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Defending Global Democracy:
The Performance of the 2018 Toronto G7 Foreign Ministerial Meeting
John Kirton, G7 Research Group
April 23, 2018
The G7 foreign ministers, at their annual stand-alone meeting, held at the University of Toronto on April 22-23, 2018, produced a strong success, by defending global democracy with new determination and sophistication in the face of a growing array of threats.
They clearly put Russia in first place as the greatest threat to democracy, discussing it in a lengthy conversation on their second day. Let by the personal convictions and first-hand experience of Canada's foreign minister Chrystia Freeland as host, they began their gathering by pledging full support for an embattled Ukraine, whose foreign minister they had invited to give a direct account of the interference from Russia that his country and its fellow European and North American partners faced. Together they addressed the full range of Russian threats, in Ukraine, Syria and the Baltic States and from cyber espionage and interference in the free media and free elections in the United States and elsewhere. They fully backed their recent sanctions that are having a clear, crippling effect on the Russian economy, even as rising world oil prices provide Russia with some temporary relief. They put rest to fears that Italy, with a newly popular pro-Russian political party, would erode the unity required in the face of Russia's nerve agent attack on the United Kingdom in March. Indeed, at British initiative, G7 foreign ministers agreed to create a G7 working group on Russia to defend democracy against disinformation as elections approached in the United States and elsewhere. At the same time, as U.S. Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan noted in his concluding news conference, they remained ready to work with Russia on issues of common interest, such as counter-terrorism and arms control on intermediate nuclear forces.
At American initiative, with Japanese support, G7 foreign ministers agreed to support the historic opportunity created by U.S. president Donald Trump with his willingness to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jung-un in the coming months, to explore the possibility of realizing the long sought complete, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Yet they agreed to maintain maximum pressure, including through the crippling sanctions that they and the United Nations Security Council had imposed, until North Korea matches its promising words by practical credible deeds. In doing so they defended their leading democratic allies of Japan and South Korea, whose continued commitment to renounce nuclear weapons of their own was critical to advancing toward the dream of a non-nuclear weapons world.
A third strong, pioneering step forward came from the powerful, pervasive advances toward gender equality in the security field. It was seen in the G7 foreign ministers' decision have female foreign ministers from several smaller countries join them for their first session. It was also seen in the announcement by Freeland and her European Union counterpart, Federiga Mogherini — the only two female foreign ministers in the G7 — to host in Canada in September a meeting all female foreign ministers in the world. At their last meeting, in Lucca, Italy, in April 2017, G7 foreign ministers explicitly included a gender dimension in only 11, or 6%, of the 180 commitments they made there. At Toronto they did much more. They thus gave a powerful boost the determination of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau to mainstream gender across all of five priorities, including peace and security, that he set for the G7 leaders' summit at Charlevoix taking place seven weeks later on June 8-9.
Another advance came on the otherwise divisive issues of migration and refugees, where Trump's United States and many European countries were far less welcoming than they had long been in the wake of the Second World War. Now, at Canada's initiative, G7 members united to highlight the plight of the displaced Muslim minority Rohingya in Myanmar, and to address the decline of democracy in Venezuela and the poverty and migration that it bred. Last year G7 foreign ministers made only four commitments that recognized migration and refugees. In Toronto, at the concluding news conferences, it was remarkable to see the US Acing Secretary of State highlight, even more than Freeland, the plight of the Rohingya refugees and to offer new financial support to care for them as the season of devastating monsoons approached to cause further harm. Trump's United States now seems to see migrants not as a threat but as people who in need through no fault of their own.
To be sure, there were some shortcomings. One was in recognizing and acting adequately on the close connection between security and the compelling challenge of climate change and other ecological threats. Another omission was health, despite the outbreak of antimicrobial resistance in conflict-ravaged Yemen and elsewhere.
The biggest message from Toronto for Charlevoix was that Canada's G7 summit would not be the "six versus one" as it had seemed to be last year on climate change and trade and as many feared it would be again in 2018. Rather, it would be all seven standing together as one against the shared threats to their common, core democratic ideals. Moreover, this unity arose not just on terrorism, as at the G7 and G20 summits in 2017, but on the central classic security issues of Russia and North Korea. And it arose even on the human security issues of protecting women and refugees.
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