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Broadening Participation in Twenty-First Century Governance:
The Prospective and Potential Contribution of the Okinawa Summit

Professor John Kirton
Department of Political Science
Centre for International Studies
University of Toronto
July 17, 2000

Presentation at the Conference on "The Kyushu-Okinawa Summit: The Challenges and Opportunities for the Developing World in the 21st Century," co-sponsored by the United Nations University, the Foundation for Advanced Studies in Development and the University of Toronto's G8 Research Group, Tokyo, July 17, 2000.


  1. Introduction
  2. The G8's Development Performance, 1975-99
  3. The Summit Theme and Agenda
  4. Critical Achievements
  5. Outstanding Challenges
  6. A New Okinawa Opportunity for Global Social Cohesion

1. Introduction

The G7/G8's Kyushu-Okinawa Summit, taking place on July 21-23, promises to be a summit of solid accomplishment, with the potential to be one that delivers some major results.

In the first instance, Okinawa will set some genuinely new directions for global governance in the twenty-first century. These centre on bringing developing countries and civil society into the new processes for governance, and harnessing the information technology revolution for the task of development, while respecting cultural diversity in the world.

In doing so Okinawa will in practice move beyond the easy path of promoting a globalization guided by and for the powerful and prosperous alone, with a new wave of information technology liberalization at its core. Instead it will affirm a broader set of values, beginning with a concern for those on the other side of the digital, knowledge and health divides, in the developing world.

These new directions are likely to be put into practice by several individually modest but cumulatively meaningful decisions. Okinawa will offer a charter and mechanism on information technology, funding to combat infectious disease, effective debt relief for the poorest countries, action on conflict prevention and innovative moves to enable civil society to participate in global governance and the summit itself.

At the same time, Okinawa still faces some major outstanding challenges, which bear directly on the task of development and civil society engagement as the new century begins. The most important are deep-seated disagreements over trade liberalization and food safety that the leaders themselves at Okinawa must confront.

Above all, Okinawa should be called upon to build upon the new Cologne consensus pioneered last year, to create a new socially sensitive and safeguarded path of globalization that puts poor people in poor communities and countries first.

2. The G8's Development Performance, 1975-99

Before examining in more detail these important contributions of Okinawa, it is important to recall that G7/G8 summits do indeed make a difference to the process of development and a global order that benefits all.

In the first place, commitments made at G8 summits do matter the member countries tend to keep the promises they make. As outlined in a recent book, The G8's Role in the New Millennium, the classic analysis by George von Furstenberg and Joseph Daniels shows that the G7 members kept their summit's commitments on development 27% of the time, a figure just under the 30% average for the summit's agenda as a whole. Dr. Ella Kokotsis has shown that the figure, in regard to the specific issue of debt relief for the poorest and the U.S. and Canadian record of compliance, rose to 73% from 1998 to 1995. Subsequent analysis by the G8 Research Group, in their annual assessments of the G8's performance, suggest the recent record of compliance is equally robust.

If the promises made by the G8 matter, are the G8 leaders willing to make such commitments in the first place? The answer from recent summits is largely yes. Kokotsis has shown that from 1988 to 1995, G8 leaders were willing to make a total of 13 specific, future-oriented concrete commitments regarding developing country debt. Moreover, the G8 Research Group's Assessments of the Summit by Issue area from 1996 to 1999 reveal a basic B+ performance in the field of development, with Lyon 1996 having earned an A.

The world is thus justified in having high expectations for Okinawa in demanding a lot and even more than the last three summits have delivered in the development field.

3. The Summit Theme and Agenda

High expectations are even more appropriate for Okinawa, given the ambitious questions that the leaders will addressing. As the first summit of the new century, Okinawa is an opportunity to reflect on the record of the last hundred years and on the plethora of wars, destruction, depression, colonialism, racism and intolerance it brought. It is also start of the second 25 years of the G7/G8's efforts to advance core principles such as democracy, human rights and human security around the world. It is the tenth anniversary of a cold war that has ended in Europe but that remains alive and well in Asia. It is, finally, the fifth anniversary of the moment when the G7 leaders first used the world globalization mondalisation at the Lyon Summit of 1996. How, G8 leaders at Okinawa will ask, can the G8 shape a twenty-first century that avoids the tragedies of the twentieth, that ends the cold war in Asia and other regions, and that makes globalization work for the poor as well as the powerful and prosperous, and for ordinary people around the world?

4. Critical Achievements

i. Information Technology for Development

The major message from the G8 will be that information technology offers a chance for drastic, revolutionary change across all of society and can thus help ordinary citizens in the poorest developing countries everywhere. It will suggest that those who missed the twentieth century of development can leapfrog into the twenty-first with information technology. Within G8 countries, by connecting schools to the internet, IT can be used effectively to educate underprivileged children in inner city schools, and villagers in rural Africa. It thus offers a deepening opportunity for the G8 to extend the hand of solidarity to those who may otherwise drop out. Here Okinawa will feature, as its centrepiece deliverable, an Information Technology Charter, which will focus for the first time internationally on combating the digital divide, the knowledge divide and the health divide.

Okinawa will also establish a new governance mechanism to bring relevant institutions such as WTO, ECOSOC, WIPO and other stakeholders together to devise new approaches to overcoming the digital divide. This mechanism will operate under the direction of the G8 chair each year, with a membership that embraces G8 countries and those from international organizations, from developing countries, and from the NGO community as well.

In the conception of the Japanese host, development is about improving the lives of ordinary citizens through education. The G8 could play a role by giving life to the existing UN agreement that there should be universal education by the year 2015. Ensuring Africans can receive primary and secondary education in their native languages would be a valuable, concrete first step.

ii. Infectious Disease and the Health Divide

Development also requires healthy as well as educated individuals, and important steps will be taken here too. Japan is proposing a concerted effort on the three diseases of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The emphasis is on saving lives now, through such simple measures as providing mosquito nets for babies and producing the vaccines that the drugs companies do not regard as profitable to make and sell on their own.

In this fight against infectious disease, Japan is pressing hard to create a new multibillion dollar fund whose total amount would be specified in the communiqué. This fund would be made available to programs delivered by NGOs in the developing countries, rather than the donor countries themselves. At present, however, only the U.S. and Japan have come up with concrete dollar figures for their contribution.

iii. HIPC Debt Relief and Conditionality

One area where there will be progress is on debt relief for the poorest countries under the Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) program. The prospect is for substantial progress in mobilizing the necessary monies and making it easier for worthy recipients to secure it.

But the latter task is seen to require conditions that ensure the implementation of a poverty reduction strategy, While Jubilee 2000 and others oppose such conditions, the G8 will insist upon them, as a way of ensuring that the recipients take ownership of the program themselves.

iv. Conflict Prevention

The G8 is also prepared to use HIPC debt relief as a way to prevent conflict. There are 13 HIPC countries currently engaged in military conflict. One way to act to end and prevent such conflicts is to ensure that HIPC debt relief is not used to finance such conflicts. Japan, supported by Britain and Canada, is also seeking an agreement that the G8 will "cease" to grant export credits to countries involved in such conflicts. But Russia stands opposed, and the U.S. and France are reluctant as well.

More broadly, using a building block approach, G8 leaders will endorse concrete measures of conflict prevention in five specific areas of central concern to developing countries. These are small arms, children in conflict, civilian police, diamonds and development. They will also announce the creation of a Conflict Prevention Officials Group, to institutionalize the work of the past year.

v. Civil Society Engagement

A further achievement of Okinawa will be the creation of new precedents and processes for the meaningful participation of civil society in global governance in the twenty-first century. Last year at Cologne, one of the great successes was the Cologne Debt Initiative, was the agreement by the leaders to write off almost all of the debt of the world's 41 poorest countries by the end of 2000. The leaders would not have made that decision had not Jubilee 2000 held its demonstrations at Cologne. Jubilee 2000 is backed by many thousands of citizens around the world.

This year, the G8 is taking unprecedented steps to involve civil society organizations in the G8 summit process itself. The Japanese government has appointed a director general for civil society participation as part of its summit planning team. The personal representative of the Japanese prime minister has travelled to London and sent officials to Brussels to meet with the leaders of major civil society organizations. The Japanese government has hosted a large number of conferences that involve civil society organizations in the lead-up to Okinawa. It has also invited the ministers from developing countries to dialogues with their G7/G8 counterparts in the finance and foreign ministers meetings prior to the summit.

At Okinawa itself, the Japanese government has created an NGO centre where NGOs can accredit their own media, hold briefings and conduct their own events. This facility will be run by the NGOs themselves. Japan has invited its G8 partners to have their delegations brief NGOs representatives at the centre. Finally, the Japanese government will have Prime Minister Mori and any other G8 leader who wants to join him meet with the leaders of NGO members during the summit. Those NGO leaders will be selected by the NGOs themselves.

These changes in process should be selected in summit outcomes. For example, Japan is eager to have the summit endorse concrete action to curb illegal international logging. In this desire it is being reinforced by daily communications from the well-known NGO Greenpeace.

5. Outstanding Challenges

The importance of developing countries is also clear in the two major outstanding challenges the leaders themselves must solve at Okinawa if it is to be a major success. Both cases come from the field of trade, an area where the G7/G8 has historically produced its greatest results. But now G8 success depends upon finding a formula that will respond to the demands of developing countries for a more just international regime.

i. Trade

The first case is the effort to launch a new comprehensive round of multilateral trade negotiations, in the wake of the failure at Seattle last year. G7 members, through their trade ministers' Quadrilateral meeting (consisting of the U.S., Japan, Canada and the European Union, have been trying with difficulty to forge a framework agreement that would generate an accord on agriculture among themselves, and reduce their subsidies and other barriers on products of most interest to developing countries.

Yet there are those who wondered, now that the WTO has been established, whether the Geneva process with developing countries present should be left to do its work, free from the negative counter-reactions that might arise if the G7 tries to inject its leadership, as in days of old. Moreover, those still shell-shocked by the violence of some civil society protestors on the streets in Seattle and seeing the signs from subsequent meetings that such threats would not go away, wonder whether any high-profile international gathering such as the G8 was the best venue to discuss, negotiate or announce any measures for liberalizing trade.

Okinawa remains a place where it might be possible to move the trade liberalization process forward, but only if the new players and process at the WTO in Geneva would welcome such leadership. This move would have received a major reinforcement from a Japanese proposal that the G8 and OECD countries unilaterally offer duty-free and quota-free access to all products from developing countries, or at a minimum from the 41 poorest HIPC members among them. The EU has accepted the Japanese proposal. But the other half of the Quadrilateral has not. Thus the Okinawa communiqué is destined to speak only of "improved access" and not quota-free or duty-free access. It seems unlikely to affirm the latter principle even in regard to the LLDCs.

Okinawa will, however, offer support for capacity building, on the grounds that the LDCs cannot now take advantage of the access granted by OECD countries if they cannot export because they do not have the know-how. And at Okinawa G8 leaders will also think hard about how to get more developing countries interested in restarting a new round as early as possible, and before the year 2000 ends.

ii. Food Safety

The second case is that food safety, focused on the task of developing a regime for trade in genetically modified organisms. Here the North Americans stand opposed to the Europeans, with Japan well positioned to play a mediatory role. This mediatory thrust will be aimed at setting common principles and establishing new directions in Okinawa.

This could involve creating a forum for various stakeholders to express their views on food safety and guide the detailed work that needs to be done.. The U.S. and Canada have proposed the UN as an appropriate forum. But the Europeans are suspicious of taking the issue to the UN, calculating that it will be difficult for 160 countries to find a solution they all agree on.

In making their proposal, some in the United States and Canada calculate that there is a large number of developing countries for which food security is a major concern, a concern that can be met through the adoption in those countries of GMOs. Others in the G8 argue that while a large number do have a food security problem, those countries also have a profound dislike of dependence on the rich north and their multinational companies, including the technological and commercial dependence the use of GMOs would create. In fact, some of the most radical views on the issue come from developing countries, some of which see GMOs as a way for grain-producing countries such as Argentina or New Zealand to stand behind Canada and the United States in an attempt to dominate the world grain market. Meanwhile other grain producers, such as Brazil and Australia, refuse to use GMOs.

6. A New Okinawa Opportunity for Global Social Cohesion

The ultimate opportunity for Okinawa is to build a new consensus, begun at Cologne last year, on an approach to globalization, through information technology, trade liberalization, and other instruments, that is sensitive to and safeguards the social values that globalization profoundly affects. At Cologne, for the first time G8 leaders frankly acknowledged that globalization brings risks for workers, families and communities, that the G8 must respond, and that it must make its benefits "widely shared by people all over the world." It further identified an inclusive, multi-stakeholder process for creating such an order, and one in which social progress and environmental protection joined prosperity at the values this order should affirm.

At present, the Okinawa summit seems destined, as memories of the recent 1997-9 crisis fade fast, to applaud the positive benefits of a globalization now led by the information technology revolution, with little acknowledgement of its downsides. There is indeed some merit in a approach premised on having the actions discussed above speak more loudly than anther burst of the empty rhetoric often featured in G8 communiqués. But it is not too much to ask a summit of new directions, being held at this historic moment in the unique setting of Okinawa, to articulate a larger vision as a guide to the G8 leadership and global governance to come.

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