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Canadian Foreign Policy and the Seven Power Summits

Timothy Heeney

Country Study Number One
Centre for International Studies
University of Toronto
May 1988

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The Venice summit was hampered by the ominous shadow of impending elections in the USA and West Germany, and by the fact that there was no Japanese head of state at the summit (Ohira had died and not yet been replaced). Like other summits when key leaders are preoccupied with domestic concerns, the discussion was lively but the communiqué was full of very general language and contained very little in the way of new policies or firm commitments. The issue which clearly dominated was the western response to the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, which caused some newspapers to dub Venice "The Political Summit."(54) Energy and inflation took up the majority of the economic discussions although very little significant, progress was achieved. All leaders formally accepted that they "must break the existing link between economic growth and consumption of oil" (55) although there was little mention of how this was to be done.

In Canada, Trudeau had returned with a new majority mandate and fresh from a victory over the separatists in the Quebec referendum. Canada's aims for the Venice summit in 1980 were dominated by the desire to maintain western unity in the face of the crisis in Afghanistan. (56)Although there was unanimity in condemning Soviet behaviour in the communiqué, there were deep differences, between the USA and France in particular, in how to respond to the problem. At the summit Canada played the middle ground; while Trudeau criticized the Europeans for not following the American lead on Afghanistan, his Secretary of State for External Affairs Mark MacGulgan was criticizing the Americans for not consulting its allies before choosing a course of action.(57) This was the approach needed to mediate between the differences of opinion in the hope of reaching a solution.

Canadian representatives claimed that it was a victory to have the summit participants talk about such a charged and political issue at all. The focus of the Canadians in their final press conferences (especially MacGulgan's) was on the success Canada had achieved in reconciling the Europeans and Americans.(58) In reality, no decision was reached on what to actually do about Afghanistan and the countries which had not joined the Olympic boycott did not change their minds. MacGulgan stated that the political communiqué "showed no more than the tip of the iceberg" implying that Canada had been more successful in mediating the dispute than it appeared.(59) MacGulgan and the Canadian newspapers did not mention, however, the key role played by Chancellor Schmidt and the German delegation in mediating the split. It was the Germans, not the Canadians, who got credit from the international press.(60)

In the energy discussions, Trudeau claimed that Canada had met its 1979 targets for imported oil. But the French delegation reportedly accused Canada of importing 34% more than its Tokyo ceiling.(61) Trudeau had hoped to use this summit to begin meaningful progress on North-South issues at the highest level but was frustrated by the Afghanistan issue and the unwillingness of the Americans to deal with North-South relations in an election year. Trudeau expressed a willingness to meet and work with leaders of oil-producing and communist bloc countries to devise a plan for recycling petro-dollars to the Third World. This initiative was not actively supported by any of the other leaders except Schmidt.(62) Trudeau was not happy with the lack of progress on North-South issues. But he was pleased that the communiqué mentioned that the sherpas had been instructed to "review aid policies and procedures" (63) in preparation for the first summit to be held in Canada the following year.

Source: Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto.

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