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The Role of the G7 in the Regional Integration - Global Security Link
John Kirton

G8 Governance No.2 (June 1997)

~ Statement of Editorial Policy ~ Editorial Advisory Board ~ Professional Advisory Council ~

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2. The G7 as a Global Security Institution

Since its inception, the G7 has been continuously, centrally and at times predominantly concerned with international political and security issues, both as they immediately affected its own members, their internal and proximate regional interests, and the broader, longer-term shape of the global system including non-G7 countries at distant geographic remove. Its agenda, and record of successful agreement and action encompasses five security functions.

The first is to protect its members from internal threats. Actions in this category include moves against the Eurocommunist threat in Italy in 1976, and excessive Soviet borrowing from G7 banks in 1976. It embraces more recently the major financial assistance and enhanced participation accorded Gorbachev's USSR and Yeltsin's Russia, now a full G8 member, to maintain their move toward democratic governance and a market economy. It is probable that should the occasion arise this function would expand to embrace more directly the preservation of existing members as major powers, through decisive action to prevent territorial diminishment from inside as well as without.

The second security function, central to the modern G7 concert, is to protect the security of its people from the transnational or global threats to individuals, and thus to state legitimacy and sovereignty, that have flourished in the more interdependent international system of the 1970's onward. G7 actions in this category began with a Canadian-crafted agreement on the aircraft hijacking dimension of terrorism at the 1978 Bonn Summit, extended to involuntary migration (in the form of Indochinese refugees) in 1979, and embraced civilian nuclear radioactivity and other forms of terrorism in 1986. They subsequently extended to global environmental problems, infectious disease such as AIDS, drugs and money-laundering, transnational crime, and the smuggling of weapons and nuclear materials. The G7's recent preventative moves to close the Chernobyl nuclear reactors constitute a post cold war extension of this function.

The third security function is to protect the existing interstate territorial order, the more general arms balance, and the core norms of the society of states, by countering unilateral actions by major powers and others to disrupt this order. The G7's 1980 declarations on Afghanistan and on the taking of diplomatic hostages , its subsequent actions, after initial disagreement, against the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan, its critical mutual reinforcement and adjustment, embracing the Japanese, for the introduction of Euromissiles in 1983 and its forceful action in the 1990 Gulf War fall within this category. More recently, the G7's declaration of the unacceptability of the USSR's continuing possession of Japan's northern territories, acquired by force at the end of the Second World War, and the 1991 London's Summit actions against conventional weapons proliferation represent post cold war extensions of this function.

A fourth security function is to limit regional conflicts that threaten to escalate to involve the major powers, disturb the existing order, or threaten the society of states. The addition of a regional security agenda came at the French hosted 1982 Versailles Summit, with statements on the territorial yet colonial dispute over the Falklands, and on Lebanon. The Iran-Iraq war was added in 1984, the Gulf more generally in 1987, and, in an extension to Asia, distant Cambodia in 1988. The 1996 Lyon summit's focus on Bosnia, the Middle East, Korea indicate how regular, global and geographically balanced the G7-G8 regional security agenda has now become.

A fifth security function is to change the internal character of non-member regimes to promote democratic values on a global scale. The 1985 Bonn Summit signalled the start of this emphasis on promoting the democratic revolution, throughout the world. It was translated into action by G7 admonitions and actions against apartheid South Africa starting in 1987 and its 1989 moves against China for its Tienanmien massacre. The G7/8's recent concern with Haiti continues this tradition.

The record of the G7 in performing these security functions permits three conclusions. First, it has been most effective in meeting the essentially conservative requirement of a concert to respond to crises to protect the existing international order and its major power concert members. However its role thus far in successfully promoting the democratic and market revolution in the USSR/Russia, and in shaping regimes in new areas where none existed, suggests a more proactive role, and one of expanding potential in the post cold war era. Secondly, the G7 has been most successful in serving the essential function of addressing linked economic-security issues, as recently seen in its arranging financing from Japan and Germany for the coalition effort in the Gulf War, and mobilizing the $43 billion package of financial assistance for Russia in 1993. Both the wealth of its members, and its political control by leaders with the unique authority and perspective to forge such linkages underscore its effectiveness in this task. Thirdly, the G7 has been less effective when it spreads its concern to a myriad of security issues, such as the Ecuador-Peru dispute, of little immediate relevance to its members, the central balance or system stability. Concerts, with their ability to abstain from automatic intervention, are not global directories, or replacements for regional security institutions.

To perform this expanding array of security functions the G7 has developed several specialized institutional mechanisms. From the start foreign ministers accompanied leaders to the annual Summit, to participate with them in common plenary sessions, and to meet in parallel by themselves. At the Summit, the heads themselves conducted political-security discussions bilaterally, informally, in subsets of the seven, and together at their opening dinners and sessions where they were free to focus on what most concerned them alone. The G7 began to issue political-security statements on specific issues in 1978 and in general form at the Ottawa Summit of 1981. A regular preparatory drafting process by G7 political directors arose to support the creation of these political declarations. In 1984 G7 foreign ministers began to meet separately and intersessionally, through an annual dinner at the end of each September on the eve of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. During the 1980's Political Directors began to have three preparatory sessions, while the G7's opening dinner became increasingly reserved for a discussion of political-security affairs. Political Directors and the heads of the G7 Policy Planning Staffs met on a more frequent basis during the 1990-1 Gulf War. The addition of the USSR at London in 1991 and Russia from 1992 onward led first to a post-G7 encounter with the Soviets and then to a one day economic G7 followed by a one-day political P8 at Halifax in 1995. And the holding on intersessional Summits on security issues, pioneered by Ronald Reagan (without French participation) in 1985, arrived in pure form with the Moscow Nuclear Summit of the eight in April 1996. Despite suggestions inspired by the Gulf War, however, the G7 defence ministers or chiefs of staff have yet to meet [5]. The disadvantage of their non-involvement was apparent in the preparations for the 1996 Lyon Summit, where Canadian efforts to secure a declaration that G7 forces would remain in Bosnia beyond year's end were rebuffed by the argument that this was a matter for defence ministers and not foreign ministers to decide.

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