially from the former West; the difference is political and functional. Although no longer poised to counter the Soviet/communist threat, the West is still an agglomeration of states that potentially have the ability to promote development and to curb conflictuality using integration or balance of power, as required.

The disappearance of the external threat has not only stripped the European theater of its drama, it has also considerably reduced solidarity among Western countries. "National interests" are suddenly being referred to as if they had been sacrificed for years. The fact of the matter is that during the postwar and Cold War years, solidarity translated into an extremely rich set of institutions. The West now finds itself hostage to them, in terms of both constraints at home and image abroad. While no one has the courage to go ahead, no one dares go backward either; but all feel justified to scale down commitments and respect for commitments. This has led to the complex subject of "variable geometries".

Since no one has the courage to promote the common values and interests in the above-mentioned reaches by opening markets and guaranteeing security, as this would call for sacrifice, "pieces of the heritage"-the institutional heritage-are offered instead. The outcome has been the recurring issue of "enlargement". Enlargement of institutions already well in place, such those in Europe; enlargement of those just born, such as the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA); enlargement-perhaps-even of the G-7.

As has been mentioned, the G-7 is only a semi-institution. No longer buoyed by the economic incentives of the seventies and by the political cohesion of the eighties, it, is more vulnerable to being engulfed by the quick sands of reduced solidarity. To avoid this, the most valid criticisms must be singled out and addressed. The weaknesses that can be corrected must be identified and solutions must be found. That is exactly the intention of this article. After looking at the representativeness of-the G-7, its functionality and potential will be discussed.

Can and must the G-7 continue to represent the West?

The kind of change that the West has undergone has neither eliminated the need for representation, nor affected the representativeness of the G-7. The first part of this statement means that in order for the West to realize its potential, a common image is required of what has been referred to here as its institutional heritage. The second part of the statement must be analyzed more closely because it involves the question of the G-7's composition. Despite its stable composition since the uncertainties of the first few years were overcome, the G-7 is not immune to the debate on enlargement and variable geometries. As this issue is currently linked to the specific problem of how the Russian president should participate in the summit, it is useful to address it here.

The Seven invited Gorbachev to London (1991) and Yeltsin to Munich (1992) and Tokyo (1993). There were two motivations behind the invitations: an internal Russian one, and an international one. The former was aimed at strengthening the leader's position in the turbulent Russian political situation and at favoring the process of economic reform and democratic transition. The latter was directed at obtaining cooperative behavior from Moscow in the management of crises (the Gulf War in 1991; Bosnia today) and also in helping to exorcise the enormous risks deriving from the continued existence of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal. These motivations, which are clearly interlinked, will not be looked at further here, but their importance cannot be emphasized enough. And it must be pointed out that of all international bodies, the G-7 exalts the symbolic value of Russian participation the most.

If it were not for its participation in the G-7, Russia would be recognized as a great power only by virtue of its presence among the permanent members of the UN Security Council (the so- called P-5) a position taken over from the USSR and characterized by veto power, that is, the power to paralyze UN proceedings. Russia does not have this right in the G-7 and it has been invited to participate in the summits to underline the differences from Soviet times.

Opinions differ on the real value of this participation. Critics emphasize that the participation of !he Russian president did not keep him from being the object of two attempted coups soon after the summit meetings (1 991 and 1 993). Those in favor of including Russia in the G-7 point out that in both cases Western support contributed to the positive outcome in Moscow, and stress Gorbachev's cooperative role in the Gulf war, in the hopes that it will serve as a precedent for a similar role by Yeltsin in the Bosnian crisis.

Assessments of Western influence on Russian behavior vary. The view put forth here is that Western impact on internal behavior is rather limited, but that its influence on foreign policy could be quite important if the right, mix of formal recognition and pressure were found. For example, it was a (mistake to ventilate the idea of a NATO enlargement to Central Europe, not only because it demoted the NACC and the "Partnership for Peace" to last-ditch solutions, but above all cause it fueled internal anti-Western positions. On the other hand, expectations of transition in Russia towards democracy and the market should be limited. In other words, for the foreseeable future, the Russian president will not be able to fit in sufficiently with the like ' - minded leaders that meet at the summits, and Russia will not be able to be a part of the system of Western values that the G-7 represents.

Do these symbolic and concrete objectives behind Russian participation justify full and permanent Russian membership in G-7, perhaps first in the political discussion, as has been the case up to now? Three reasons for caution come to mind:

It is not-being suggested here that this G-7, which represents the West, should be closed to the outside. On the contrary, the G-7 is being urged to define its own "foreign policy". And the most visible part of this foreign policy should be inviting the leaders of the countries or groups of countries for multilateral meetings on the margins of the summit. Indeed, Mitterrand's invitation to the leaders of several large developing countries on the occasion of the Summit of the Arch (1989) was not considered a success. But the reasons for failure were the purely formal character given to the encounter by the French and the haphazard nature and excessive number of invitations. It is also well known that the Japanese wanted to invite Suharto to the Tokyo Summit and had to settle for a separate meeting with Clinton and Myazawa because of European opposition, but this opposition may well have been a mistake.

Another example can double as a proposal: the Naples Summit could be used to underline Western attention to the problems of the Mediterranean and Western support for the Middle East peace process. Invitations to, say, three exponents such as Mubarak, Rabin and (possibly) the King of Morocco, for a special meeting with the seven heads of state for an exchange of ideas on reconciliation, cooperation and stability in the area would be a significant act of G-7 foreign policy.

This is not to compare the participation of the Russian leader with the invitations sent to Suharto or Mubarak. The very fact that the former would be recurrent while the latter is occasional distinguishes them. Basically, the suggestion is that Russian participation should be given a status somewhere between that of a member and that of a guest. To extend the example/proposal described above, the meeting open to the Mediterranean leaders could take place at the end of the meeting with the Russian leader. This would be justified by Russia's co-presidency of the Middle Eastern peace process and would highlight its position as an additional component of the G-7 with respect to the guests. Of course, it cannot be denied that the opening up of the G-7 to other areas through its invitations to other leaders deliberately deprives Yeltsin of an exclusive position.

The kind of solution described above, which may be called a "variable geometry enlargement", would also enhance the personal role of the G-7 heads of state and government and of the president of the Commission, who coordinates economic aid to the former USSR. It would also require an effort to make the summit meeting less routine and more flexible, allowing it to dedicate more time to ad hoc sessions concerning specific issues and with specific discussants. This solution goes in the direction of the improvements requested.

The validity of the present G-7 composition

As already mentioned, the present composition of the G-7 arose almost by chance. But it now responds to a rather obvious logic. According to the table in the article by Silvestri in this issue, the seven G-7 countries generally correspond to those with the world's highest GDP (actually, if this were the only criterion, Spain would have more right to membership than Canada). Yet the G-7 also includes the European Union, the most integrated institution and the most important trade partner in the world. At least three objections are raised more or less explicitly to the present configuration:

The suggestion made here is that the solution to the problem should not be sought in a change in composition-which continues to be valid-but in terms of what has been defined as G-7 foreign policy. This explains our perplexity about Europe's negative position on inviting the Indonesian leader to Tokyo last year. It is the reason behind our proposal for a Mediterranean "gesture", and it is why we find it conceivable to invite the Mexican president to the Canadian summit next year. Moreover, the criteria of geographic proximity must not be too strict (also because that would only accent the group's Eurocentricity). For example, the prime minister of India could be asked to one of the next European summits.

Having said that, the last objection should not be overestimated either, One must not forget that the backbone of Western institutions and efforts to manage crises continues to be the transatlantic alliance. It can only be hoped that other contributing elements-in particular Japan-will emerge, as this would correspond to the new international situation. But to this end, Japan will have to demonstrate 1) its ability to obtain regional consensus; 2) its willingness to regulate interdependence with institutionalized integration; and 3) its will to contribute to collective security. The G-7's current imbalance towards the Atlantic still corresponds largely to the reality of roles and behaviors today.

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