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Guess Who Is Coming to Sea Island?
Professor John Kirton
October 31, 2003

Which leaders will be coming to the G8 Summit taking place at Sea Island, Georgia, on June 8-10, 2004?

At present, it is unusually clear who will be there to represent the G8 countries — France, United States, United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada and the European Union. What is far less clear is how many and which leaders from non-G8 countries might be invited, and arrive, to join them when and for how long.

Within the G8, the electoral cycle makes for an unusually high degree of continuity and predictability. Short of death, illness or domestic political crises, Sea Island will see America’s George Bush as host, France’s Jacques Chirac, the UK’s Tony Blair, Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, the EU’s Romano Prodi. Japan’s Junichiro Koizumi is having a general election in November 2003, but the polls suggest he is likely to win. Russia’s Vladimir Putin will also go to the polls in the spring before the Sea Island Summit, but he too looks highly likely to win at home and arrive at the Summit as well. Recent calls by some American commentators for Russia to be excluded from the Summit because of Putin’s recent treatment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky are most unlikely to be heeded. In Canada, Jean Chrétien is certain to retire and Paul Martin is certain to succeed him, and will perhaps call an election — and probably win — a general election in the spring, all well before the Sea Island Summit takes place. Apart from Martin, who sports extensive G7 experience as Canada’s finance minister from 1993 to 2002, the only newcomer is likely to be Bertie Ahern, Prime Minister of Ireland, whose country will be holding the six-month presidency of the European Council in June. Thus, the Georgia G8 will gather almost the same old gang of leaders who have been at the summits for the previous three years. In the 30-year history of the G7/8 summit, never before has such cumulative continuity come.

It is much more difficult to predict what leaders of any outside countries and international organizations might be invited to Sea Island to join the G8 leaders for a dialogue before, during or after the G8 Summit itself. For the past three years, a small group of largely the same leaders from Africa has attended the summit. But the Americans made it clear immediately after Evian that the African leaders and their ambitious African agenda will not be there for a fourth time.

Immediately after Evian, the Americans suggested that if anyone from the outside was to be invited, they would look to the Latin Americans for their list. More recently, they seem to have made it known privately to a tightly held group that they will invite some outsiders and that national security advisor Condoleeza Rice will probably identify who they are, after the U.S. formally assumes the presidency on January 1, 2004.

One person on the list no doubt will be Vincente Fox of Mexico. In early October, Bush phoned Fox to say he wanted to meet with him, to discuss global issues as well as more local concerns — a strong signal that the Mexican president has already received his invitation. Moreover, with an estimated 24 million Americans of Mexican origin, still attached tot heir ancestral home far more than the more numerous Afro-Americans, Bush has every incentive to be seen with Fox at a summit taking place a few short months before his presidential re-election bid in November 2004. Still, those close to the President in a G8 context currently prefer a short, straightforward summit of a day and a half with no one beyond the G8 leaders present to turn the event into a three-ring circus.

Finally, Georgia’s Atlanta in particular and Florida’s Miami just to the south are campaigning hard to become the secretariat of the prospective Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, to be concluded by the end of 2004. Mexico — the great connector between North and South America, the great beneficiary of the North America Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada, and the great producer of bilateral free trade agreements with the Latin American states — is a critical player in determining whether the FTAA will get done on time and where its secretariat might be.

The success and secretariat of the FTAA further suggest which other Latin American leaders might lead the invitation list. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil is the most obvious as he co-chairs with the U.S. the end-game negotiations for the FTAA, is the critical country in South America and was invited to the 2003 Evian Summit where he performed well.

It may be that the Americans will want to keep the Sea Island guest list small and selective and just confined to a single region — Latin America this time, replacing Africa that sent a few country leaders alone to Genoa in 2001 and Kananaskis in 2002. But if they look more broadly, countries such as India could conceivably be on the list, for India is big, democratic, the ancestral home of many American voters and on the front lines of both the war against terrorism in its Afghanistan epicentre and nuclear crisis management across the mountains of Kashmir. China is another credible candidate, particularly if it provides active assistance to North America in containing North Korea’s well-advertising nuclear ambitions and in doing enough to adjust China’s own currency to show American voters that more jobs could come at home.

Beyond the leaders of countries, it is unlikely that any heads of international organizations will be invited, even though the Italians, Canadians and French called them to the summits they hosted over the past three years. The constant choice was the United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian who was particularly appropriate when Africa was a featured item on the agenda. However, should Bush be concerned about getting more UN help in Iraq, his own AIDS initiative and Afro-American voters, Annan could conceivably be the only black face among the leaders at Sea Island. The issues of AIDS and SARS might, in the minds of some, make a case for the head of the World Health Organization, who was at Genoa in 2001, while the Latin Americans might like summit veterans Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank, who have some G8 summit experience, or even the Inter-American Development Bank. But this is one place where the Americans’ oft-alleged wariness about the value of highly legalized, heavily bureaucratized multilateral organizations is likely to be made manifest. Thus only leaders of countries, perhaps even just leaders of real democracies, are likely to be invited.

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