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Introduction: the Significance of the Houston Summit

John J. Kirton

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The Houston Documents

This Economic Declaration, which is the central document of the Houston Summit, was unveiled by host President George Bush at noon on the Summit's final day. It was distinguished in the first instance by its length, for at sixteen single-spaced pages and eighty-four paragraphs, it was the longest Declaration (final communiqu‚) in Summit history. Indeed, its length led President Bush to dispense with the Summit tradition of reading the document verbatim as his fellow Heads sat approvingly on stage, in favor of presenting a much shorter summary statement.

The very length of the document signaled the comprehensiveness of the Summit's concerns, and its willingness to venture into new subject areas, often with considerable specificity. The leading subject of the Declaration was the environment, which alone consumed three and a half pages (almost one quarter of the total) and thirteen paragraphs. Trade came second, with just over two pages and twelve paragraphs. Third place saw a three-way tie, as reform in Eastern and Central Europe, narcotics, and international monetary developments garnered nine paragraphs apiece. The remainder of the communiqu‚, in addition to its opening and closing sections, dealt with developing nations (seven paragraphs), third-world debt (seven), the Soviet Union (six), economic efficiency (two), the international economic situation (two), direct investment (two), and export credits (one).

It is striking that the relatively new Summit issues of the environment, narcotics, Eastern and Central Europe, and the Soviet Union, traditionally dismissed as social or political, dominated the Economic Declaration, together commanding half of the pages devoted to specific issues. In contrast, the classic Summit trilogy of money (including the international economic situation), trade, and developing countries (including third-world debt) together took just over one third of the communiqu‚.

The most remarkable feature of the Houston Economic Declaration, however, was the extent to which its delicately-worded and hard-fought compromise passages reflected substantial movement forward on the critical issues that the Summit faced. In welcoming the dramatic changes toward freedom in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the previous year, the Declaration opened less with a proclamation of victory than with a commitment to help. Pledges of concrete material assistance dominated the sections on Eastern and Central Europe. While the Summit did not approve collective aid for the Soviet Union, it did agree to let individual members contribute, and initiated a Summit study mission to report by year's end on the specific needs of the Soviet economy. Finally, by noting General Secretary Gorbachev's message to the Summit, and promising to convey the results of the Houston meeting to him, the Heads moved toward integrating the Soviet Union into the institutionalized international economic system, and into the emerging global concert that the seven-power Summit embodied.

In the field of trade and agriculture, the results represented a substantial advance on the OECD ministerial meeting several weeks before. On the critical issue of agricultural subsidies, paragraph 21, reflecting American and Canadian concerns, reaffirmed the long-term goal of market-oriented agricultural trade, while paragraph 22, reflecting European and Japanese interests, acknowledged differing farming conditions across countries, mandated a common instrument of measurement, and pledged equitable reductions that took into account concerns about food security. Moreover, in subsequent sections the Heads agreed to use the report of the relevant GATT Agricultural Negotiating Group in the search for consensus, to personally ensure the success of the Uruguay Round negotiations and, upon the completion of the Uruguay Round, to address the concept of a far more ambitious international trade organization.

Painful progress on substance, combined with substantial movement on process, also characterized the environmental sections, notably on the central issue of global warming. The Heads identified climate change, ozone depletion, deforestation, marine pollution and biological diversity as the key environmental priorities. They declared that continuing scientific uncertainty should be no barrier to immediate action. And although they failed to set a common standard and schedule for reducing the emission of the greenhouse gases that generate global warming, they did pledge to negotiate a framework convention on climate change by 1992 and to begin work on implementing protocols as quickly as possible.

Of equal importance was the Summit's Political Declaration, "Securing Democracy", and its accompanying "Statement on Transnational Issues". These documents were issued as usual on the second day of the Summit. Together they marked the emergence of the Summit as a major, fully global, security institution, and the end of French resistance to this evolution. The first paragraph of the Political Declaration directly acknowledged the importance of the Summit as a forum for discussing the critical security challenges of the coming years. The remainder of the Declaration proceeded for the first time to review regional security issues throughout the entire globe, and to deal directly and often in detail with an unprecedentedly large number of individual countries. In particular, Paragraph Four delivered a hard-fought and delicately worded compromise which allowed the resumption of loans to China, while underscoring the importance of human rights, basic human needs, and environmental concerns. The "Statement on Transnational Issues" mandated improved cooperation to counter terrorism, presciently highlighted the unconditional opposition of the G-7 to the taking of hostages, strengthened G-7 efforts to control the spread of chemical weapons and missile technologies, and added biological weapons to the list. Moreover, the Statement produced the first Summit pronouncement ever on the spread of nuclear weapons and, succeeding where the United Nations had failed, secured the agreement of France to the nonproliferation regime.

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