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[Document Contents]

Western Summitry in the 1990: American Perspectives

Robert D. Putnam

VOLUME XXXIX, No.2, April-June 1994

For nearly two decades the leaders of the seven major industrial democracies have met annually to discuss international economic and political issues.(1) The first cycle of seven summits (from Rambouillet in 1975 to Ottawa in 1981) witnessed bold experiment and ambitious innovation under the aegis of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Helmut Schmidt, Jimmy Carter, and their contemporaries. This era of summitry produced notable agreements on such matters as international monetary reform (1975) and economic policy coordination (1978), but not everyone was satisfied with the results, particularly after the second oil shock brought double-digit inflation and unprecedented unemployment to most of the participating countries (and, in the end, left all the founding fathers of Western summitry out of their jobs). This period thus ended with the advent of a new cadre of more conservative leaders, such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, more skeptical about the potential for international economic diplomacy.

The second septennial cycle (from Versailles in 1982 to Toronto in 1988) was characterized by lower expectations, reduced impact, and growing routinization. Summiteers were now less ambitious about what policy results could be achieved and more concerned about how the summits could be presented to public opinion. Most of the summits of this period left no discernible trace on the record of Western diplomacy.

The third septennium, which began with the Paris Summit of 1989, has continued this general trend toward more formalism and less substance, so that many commentators and many summiteers themselves (most outspokenly, British Prime Minister John Major,) have expressed growing discontent about the "bureaucratization" of the summit process.

This steady decay of Western summitry, more than a decade old now, has been marked by ever more elaborate logistic preparations, larger delegations, and longer communiques. Complex issues of international economic diplomacy have generally been returned to the more bureaucratic hands of finance ministries, while the heads of government have turned their attention to ceremonial pomp and more political topics, such as East-West relations, drugs, terrorism, and the environment. The job of the "sherpas" (the officials in charge of summit preparations) has become more and more that of bureaucratic coordinator and less and less that of "personal representative" of the head of government. In the earliest years the sherpas had usually been personally and politically close to the summiteer, often drawn from outside the usual governmental hierarchy; nowadays sherpas are mostly career officials with well-defined administrative positions and are generally organized in three-person bureaucratic teams for each country-a personnel transformation that symbolizes the broader transformation of summitry itself.

Virtually all recent American commentaries on Western summitry are highly critical of the degeneration of this once promising institution. Unlike the earlier years of the summit process, press commentary during the run-up to the leaders' annual jamboree is now almost universally jaundiced, and the same opprobrium pervades even serious commentary. John Ikenberry, for example, reflects the deep disappointment of many academic commentators who had high hopes for the possibilities of summitry:

With the collapse of the Soviet Union a critical test facing the world is whether the liberal democratic states can build cooperative relations in the absence of a unifying threat. The answer so far is not encouraging. Economic coordination and collective action among the major industrial powers are rare these days. . . . The absence of meaningful policy coordination stands in stark contrast to the pomp of annual G-7 summits.

Year after year the leaders of the United States, Germany, Japan, France, Great Britain, Canada and Italy meet in a ritualized photo opportunity. A huge intergovernmental operation churns out bland official communiqués that paper over dysfunctions in the global economic system, or vague joint commitments to growth and prosperity that substitute for actual accord. Such shallow protocol is inadequate for dealing with real tensions arising from trade conflicts, global economic malaise or alliance burden-sharing.(2)

W. R. Smyser, a former high-ranking diplomat, is less optimistic (or perhaps just more realistic) about what summitry might actually accomplish, but he is equally critical about the achievements of recent Western summits:

Given the changes in the world, all established institutions must be reevaluated and reexamined to determine whether they can still perform useful roles in the new situation. In such a reexamination, the G-7 mechanism now receives a failing score. It is not functioning as originally conceived or even as currently envisaged. . . . To continue meetings that have no purpose or effect is not only useless. It is even dangerous, for it undermines the most precious commodity that such meetings can offer the world: the capacity to inspire confidence in the face of crisis. . . . There is an old and valid rule to the effect that institutions should be dissolved when they no longer link words, actions, and responsibilities. That rule applies especially to institutions that commit the most senior authorities of any government. And it must now be applied to the G-7 summits. . . . The summits and the surrounding rhetorical exercises . . . create a lulling effect at a time when the alarm bells should be ringing in every chancellery and in every finance ministry and central bank. They are also wasting the time and fraying the authority of some of the world's senior statesmen.(3)

This, then, was the cautionary historical backdrop against which the new, young, and inexperienced American president and his team stepped, somewhat uncertainly, onto the stage at the beginning of 1993. As the Democrats returned to summitry after an absence of twelve years from the White House, the institution they encountered was rather different from what they recalled from their earlier experience. "The summit process, as we found during the preparations for Tokyo, "reports one senior Clinton official with prior experience in the Carter Administration, "has become more bureaucratized, more formalistic, more ritualistic. Logistics alone now take up 60 percent of the time of the sherpas." Off-the-record interview, Washington, D.C., 4 January 1994.

More fundamentally, President Clinton had won the election in 1992 on a promise to refocus the energies of the presidency on long-deferred domestic issues, such as the budget deficit, health care, welfare policy, and so on. Diplomacy inevitably had a lower priority for him than for his predecessors, not least because of his own vitriolic attacks on President Bush for neglecting the concerns of the average American voter in his constant globe-trotting. Although Clinton often reiterates that the distinction between foreign and domestic policy has broken down in the contemporary world, he told one pre-election interviewer that he had learned from George Bush's experience that foreign policy success could not save a president from domestic failures, and that he had learned from Lyndon Johnson's experience that foreign policy could doom even the most creative domestic program, so that he concluded that foreign engagement was a no-win strategy for a president. (Whether the events of his own first sixteen months have modified that conviction remains to be seen.) As we shall see, Clinton's economic strategy did have an international dimension but, ironically, his new strategy corresponded to the oft-repeated (but not always honored) slogan of summits during the 1980s to "put one's own house in order first." In the end, the priority that the Clinton Administration assigned to the summit process in its first year was symbolized by the fact that the role of chief sherpa was assigned to a relatively junior career official.

Although many observers (and not a few officials) feared beforehand that the 1993 Tokyo Summit would have a both substantively disappointing and politically disastrous outcome, they were pleasantly surprised when the Clinton Administration was able to achieve modestly positive results, both substantively and politically. The summit endorsed the President's proposals for enhanced aid to Russian President Boris Yeltsin and triggered intensified negotiations toward a successful conclusion of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations. Moreover, his successful debut in high-level diplomacy provided the President with a much needed boost in the public opinion polls. It was more than those close to the President had hoped for.

Alternatives for the Summit Process

With this experience under their belt, Clinton Administration officials contemplated several possible alternative summit formats as they began preparations for the 1994 Naples Summit. Like summiteers in virtually all the other capitals, their thinking was bounded by two polar alternatives:

Even American commentators who agree that Western summitry has become useless (or worse) differ radically among themselves on the proper therapy, reflecting this familiar bipolar division of opinion about how summits should be organized. Smyser, for example, argues that the G-7 summit as it now stands should be abolished. Its place should be taken by a radically streamlined process, "fundamentally changed to give more time for informal discussion about the organization of the future world in the light of the changes that have taken place since 1989 . . . a summit different in format from the present meetings, with new agendas, new ways of proceeding, and new attitudes." Smyser adds that this new summit process should also have a different membership, with the inclusion of Russia and, "subject to political developments in Beijing", the People's Republic of China.(4)

John lkenberry, by contrast, calls for an elaborate bolstering of the "institutional foundations" of the G-7 process:

A G-7 Secretariat and a Council of Ministers should be created, as well as a range of intergovernmental and private sector consultative bodies... The secretariat would consist of a small staff of policy specialists drawn from participating governments and dedicated to analyzing common problems and recommending joint policy action. . . . [The G-7 Council of Ministers] would be modeled on the EC Council of Ministers.... [It] would be composed of foreign and treasury ministers, and its membership would also vary according to topic. . . . The G-7 Secretariat and Council of Ministers should have a mandate to discuss the full range of global economic, political and security issues and not merely to coordinate monetary and exchange rate policies.(5)

Ironically, this same prescriptive dichotomy has preoccupied summit participants and commentators ever since the first summit at Rambouillet, in a subsequent summary of the pre-summit deliberations in 1975 among the representatives of Giscard, Schmidt, Ford, Miki, and their colleagues:

Before the leaders even met at Rambouillet . . .the tensions and contradictions of the summit process, later to become so familiar, were already appearing: between spontaneous debate and organized machinery, between simple consensus and precise decisions, between confidential exchanges and visible results.(6)

In fact, this familiar pair of conceptual alternatives-"results-oriented" summits versus "fire-side chats"-is somewhat misleading, despite its powerful hold on the minds of summit mavens. In the first place, the Rambouillet summit, often considered the original (and perhaps the only) "fire-side chat", was more elaborately (and bureaucratically) orchestrated than many later summits. The main accomplishment of Rambouillet-an agreement to institutionalize floating exchange rates, thus ending four years of bitter Franco-American debate-was hammered out during a marathon series of eight pre-summit meetings between Jacques de Larosire and Edwin Yeo, the senior officials concerned with international matters in the French and US Treasuries.

Despite the founders' aspirations that the summit should have no extensive preparation, little bureaucratic involvement, a minimum of pomp, and as little publicity as possible, even leaders as able as Schmidt and Giscard, to say nothing of their less expert colleagues, could not be expected to resolve complex economic issues on the spot. Moreover, the leaders quickly learned that the expectations raised by press coverage of a meeting of the world's most powerful leaders would inevitably frustrate their hopes for seclusion. In short, there never has been a real "fire-side" Western Summit.(7)

Nevertheless, despite the experience of Rambouillet and subsequent summits, the image of the summit as (in Helmut Schmidt's words) "a very private, informal meeting of those who really matter in the world" continues to exert a powerful attraction on the leaders themselves.

Over the two decades since Rambouillet the degree of formality and routine associated with summits has grown, as has already been noted, but the substantive impact of summits has diminished. If the example of Rambouillet tends to show that elaborate preparations are a necessary condition for substantive accomplishments, the subsequent trend demonstrates that such preparations are not a sufficient condition for summit success, however defined. To resolve this methodological conundrum would require more careful distinctions among different types of preparation, as well as more careful specification of just what it is that any given group of leaders actually wants to accomplish. If recent summits have produced more pomp than product, that is less a result of the process of summitry itself than of the objectives that summiteers have brought to the process, as well as the domestic constraints that limit their maneuverability.

Against the backdrop of this long-standing and inconclusive debate about summit methodology, the attitudes of the Clinton Administration remain in some respects undefined. However, neither Smyser's recommendation to "abolish it" nor lkenberry's advice to "institutionalize it" has significant official support. Unlike some external critics in the US (and abroad), and unlike some senior officials in other capitals, the Clintonites most closely involved in summit preparations believe that if the G-7 summit process did not exist, something like it would have to be invented.(8) They hope that summits can achieve at least some modest practical results and believe that effective implementation of those results may require some modest increase in the G-7 machinery, such as the fledgling G-7 working groups on nuclear safety and on aid to Russia. Although the administration has not yet defined explicit goals for Alliance diplomacy that would require more elaborate negotiating machinery, I believe that in the years ahead the administration's evolving diplomatic strategy, coupled with the President's own penchant for collaborative leadership, may lead them to a more expansive view of summitry's potential.

On the other hand, President Clinton privately described the formality and ritual that he encountered at the Tokyo Summit as "oppressive." He is now even more attracted than beforehand by Prime Minister Major's widely discussed proposals for simplifying summit procedures and for concentrating on a few broad issues designated by the leaders themselves, rather than merely speaking from scripts prepared by officials. (Administration officials clearly drew on these conclusions in their preparations for the 1993 APEC-Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation-Summit that the Americans hosted in Seattle.) Moreover, unlike many of his predecessors, Clinton himself is obviously comfortable in free-wheeling discussions of policy issues. In that respect he is, by personality, more comparable to such founders of Western summitry as Schmidt and Giscard than to any of his American predecessors. The upshot is that the Clinton Administration certainly supports a less structured format for the summit itself, but it may be more favorable than some other delegations to proposals for modest elaboration of the G-7 institutions for summit follow-up.

A related issue regarding the summit process concerns the summit participants. In particular, has the time come to modify and extend the roster of nations included in the summit? The Clinton Administration itself is not of one mind on this issue. On the one hand, Clinton officials clearly recognize that smaller groups work better, and that the Seven benefit from their experience of twenty years working together. On the other hand, several major countries now excluded from the summit are increasingly important to the world economy, at least as seen from Washington. Among possible additions to the guest list that are being privately discussed in America are Russia, China, Brazil, and even India and Mexico. To many Americans the Eurocentric composition of the G-7 seems increasingly anachronistic, and some unofficial observers have even suggested that a formal presence of the APEC (or of its newly-established secretariat) at the Western summit would be a natural counterpart to the long-standing representation of the European Commission.(9)

Clinton Administration insiders muse privately about a possible mixed system of permanent and rotating members at the summit, formally analogous to the composition of the Security Council (though with different "permanent" members from the so-called P- 5). On the other hand, as practical realists, they fully recognize the political difficulties that would be associated with any proposal to change the traditional guest list for the summit. In short, Americans seem convinced that it is only a matter of time until the changing realities of the world economy will force a change in the composition of the global "executive committee," but in the near term they expect the forces of inertia to prevent any reform in the composition of the summit until pressures for change are manifestly overdue and overwhelming.

Issues at the Summit


Macroeconomic policy coordination and international monetary affairs constituted the core of the original portfolio of summit issues. The origins of the Western summits can be traced to a top-secret meeting of the Big Five finance ministers in the White House Library on 25 March 1973, convened by then-Secretary of the Treasury George Shultz to seek, without bureaucratic trappings and out of the glare of publicity, a better personal understanding of the complex monetary issues facing them in the aftermath of the collapse of the Bretton Woods system and with the advent of OPEC's first oil shock. When two of the founding members of this exclusive club, Helmut Schmidt and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, ascended to the top leadership posts in Germany and France, they carried with them a conviction that the major problems of the international political economy could best be addressed in a kind of "Library Group" for world leaders.

By the time of the London and Bonn summits of 1977 and 1978, six of the eight summiteers (counting EC President Roy Jenkins) were former finance ministers, to whom discussions of macroeconomic issues came naturally. Moreover, the reigning economic theory of the day argued that national macroeconomic policies could be more effective if they were coordinated internationally. As a result, fiscal and monetary coordination during the 1970s was generally seen as the key indicator of summit success. During the 1980s the growing predominance of monetarist philosophy reduced the importance and efficacy attributed to fiscal coordination, but international monetary stability continued to play a central role in summit deliberations. Gradually, however, even this issue drifted off the summit agenda, as finance ministries recaptured the upper hand in this domain, a tendency formalized in 1986 through delegation of this topic to the G-7 Finance Ministers and their deputies.

By the time the Clinton Administration arrived in power, therefore, international macroeconomic coordination was no longer so central to the summit agenda. To be sure, Clinton's economic advisors believed that they faced a global economic situation not unlike the one that confronted their Democratic predecessors in 1977. The American economy was emerging all too slowly from a debilitating recession, at the same time as the economies of its major summit partners (and thus of its major foreign markets) were stagnating. Like the Carter Administration, the Clintonites feared that the inevitable consequence would be growing trade imbalances and a slower than necessary recovery both at home and abroad. As in 1977, the US Administration was electorally committed to re-igniting American prosperity, and it hoped to persuade its summit partners to follow suit.

Thus, in its early months the Clinton Administration formulated a so-called "global growth strategy" that would involve mutually supportive policy shifts by each of the major summit actors. The US was undertaking serious measures to reduce the yawning fiscal deficit that had long been criticized by its foreign partners (as well as by a growing portion of the American electorate). At the same time, the Administration called for Japan to boost its fiscal stimulus to the flagging Japanese economy, and for the Germans to take action so that the Bundesbank would relax its stringent monetary policy, thus lowering interest rates throughout Europe.

Conscious of the serious difficulties in the international financial markets that had been generated by comparable diplomatic campaigns by American Treasury Secretaries in 1978 and 1987, the Clinton Treasury undertook a cautious policy of pressure, particularly by encouraging a rise in the yen-dollar exchange rate. At first this policy appeared to bear some fruit, as the Japanese agreed to additional fiscal stimulus in response to domestic pressures that had been triggered, at least in part, by the American actions.

The "global growth strategy" soon ran into the sands, however. The Germans resisted pressure not only from the Americans, but also from their European allies. The new Japanese government, installed after the collapse of the LDP, seemed disposed initially to follow policies congenial to the Americans, but then pulled back in the face of resistance from orthodox forces led by bureaucrats in the Ministry of Finance. Finally, Clinton himself backed away from further confrontation, partly out of tactical calculation, but probably more importantly, out of an innate reluctance to engage in political "hard- ball," a personal disinclination that he displayed repeatedly in both domestic and foreign policy throughout his first year in office.

More fundamentally, however, the Clinton Administration is much less committed philosophically to international macroeconomic policy coordination than the Carter Administration was in broadly comparable circumstances. First of all, recent econometric research has suggested that the so-called "international multipliers" are much more modest than earlier theories had implied. In other words, the benefits to the Americans of faster growth abroad now seem to be much less significant quantitatively than economists believed sixteen years earlier. Second, the practical experience of nearly two decades of attempted coordination has persuaded Clinton's advisors that the independence of central banks, coupled with the uncontrollability of most parliaments, means that summiteers simply cannot commit themselves credibly to carry out internationally-agreed macroeconomic policies. "The problem is not the summit process," concludes one senior Clinton official, "the problem is domestic politics.(10) For all these reasons, both contingent and theoretical, the new US Administration is unlikely to put macroeconomic coordination high on its summit agenda.

Other economic issues

Ever since the mid-1980s, so-called "structural adjustment" issues of microeconomic policy have claimed an increasing share of summit attention. The Reagan Administration argued (with some reason) that their economic success was the result of the greater adaptability of private markets in America, as compared to the "structural rigidities" of European capital and labor markets, buttressed by counterproductive government tax and regulatory policies. Gradually, European leaders have come to share this diagnosis, although whether summit deliberations played a role in this conversion is debatable. Meanwhile, US-Japanese economic diplomacy has increasingly concentrated on such issues, initially in the "Structural Impediments Initiative" and then in the guise of the Clinton-sponsored "Framework for a New Economic Partnership". Finally, now that the United States has successfully enacted its major macroeconomic program in the form of the Budget Reduction Act of 1993, the Clinton Administration is turning its attention to macroeconomic issues such as health care reform, education and job-training, and industrial development policy-issues on which the Administration concedes (indeed emphasizes) that America has much to learn from its summit partners.

How such macroeconomic issues might figure profitably on the future agenda of Western summitry remains to some extent unclear. Exchanging lessons about respective policy experiences could be a minimal objective. However, as the Administration prepared for the mid-year "jobs summit" held in Detroit, it became increasingly doubtful about how much more could be mutually learned by exchanging shopworn ideas about "youth unemployment", for example, a topic that has figured fitfully and inconclusively on summit agendas for more than a decade. On the other hand, all summit countries are baffled by the challenge of adapting their industries and labor forces to a more genuinely global economy in which massive numbers of low-wage workers in the newly industrialized countries (NICs) and in the new capitalist economies of Eastern and Central Europe are, in effect, competing for jobs with the less-skilled segments of Western work forces. How to address this challenge without triggering a self-defeating cycle of protectionism constitutes, in the view of some senior Clinton officials, an urgent and perhaps promising topic for discussion among the summit leaders. The problems bound up with growing immigration pressures in the G-7 countries may be another topic on which an exchange of views could be mutually rewarding, although here the fundamental differences among the national experiences represented at the summit (from the relatively homogenous population of the Japanese islands, at one extreme, to the variegated ethnic composition and immigrant ideals of America, at the other) mean that the forces bearing on immigration policy are probably too diverse for effective mutual learning.

If a simple exchange of views among summiteers is the only realistic objective in some domains of structural adjustment, in other areas the degree of real interdependence among policies in the various Western countries is such that genuine negotiation is not only possible, but perhaps even necessary. In such areas as agricultural support, financial regulation, and cross-border investment, the policies of one summit country directly affect the others. Here national leaders share, at least in principle, an interest in avoiding costly "policy competition" that would drive up every government's costs and risks, as each sought (in vain) to export job losses and import job creation. Common "rules of the road" are gradually being developed in some of these areas, such as agriculture and financial services, but in many cases the issues themselves are only dimly understood, even by technicians, much less by political leaders. Key Clinton officials in charge of summit preparations see in such issues the potential core of the summit agenda for the 1990s.

Foreign trade has, of course, been an important issue at virtually all nineteen summits since 1975, whether in the guise of exhortations by the summit leaders to complete ongoing round of GATT negotiations or in the form of efforts to forestall protectionist measures in specific industries. By 1993, however, the failure of leaders to live up to their own solemn commitments at three successive summits (Houston/1990, London/1991, and Munich/1992) raised the stakes in this sector to unparalleled heights. Had the summit nations failed once again to keep their Tokyo (1993) promises (to themselves and to the wider world) to conclude their Uruguay Round before the end of the year, the very institution of summitry itself would have been called into question. Happily, timely compromises (and lowered expectations) on all sides enabled this commitment to be met by 15 December 1993. On the other hand, plenty of loose ends were omitted in the final drive to complete the Geneva negotiations, providing assured grist for summit mills for years to come.

Muddling Toward a New Global Order in the Post-industrial, Post-Cold War World

As already indicated, geopolitical and other not strictly economic issues such as terrorism and the environment have had at least equal billing to economics at Western summits since the 1983 Williamsburg Declaration on Euromissiles. Some of these issues (such as some in the environmental domain) resemble the "classic" issues of interdependence in the sense that one country's policy options are constrained by others' policy choices. On the other hand, it is frankly (but privately) admitted by most participants that some of the "new" issues, including research and development, "democratic values", and even some environmental issues, reach the summit agenda primarily because of domestic political benefits that one or another summiteer expects to reap from summit attention to his (or her) favored topic.

Issues of global peace and security merit sustained attention from leaders in this forum. This is no less true of East-West relations today that it was at the height of the "second" Cold War (1980-1985). On the other hand, most American observers believe that the summit process has become as sclerotic in dealing with geopolitical issues as it is in handling economic ones. Indeed, a largely autonomous process of preparation of the summit "political declarations" has been taken over by the "G-7 political directors" in foreign offices outside the purview of the sherpas themselves.

This process of G-7 political coordination has to some extent evolved beyond the simple issue of summit preparation. The G-7 foreign ministers have developed a habit of meeting together on the margins of the annual autumn meetings of the UN General Assembly, and G-7 channels were used to help coordinate the West's response to the Gulf crisis of 1990-91. On the other hand, this development does not have the substantive significance of the parallel process among the G-7 finance ministers. Moreover, the actual behavior of the summiteers themselves (as opposed to the potential of the summits) seems for the most part to confirm the cynical reference of The Times to "the technique of tossing out political declarations on the first day in order to keep the journalistic wolves away from the statesmen's sledges."(11) The G-7 summits have not yet responded to the challenge issued by Zbigniew Brzezinski "to transform the Economic Summit into something approximating a Strategic Summit . . . an instrument for forging a more consistent, longer-range response to the increasingly threatening trends of global politics."(12)

One exception to this indictment, Clinton Administration officials respond, is constituted by the successive G-7 deliberations on relations with post-Soviet Russia. Indeed, they are inclined to list increased economic aid in support of Yeltsin's reforms as their chief success at Tokyo, and to place issues of market access for Russia and the countries of East-Central Europe high on their list of candidate topics for the Naples summit. In some respects this interrelated set of issues seems ideally suited for summit consideration, since

Even more fundamentally, however, American critics of Western summitry (including some administration officials) believe that the West now stands at an important turning point in the conduct of world affairs. Regional conflicts like those in Bosnia, Somalia, and Haiti seem likely to recur with dismaying (even paralyzing) frequency in the years ahead-devilishly complex "civil" conflicts, often rooted in ancient ethnic or tribal animosities, that have grave implications for human rights and international peace. Whether Russia itself successfully grasps the first rungs of the ladder of democratic and economic stabilization or slips back into its ancient authoritarianism, the geopolitical certainties of the post-war world are gone for good.

Over the medium term, the West itself faces grave risks of drifting apart, and most of its leaders agree that the existing international institutions are not well adapted to the new circumstances. (That, at least, is the view of key Clinton officials.) It is far from certain that our nations are prepared, intellectually or politically, for the necessary era of "regime reconstruction", but it seems clear that the G-7 provides the only existing process through which these challenges might be addressed. The Western summit is the only forum that brings together the key leaders in a constructive context that conjoins power and (at least in principle) common purpose.

According to the experienced American commentator Fiora Lewis,

for overall direction, for a sense of keeping the world moving ahead and grappling with persistent issues, the G-7-1/2 [by which she means the Western summit nations joined episodically by Russia] is likely to prove the most effective, credible, and flexible, as well as the best equipped to impel the main powers to recognize common interests that should override their mutual disputes.(13)

This formulation would strike most American observers as too ambitious an objective for the summits themselves, for the seven leaders could hardly hammer out the details of a "new world order" in one 48-hour meeting a year. On the other hand, if consensus is to be built among our nations about these perplexing issues, the Western summit is probably the best place to begin.

In the end, this discussion serves as a useful illustration of the most basic potential that American leaders, both public and private, discern in the institution of Western summitry; the enduring utility of the summit remains its "centripetal force" in imparting a certain convergence among these nations across the manifold forums within which they interact. This function is all the more important as a new cohort of leaders is almost certain to arrive in the stanza dei bottoni within the next few years in virtually all major powers, propelled by the wave of public discontent with incumbent leaders that has swelled everywhere (at different rhythms, to be sure) in the past decade.

Most of the new leaders (in many cases still hard to identify individually) will have won power because they promised radical domestic rejuvenation, not because they had thorough familiarity with global affairs. The well-established ability of the summit process to socialize new leaders, as well as its prophylactic importance as a "stand-by" capacity for dealing with those unexpected crises that are sure to arise, are certain to be tested repeatedly in the rest of this murky decade. Summit reforms that enhance the value of Western summits as a forum for exchanging views and establishing personal rapport among unfamiliar leaders will find ready resonance among American participants and observers.

(1) For summary histories of the earlier summits, see R. Putnam and N. Bayne, Hanging Together: Cooperation and Conflict in the Seven-Power Summits (London: Sage Publications, second edition, 1987) and N. Bayne, "The Course of Summitry," The World Today, February, 1992, pp. 27-30.

(2) G. J. lkenberry, "Salvaging the G-7," Foreign Affairs, vol. 72, no. 2, 1993, pp. 132-9; quotation at p.132.

(3) W. R. Smyser, "Goodbye, G-7," The Washington Quarterly, Winter, 1993, pp. 15-28; quotations at pp.23, 24, 25.

(4) Smyser, "Goodbye, G-7", pp. 25-27.

(5) Ikenberry, "Salvaging G-7", pp. 136-38.

(6) Putnam and Bayne, Hanging Together, p. 35.

(7) In some respects the four-power meeting on strategic issues at Guadeloupe in January 1979 represented a more genuine "fire-side" (or more accurately, "beach-side") summit, but this example was never followed up.

(8) In this lukewarm support for the G-7 institution, virtually all the key players in the Clinton Administration seem agreed. Although Treasury Secretary Bentsen has been outspoken in his support for the G-7, his enthusiasm for it has not contributed to the widely-discussed fading of his prominence within the administration, and it seems unlikely that his departure would lessen the administration's commitment to the summit process.

(9) A. K. Henrikson, "US-Japanese Cooperation, the 'Summit Alliance' (G-7), and the New World Order," address to the Policy Study Group, Tokyo, 16 March 1993, p. 9.

(10) Off-the-record interview, Washington, D.C., 3 January 1994.

(11) Putnam and Bayne, Hanging Together, p. 242.

(12) Z. Brzezinski, Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Advisor, 1977-1981 (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1983), pp. 295-6.

(13) F. Lewis, "The 'G-7-1/2' Directorate," Foreign Policy, no.85, Winter, 1991-92, pp.25-40, quotation at p.40

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