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Creating Peace and Human Security:
The G8 and Okinawa Summit Contribution

Paper presented at a lecture at Soka University, Japan, May 26, 2000.

Professor John Kirton
Department of Political Science
Centre for International Studies
University of Toronto


  1. The G7/G8's Design and Development as a Modern Global Concert
  2. The G7/G8's Contribution to Democratization and Human Security, 1977-1998
  3. Road To and From the Cologne Summit of 1999
  4. The Potential Contribution of the Okinawa Summit


On July 21-23, 2000, the Group of Eight major industrial democracies, with Japan as the host, will be holding its twenty-sixth annual Summit in Okinawa. In the immediate lead up to the Summit, G8 foreign ministers will meet on July 12-13 in Miyazaki and G7 Finance ministers on July 8-9 in Fukuoka. Already the Okinawa Summit preparatory process has featured the first ever meeting of G8 Education Ministers, held on April 1-2 in Okinawa. It has also seen the regular meeting of Environment Ministers, held on April 7-9 in Otsu, and Finance Ministers, on April 16 in Washington. At the official level, the process has also generated a wealth of activity, including most recently a meeting on cybercrime on May 15 in Paris.

How much has all this G7/G8 activity contributed to creating a world order based on the values broadly shared by the international community, with the ultimate goals of peace, human security and human rights at the core? For many casual observers of the G7/G8 process, the answer is "very little". Analysts of the G7/G8 itself have long charged that this once effective forum of the world's most powerful leaders is now unable to arrive at and implement the timely, well tailored and ambitious agreements required to construct a desired new international order. Many in Japan and Canada share a strong preference for the broad multilateral bodies of the United Nations, Bretton Woods and WTO system. They look with skepticism at the more selective small clubs of the powerful, such as the G7/G8, where there are fewer potential allies and opportunities to advance deeply embedded distinctive national values such as nuclear non-proliferation. And some in the third member country of the "North Pacific triangle" - the United States - retain a profound suspicion of foreign entanglements, including those through any international institution that might constrain America's freedom for unilateral action.

It is thus hardly surprising that when the G8 leader's personal representatives or "sherpas" first sat down to define the Okinawa summit's security agenda, Japan offered a list that excluded any of the problems in the Asian region, despite Japans' general desire to have its Okinawa summit highlight Asian concerns. Similarly, the United States, in considering its Okinawa summit priorities, took an initial look at how the Okinawa Summit might be used to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East and in the former Soviet Union, but concluded that the problems there were too difficult for the G8 to handle, and moved back to presumably easier initiatives in the traditional economic field.

Such pessimism, however, reflects a profound misunderstanding of the G7/G8's central purpose, past performance, and future potential as a contributor to a more peaceful and secure global order. For the G7/G8 system, often thought to be an economic institution established to address the financial and trade crises of the early 1970's, was in fact conceived and created as a body to defend and extend globally democratic systems of governance, and the human rights and human security that rest on this foundation. During its first quarter century, the G7 and now G8 system has given ever more central and ambitious attention to this core purpose, and registered ever more striking successes in the realization of this goal. And given the skill that Japan has shown in always hosting successful summits, and the way Japan's distinctive national values so well meet the needs of the twenty-first century world, the Okinawa summit offers a powerful opportunity for promoting peace and human security on a global scale.

To develop this argument, this paper first examines the G7/G8's creation, in order to demonstrate that it was deliberately designed and developed as a modern international concert to promote democratic governance and human rights throughout the world. It then explores the G7's steadily growing achievements in fulfilling this core mission, with a focus on how Japan, the second most powerful member, and Canada, the least powerful, have contributed to this legacy. It then takes a closer look at the G8's achievements over the 1999-2000 year, as this is the foundation upon which the Okinawa summit must build. It finally explore the preparations, prospects and potential for the Okinawa Summit, and offers five proposals about how it can be made to serve as an important instrument for promoting peace.

1. The G7/G8's Design and Development as a Modern Global Concert

The Group of Seven major industrial democracies began life as an international institution with a meeting in November 1975, at the Chateau Rambouillet, outside Paris, France. Attending were the heads of state and government of the world's six most powerful democratic countries – the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain and Italy. Before the Rambouillet summit actually took place, U. S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had promised that the United States would hold a second gathering the following year, to which Canada would be invited. The second Summit thus took place in San Juan Puerto Rico in the spring of 1976 with Canada present. The European Union was added at London in 1977 for discussions on specific economic subjects for which it enjoyed competence. The leaders of the Soviet Union and then Russia, which began to meet with G7 leaders in 1991, became formal members of a new G8 in 1998, even though the original G7 continues to meet separately to deal with core economic matters.

To most observers at the time and even to this day, the G7 is viewed as an institution created to repair the world's monetary system, after the US unilaterally destroyed the Bretton Woods regime of fixed exchange rates on August 15, 1971. In this view it was also born to relaunch the stillborn Tokyo Round of multilateral trade negotiations, and to solve the unprecedented combination of stagnant growth and rampant inflation that arose in the wake of the OPEC cartel's quadrupling of oil prices in 1973. Yet beneath this economic challenge of "stagflation" lay a deeper, political "crisis of governability" among democratic countries, created by the Middle East war of October 1973, the Indian nuclear explosion of May 1974, and the final defeat of the United States in the war in Vietnam in April 1975. With the Soviet Union expanding, and with Eurocommunism sweeping through southern Europe, there was real doubt that the democratic form of governance and the human rights it embedded would remain intact, even in the heartland of the North Atlantic community itself.

The prevailing pessimism was well captured by U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He wrote in 1976, at the time of the American bicentennial: "…liberal democracy on the American model increasingly tends to the condition of monarchy in the 19th century; a holdover form of government, one which persists in isolated or particular places here and there, and may even serve well enough for special circumstance, but which has simply no relevance to the future (emphasis added). It is where the world was, not where it is going…increasingly democracy is seen as an arrangement peculiar to a handful of North Atlantic countries."

The G7 was created quite deliberately to confront this challenge to democracy and human rights. Its intellectual and entrepreneurial father, Henry Kissinger, deliberately conceived it as the modern equivalent of the 19th Century Concert of Europe, but a concert now based on the common core of democratic values that all its members shared. Moreover, it was created as an instrument of global democratic governance, to sustain democracy not only among its members but to extend it on a worldwide scale. In the communique that G7 leaders issued on November 17, 1975, at the conclusion of their first summit, they declared; "We came together because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities. We are each responsible for the government of an open, democratic society, dedicated to individual liberty and social advancement. Our success will strengthen, indeed is essential to, democratic societies everywhere…"

This mission was affirmed at Puerto Rico the following year. As Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau stated on June 28, 1976 in his concluding news conference: "…the success of these conferences are…not to be judged by the solution of individual economic problems or by the setting up of new institutions or by the agreement on any particular resolution. The success will be judged by whether we can influence the behaviour of people in our democracies and perhaps even as important behaviour of people on the outside who are watching us, in a way in which they will have confidence that our system of economic and political freedom permits us to solve problems."

These first summits delivered on these declarations. At Puerto Rico, the G7 leaders held their first discussion of the exposure the banks in each of their countries had to loans to the Soviet Union, and the resulting vulnerability of their economies and the western and international financial system should the USSR for political reasons decide to default. They also made it clear to the embattled government of Italy that the communist party must be kept out of the governing coalition if Italy was to receive the international financial assistance it needed to save its collapsing economy. Moreover, led by the Canadian prime minister, some members sought, with some success, to use the leaders discussions on nuclear energy as an alternative to scarce oil to erect a common regime against the nuclear proliferation that the Indian explosion threatened to unleash.

2. The G7/G8's Contribution to Democratization and Human Security, 1977-1998

A mere fifteen years after Moynihan's pessimistic pronouncement, another prominent American, President Carter's National Security Adviser Zbigniev Brzezinski sounded a strikingly different note. He wrote, as the 1990's opened, in triumphalist terms, as follows: "It is no exaggeration to assert that human rights and individual liberty have become the historical inevitability of our times." Even more boldly, Francis Fukuyama, in his celebrated 1989 "End of History" essay, could claim that the twentieth century, after seeing liberalism contend "first with the remnants of absolutism, then bolshevism and fascism, and finally an updated Marxism," was ending with "the universalization of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

This dramatic change in mood and reality, culminating in the end of the Berlin Wall, the Soviet Union and the European cold war, is in the minds of some the result of the singular resurgence in American military power and aggressive diplomacy under the determined leadership of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980's. Yet as Reagan himself recognized, the historic accomplishment of the peaceful end of the cold war, and the rapid spread of democratic governance to much of the developing world that followed, is more properly attributed to the concerted action of the G7 countries in "hanging together" to ultimately find and implement the correct combination of firmness and accommodation in pursuit of the democratic cause.

This process began at Ronald Reagan's first Summit, in Ottawa, in 1981. Here he agreed to a Canadian initiative, supported by Japan, to have the Summit focus explicitly for the first time on political-security matters and to issue a separate political declaration. At his own Summit, in Williamsburg in 1983, Reagan, at the height of his hard-line approach to the new cold war, agreed with a Canadian initiative, silently supported by Germany, to issue a political declaration that included a new principle, as follows: "We commit ourselves to devote our full political resources to reducing the threat of war. We have a vision of a world in which the shadow of war has been lifted from all mankind, and we are determined to pursue that vision." In 1984, G7 foreign ministers started their stand-alone annual September meetings in New York on the margins of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. By 1985, when Reagan flew to Reykjavik to make his historic arms control proposal that eventually led to the end of the cold war, he stopped first in New York to meet with his G7 peers to secure their approval of his proposals.

With the demise of the Cold war, the Summit moved more ambitiously to extend democratic governance to the developing countries, and to broaden the array of principles and instruments it deployed. In 1987, focused on the nascent democracy in Venezuela, it affirmed the principle that henceforth development assistance and debt relief would be given only to those countries moving towards democratic governance, and denied to those which sought to stop or reverse this progression. In 1987, at the initiative of Canada, the G7 began its campaign to end constitutional racism in South Africa by collectively issuing ever more forceful and detailed admonitions and taking the collective action required to enforce its concerns. At the 1989 Paris Summit of the Arche, the G7, led by Canada and France, issued a harsh condemnation of the People's Republic of China's murder of unarmed students at Tienanmien Square. In subsequent years the G7 adjusted its sanctions to encourage greater Chinese respect for human rights. More recently it has kept a vigilant eye over the preservation of human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong during and after the transition to PRC rule. And it has also been active, in Haiti, Peru and elsewhere in the America's, to ensure the successful spread of democratic governance throughout the hemisphere.

Throughout the 1990's, the G7's greatest achievement was securing the surprisingly peaceful transition of the Soviet Union, and the remnant Russia and other republics into what are now, on the whole, functioning, if not flourishing democratic polities and market economies. To do so the G7 mounted a judicious and well timed blend of support and sanction in the years following President Gorbachev's letter to the 1989 Paris Summit in which he had declared his desire to integrate his country into the global economy. When they first met Gorbachev at their 1991 London Summit, G7 leaders wisely refused to respond to his desperate plea for financial assistance, thus paving the way for the accession to power of his democratically-oriented successor, Boris Yeltsin. Beginning in 1992 Yeltsin was rewarded with successive large scale programs of G7-led financial assistance, and, since 1994, with participation as an equal in a newly established "Political Eight". Immediately after his democratic election as President of Russia in 1996, Yeltsin came to the 1997 "Denver Summit of the Eight," and at Birmingham in 1998 to a newly christened, permanent G8.

3. The Road To and From the Cologne Summit of 1999

Whether the new G8 would move to complete the democratic revolution in Russia, and whether Russia would prove to be a full partner in this quest, in spirit as well as name, was the central drama of last year's G8 summit, held in Cologne Germany in June 1999. Here the issue was the whether Russia would join its G7 colleagues in taking the war to liberate Kosovo, begun on March 24, to the next stage by agreeing to inject the ground combat forces required to successfully conclude the conflict. Japan had reservations about such a use of force, particularly when it was authorized outside of United Nations auspices. However Japan it found it easy to join the emerging G7 consensus led by Britain, France and Canada, given the clear evidence of the unfolding genocide by Serbian President Serbodan Milosovijec's forces. The Cologne G8 Summit was the first time the G7 leaders would meet face to face to discuss the war effort. It was designed by the seven to confront the attending Boris Yeltsin with the ultimate choice of whether he would abandon Russia's historic role as protector of the Serbs and act as one in concert with his fellow members of the democratic G8 club. His decision to adopt a new identity as a G8 partner, taken in the days leading up to the Cologne Summit, left Milosevic without his historic Russian protector, and thus with no choice but to withdraw his troops from Kosovo. The G8 was thus free to turn its energies to a reconstruction effort for the Balkan region that held forth the promise of a full place for Serbia at its centre once Serbia had joined the democratic fold.

One result of the G8's peace and security discussions at Cologne was the G8's first special thematically focused foreign ministers meeting, held in Berlin on December 16-17, 1999 and focused on conflict prevention. The meeting produced, in the first instance, a statement by the German chair setting forth the concerns of the seven (without Russia) and the principles they sought to uphold in regard to Russia's often brutal treatment of its own civilian population in the ongoing conflict in Chechnya. It further generated a formal G8 communiqué that committed G8 members to make conflict prevention a priority on their political agenda for the years to come, and to work toward ‘early decision" and sustainable strategies for conflict prevention in regional security and arms control. Here it called for "a integrated comprehensive approach encompassing political, security, economic, financial, environmental, social and development policies, based on the principles of the UN Charter, the rule of law, democracy, social justice, respect for human rights, a free press and good governance." It also set forth an ambitious agenda for further work on conflict prevention in seven specified areas: small arms, organized crime (including trafficking in persons and drug trafficking), children in armed conflict, mercenaries, diamonds and high value commodities, environmental issues, and financial measures to prevent conflict.

However, despite the urging of Canada, the Berlin meeting concluded with no action plan to put these commitments into practice, nor even a process to monitor their implementation among the G8 members who had agreed to them. Although virtually all G8 members favoured the adoption of such an action plan, it was France, with its attachment to an obsolescent conception of state sovereignty and security, that derailed the process in the consensus-oriented G8 club.

4. The Potential Contribution of the Okinawa Summit

How then can the G8 process, from the forthcoming foreign ministers meeting at Miyazaki to the leaders meeting itself at Okinawa, best be mobilized to advance the cause of international peace and human security, with the values of democratic governance and human rights at the core? An answer to this question must take full account of the legacy and high standards set by the G7/G8's formidable achievement in this realm over the past quarter century. It must also take full account of the state of the Summit preparatory process, of the existing conflicts and underlying consensus among G8 members, and what the broader international community requires as it begins the twenty first century. An analysis of such factors suggests that the G8 at Okinawa has the potential to make some substantial advances in this cause.

There is already a broad measure of agreement among members on the G8's political agenda - a consensus of remarkable breadth, depth and ambition when viewed from the perspective of only a year ago. In the first instance, there is a strong agreement on the need to develop a culture of conflict prevention. While various concepts and approaches contend, all G8 countries value their place in the G8 concert and will thus in the end adjust their individual national perspectives so that a progressive consensus can be reached. Despite disagreements over Chechnya, Russia remains a signatory to the Cologne declaration and to its vision of human security. It also has been an active participant in the G8's conflict prevention discussions, suggesting ideas regarding child soldiers and small arms in particular. Moreover, for the Miyazaki G8 foreign ministers meeting, there is already a broad agreement on an agenda centering on conflict prevention, the non-proliferation treaty, arms control and disarmament, peace in Asia, and regional issues of the dimensions of Kosovo and Chechnya. It is also worth noting that there is a broad overlap between Japan's approach to the Okinawa security agenda, and Canada's particular priorities of human security (including children in armed conflict, child soldiers and small arms), conflict prevention, nuclear non-proliferation, and creating transparency and civil society participation in the summit process.

At the same time, important disagreements remain. France and Russia in particular continue to be reserved about humanitarian intervention, as they are attached to the traditional principles of state sovereignty and non-intervention embedded in Article 2(7) of the United Nations charter over half a century ago. Moreover, on the broader concept of human security, core advocates such as Japan and Canada, who agree on action in regard to war-affected children and small arms, still have differences about what the concept of human security contains. For Japan, preoccupied with the Asia-turned-global financial crisis of 1997-9 and Japan's postwar tradition of non-military involvement abroad, the concept is centered on the task of development, in particular the construction of social safety nets for those suffering from financial crises. For Canada, it is conceived as the safety of people from violent and nonviolent attacks.

Given this particular combination of consensus and conflict, there are good grounds for asking that G8 ministers and leaders at their Miyazaki and Okinawa meetings make concrete progress on five specific proposals, as follows.

The first is to adopt as a broad vision for the G8's work in the political-security domain the mission of creating a culture of conflict prevention throughout the global community and within all its broad array of international institutions relevant to the security domain. This requires specifying the components of this fundamental principle and, as part of the G8's work on creating coherence in global governance, assessing a wide spectrum of international institutions, including the United nations system and regional bodies, to identify their contribution, capacity and need for reform in this regard. The task of creating an action plan for international institutional reform can be assigned by the leaders to their ministers for immediate follow-up. The new G20, created as a financial body at Cologne and scheduled to hold its second ministerial meeting in Montreal, Canada in October 2000, can be mobilized in this effort. The G20 can do so by identifying, as the Berlin agenda called for, the financial measures required to prevent conflict and the way international institutions in the financial and economic field can coherently contribute to the prevention of conflict and the promotion of human security.

A second initiative is to create a formal process to measure the progress on the seven areas specified in the Berlin communiqué. This should be followed by the creation of teams of experts in G8 countries and globally working on each of these seven areas. This process could usefully include the creation of a conflict prevention organ at the United Nations to continuously monitor regions threatened with conflict or war. Such action would implement the Cologne communiqué's call to "recognize the important role the United Nations plays in crisis prevention and (to) seek to strengthen its capacity in that area." Such a broad scanning and UN-based approach could help transcend the difficulties the G8 itself recently faced when the US resisted precursor studies focused on Indonesia and the Middle East, and Russia refused on the equally obvious candidate of the Caucuses.

A third initiative is to collectively define, endorse and enforce "rules-of-the-road" about future humanitarian intervention against states with adventurous intent or where genocide is threatened, as in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. At a minimum this issue should be added to the G8 foreign ministers agenda as a priority item for Miyazaki. Doing so would advance the Cologne G8 foreign ministers' call, placed as a priority at Canadian and German urging over US reluctance, to forward human security. It would do so by creating a new norm of "responsible standards," the violation of which could justify humanitarian intervention.

A fourth initiative is to recognize that "good development is good conflict prevention." One particular step is to act on the reality that corrupt police and security forces can constitute the greatest threat to both human security and to economic development in many countries. More generally, there is a real need, following the disappointing treatment of the HIPC plan at the April 2000 Washington, D. C. meetings of the IMF, World Bank and G7, to broaden the Cologne debt initiative and do so in support of an emerging new consensus on socially safeguarded globalization.

A fifth series of initiatives involves converting the Okinawa summit's agenda on peace in Asia into concrete accomplishments. One component of this quest is to make a significant advance toward peace on the Korean peninsula. A second is to define a program of economic assistance for Russia's impoverished regions bordering China, to prevent any temptations for China to move in to fill a vacuum. A third is to finally end the cold war with Russia in Asia as well as in Europe, by finding a formula, based on the G7's 1992 Munich declaration, for the return to Japan of the still occupied Northern Territories, seized by force by the Red Army at the height of Stalinism over half a century ago. And the fourth component is to move, as the late Prime Minister Obuchi recognized, to associate China more regularly and formally with the G8 system of governance, including the leader's summit itself.

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