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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 overriding goal of the Williamsburg summit was to at least appear to be unified and maintain the summit process. This was considerably easier than before. As the world economy had taken a dramatic upswing since Versailles, there were relatively few really divisive issues. The cast of the summit had also changed since Versailles with the addition of Helmut Kohl from Germany and Yashiro Nakasone from Japan. None of the leaders from the Rambouillet summit remained. The membership of the summit was gradually swinging to the right of the political spectrum and fewer of the top participants had been involved in economic portfolios prior to assuming leadership. This reinforced the trend away from detailed and often divisive economic issues (which were more and more delegated to the G-5) and toward political topics such as East-West relations on which it was easier to achieve agreement during the "conservative consensus".(85)

Reagan also wanted to promote a more informal summit, so he prevented the sherpas from preparing draft communiqués or statements of any kind. In an effort to avoid a decisional summit, the American sherpa, Allen Wallis, deflated media hopes before it started by telling them: "this summit...will not do specific, concrete things. (86) Reagan was also briefed more extensively for this summit than ever before, starting six months prior to Williamsburg and culminating in an intensive last week.(87)

The main issue at the summit itself was intermediate-range missile installation in Europe. Here a strong agreement was reached for full deployment if no progress was forthcoming from arms control talks. This issue certainly grabbed all of the headlines, but there were also important discussions on international monetary policy and the need for reform. The French called for a "new Bretton Woods" conference, but the summit communiqué only stated that such a proposal would be studied by the G-5 and the International Monetary Fund. The discussions on other issues such as trade, North-South relations, and East-West economic relations produced no new progress. By managing to limit serious discussions to issues where there was general agreement, the Williamsburg summit put the process of summitry back on stable ground.

At the meeting of political directors in May, the Canadians proposed a separate declaration on nuclear missiles and arms control which eventually became the "Declaration on Security" added on to the final communiqué.(88 )This move was resisted by the French and Germans but adopted largely because of American support for such discussions. At Williamsburg, Trudeau was the most senior of the leaders in terms of summits attended and acted with strong self-confidence. After the summit he claimed: We came to Williamsburg determined to deal with two important subjects, security of peace and security of the economic situation" and "without exaggeration...the conference was an unqualified success."(89) Trudeau's conduct during the discussions on the Euromissiles and East-West relations was widely reported in the international press, especially his shouting match with Thatcher and Reagan where he is reported to have said: "we should be busting our asses for peace".(90) Along with Germany and France, the Canadian delegation wanted the language of the declaration on security to be toned down and less confrontational in nature. Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs, Allan MacEachen, later claimed that during the drafting session at the ministerial level he personally was able to change some of the language to a more conciliatory tone, and was able to include the phrase "Owen devote our fulL political resources to reducing the threat of war".(91) In pursuing this type of goal at the summit, Canada was showing its traditional conciliatory, peace-loving, anti-military character which is present in other aspects of our foreign policy.

Trudeau also tried to spark discussion on North-South issues. Here he again achieved no real progress, although there was some discussion and mention in the communiqué about debt relief for developing nations. In the trade field, MacEachen wanted "firm commitments" or a "binding pledge" from the other summit members to monitor each other's trade barriers to ensure that the economic recovery would not be stifled.(92) There was mention of trade surveillance in the communiqué but certainly not a "binding pledge".(93) Canada did not play a significant role in the discussion on international monetary reform. Finance Minister Marc Lalonde was quoted as saying, with regard to a system of fixed exchange rates, "we remain to be convinced".(94) This sort of attitude did not help Canada's prospects of being admitted into the G-5.

Source: Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto.

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