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A Very Strong Start to the G7 Hiroshima Summit

John Kirton and Julia Kulik, G7 Research Group
May 19, 2023

On its first day, Friday, May 19, the G7 Hiroshima Summit has had a very strong start. It began with the news from the Japanese host the evening before that the long-defined summit schedule had been changed so that Russia's aggression against Ukraine would be discussed on the first day and now also the third and final day. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky would appear not at the start but at the end of the summit. This gave the war in Ukraine twice as much attention as expected and made it a dominant theme throughout the summit from the very beginning to the very end. It was left unclear what lay behind this sudden, if welcome, change.

The world learned why on the early afternoon the next morning when news broke that President Zelensky would come to the Hiroshima Summit in person for the culminating session on the final day. This meant that he felt secure enough at home with the war going well enough that he could afford to travel halfway around the world to a country whose immediate neighbours lay behind his Ukraine and the summit site in Japan – Russia and China itself. It also meant that G7 leaders could not allow him to return home with empty arms. At a minimum the Japanese host was bound to change its longstanding policy of not exporting its arms to other countries, especially those in conflict, joining its G7 partners to give President Zelensky's Ukraine the arms that it so badly needed at a time when the inventories of the other G7 partners were running short. But the big question was whether President Zelensky would fly home from Hiroshima, metaphorically not materially, in an F-16 fighter jet. This was the key piece of military equipment he had long said he needed to launch his liberation offensive this spring. With G7 members already training Ukrainian pilots how to use and fight in F-16 jets, the only missing link to making the G7's professed full support for Ukraine a reality was to give them the actual jets.

Helping President Zelensky win the war quickly and liberate all of Ukraine was all the more important given President Vladimir Putin's continuing suggestions that his armed forces would use Russian nuclear weapons in Ukraine against Ukrainians in a desperate attempt to win his still badly failing "special military operation" in Ukraine. The fact that his armed forces had just lost the long battle of Bakhmut meant that the temptation to use Russian nuclear weapons might loom larger in Putin's mind. It certainly meant that the danger of nuclear war had become a clear and present one rather than a distant memory from a long time ago when nuclear bombs were first used in war on the civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. That was why it was important that Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida chose his home town of Hiroshima as the site of the G7 summit this year and started it by having all G7 leaders assemble together in the Hiroshima Peace Park to show their determination to dampen the nuclear threat and agree now to start working towards a world that would be free, not only of nuclear war, but of nuclear weapons themselves in the decades to come. So, beyond the important pictures at the Hiroshima Peace Park and the fine statements of principle, the Hiroshima Summit communiqué will include – as Prime Minister Kishida had desired – practical, concreate, realistic steps toward freeing the world of the dangers of nuclear weapons and war.

With so much success on the first morning for Hiroshima priorities in the security field, the leaders were now free to turn their attention to dealing with the many other critical issues on their agenda, notably economic, food and energy security and countering the threat from China and North Korea right next door to Japan and at the heart of the critical Indo-Pacific region.

The final piece of good news on the first morning was the credible report that the G7 leaders would release at the end of the Hiroshima Summit, a very lengthy communiqué plus five separate statements. This would enable them to create more commitments across a broader range of subjects than ever before.

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