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G8 Preview: Retreating to Reach Out for Real Results at Kananaskis 2002

John Kirton
University of Toronto
Remarks Prepared for a Seminar Given at the
Center for International and Strategic Studies
Washington DC, March 15, 2002


This is a most appropriate place and time to reflect on the preparations, planned agenda and prospects for the forthcoming Summit of the Group of Eight major market democracies, being held in Kananaskis, Canada, on June 26-27 this year. The G8 Summit was conceived, as the G7 (without Russia), here in Washington in 1975 in the fertile mind of Henry Kissinger, to solve the many crises the United States confronted at that troubled time. The United States will itself host the Summit, as it does every seven years, in 2004, allowing President George W. Bush to showcase his international talents in the months leading up to his re-election bid. And the President's announcement here yesterday of an additional US$5 billion in international development spending confirms his commitment to international co-operation through the G8 and to making the G8's Kananaskis Summit a real success.

To understand the importance of the Kananaskis Summit, and foresee how the President might construct his "hometown" summit two short years from now, it is useful to consider in turn Canada's design for Kananaskis, the planned agenda and the prospects that Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien can deliver the intended result. The cumulative portrait is of a physical summit retreating back to basics, a summit reaching out in its policy agenda to confront the highly ambitious, high-risk challenge of poverty reduction in Africa and a summit politically on course to deliver real results. Its prospective success is due in large measure to President Bush's skill in listening, learning and adjusting America's approach to work with America's G8 allies and put to work the vital contributions they provide. His experience with this first G8 summit in North America this summer will provide a promising foundation for the leadership he will be asked to show to Americans, North Americans and the world when he hosts the G8 upon its return to North America in 2004.

The Kananaskis Design: A Summit of Retreat

Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, affectionately referred to as "Deano" in the White House, is indeed the dean of the G8, having attended every G7 and G8 summit since 1994, and having summit experience, as Canada's finance minister, dating back to 1978. He thus has firm, field-tested views about how summits should be constructed to take maximum advantage of their most precious asset - giving democratically elected leaders time alone to set the new high-level directions that only they can authoritatively chart. The memory of Montebello, Quebec, where Canada hosted its first G7 summit in 1981 in "the largest log cabin in the world,", the lessons of protest-filled and death-scarred Genoa, where the G8 met last year, and the shock of the September 11th terrorist attacks on North America all reinforced, rather than forced revisions to, Chrétien's convictions about how his summit should be shaped.

With Canada having hosted its previous G7/8 summits in Quebec in 1981, Ontario in 1988 and Atlantic Canada in 1995, Chrétien chose for 2002 a location in Western Canada, in the oil-rich, cattle-ranch-laden province of Alberta, where George Bush will feel right at home. With a political culture more akin to Texas than to Seattle (the port-city site of Bill Clinton's protest-filled, failed WTO ministerial meeting in late 1999) and in sharp contrast to Communist-friendly Genoa last year, Alberta will provide welcoming surroundings for leaders who want to make globalization work for the benefit of all.

The actual summit site is in a remote, mountainous lodge, replete with scenic splendour but with limited space for sleeping, with the nearest city an hour and a half drive away. Unlike Genoa, the leaders will be largely cut off from the media and citizens coming to cover the event. They will also be much better protected from al-Qaeda terrorists, who, since 1996, have targeted the G7/8 summits. At Genoa last July, they had planned to fly an explosives-laden civilian aircraft into the Palazzo Ducale while the leaders were meeting there.

With few rooms at the inn, delegations will be strictly limited in size to no more than 25 per country. The shrinkage is all the more severe because the G8 leaders will invite selected African leaders to join them, and not just for a special pre-Summit outreach event like last year but as an integral part of the G8 meeting itself. This has allowed the Canadian hosts to shrink the length of the summit to one and a half days - running from noon Wednesday to 6 p.m. the following day. President Bush will thus need to be out of the United States for only a single night.

Also allowing the Canadians to dispense with the traditional second dinner and subsequent morning session is their decision to dispense with the conventional pre-negotiated and leaders-tweaked concluding communiqué that tells the world, and their own officials, what they want done. In its place will come a two-page chair's statement composed right on the spot. While this substitution will open the G8 to the charge that it prefers 19th-century style "secret decisions, secretly arrived at" and make compliance with G8 commitments more difficult back home in subsequent months, it will free the leaders at Kananaskis to focus fully on what they alone as leaders really want. This summit, as never before, is designed to be their summit - the ultimate executive retreat.

he Kananaskis Agenda: A Summit of Reaching Out

In their 30 hours alone together at Kananaskis, the G8 and their selected African leaders are slated to focus like a laser beam on the theme they locked in on last year in Genoa: poverty reduction in Africa. Soon after Genoa, the synchronous slowdown in G7 and global economies and the shock of September 11th added the themes of "generating global growth" and "combating terrorism" to the list. But as scoring a summit hat trick on this three-part agenda will be difficult enough, the Canadians are determined to close the door on any additional agenda ornaments others might wish to hang on the Kananaskis Christmas tree. Rapidly rising and compelling claimants such as conflict containment in the Middle East, conflict prevention in civil war-prone Africa and Afghanistan, or guiding the WTO development agenda to a successful conclusion will have to find a logically connected home under one of the three established themes.

The first theme, generating global growth, is a perennial at G7/8 summits. It acquired added prominence for Kananaskis with the arrival last year of the G7's first synchronous slowdown since 1975. But with the U.S., Canada and most G8 economies outside Japan now bouncing back sharply, this topic need not consume a great deal of the leaders' time. A still fragile Japan and Argentina, and the reform of the international financial system, including its multilateral development banks, could well be topics where leaders want to add some weight to what their finance ministers will have decided a few weeks before. But their emphasis at Kananaskis will be on "smart growth" for what might be termed the "new security economy" - how the new wave of spending unleashed by September 11th brings not only short-term stimulus, and enhanced security with added transaction costs, but permanent, productivity-enhancing growth. This effort to bring back to North America its pre-September 11th "new economy," and share it with the world, means that the G8's structural reform agenda will no longer focus on only sclerotic Europe and shrinking Japan, but be G8-wide affair.

The second theme, combating terrorism, is also one where the G8 is a proven performer. It first got into the business in 1978 with skyjacking, and created its ministerial forum to combat all forms of terrorism in Ottawa in 1995. The G8's counter-terrorism machinery, led by its finance ministers, was quick off the mark after September 11th and much has been done since. Kananaskis will be called on to ensure that all the commitments are fully implemented, to plug the few remaining holes in the global system to strangle the al-Qaeda-centred network, and to chart the longer term steps ahead. Dealing with terrorists in Palestine, escalating violence in the Middle East, and the threats of mass destruction from totalitarian Iraq, communist North Korea and closed Iran will be worthy subjects for the leaders' hard thought. Closer to the North American homeland, the United States and Canada will announce a 30-point program to enhance physical security and economic security in their two countries, in part as a model of what others might usefully do.

Barring the eruption of a global crisis at the last minute, there should still be ample time for the leaders to take the hardest look yet in their lifetimes at the difficult subject of international development, and address it in the toughest arena imaginable - sub-Saharan Africa. They will have had a warm-up on the old approach in the old forum, by attending the United Nations Summit for Financing Development in Monterrey, Mexico, in late March. But at Kananaskis the key question they will confront is not - how do we mobilize more money to do more of the same old thing. It is - how do we design with our African partners a new paradigm for development, and an action plan to deliver it, that might succeed where the predominant approach of the past half-century has manifestly failed.

It was at Genoa last year that leading African leaders approached the G8 to say, "We want to do things differently in the new century by taking ownership of, and responsibility for, our own development - will you help?" The G8 replied, "Yes, we will." Through their newly appointed personal representatives for Africa, they have been working together in tandem ever since to enrich the Africans' New Plan for African Development (NEPAD) and transform it into an action plan backed by the resources required to make it work. They are on track to unveil at Kananaskis a framework that begins with recipients' responsibilities for good governance, the rule of law and the mobilization of savings within their own societies to fuel the growth of their often critical agricultural sector. The G8 countries will respond with commitments on improved aid effectiveness, and co-ordination and a cutback in the heavy conditionality that often requires civil servants in recipient countries to stay in their offices and fill out forms for the rich rather than go to the villages and get the development job done for the poor. With the right paradigm and action plan in place, the resources required from the rich will then start to flow. They will help convince potential foreign direct investors that conditions are now right to invest in Africa. Led by Canada, the G8 will offer enhanced access to their own markets for low-cost African agricultural exports, perhaps even moving beyond the prevailing European approach to market access, which critics have labelled "everything but farms." And because the G8 know full well that the free marketplace for investment and trade is not fast fix or a magic bullet, they will offer enhanced levels of official development assistance (ODA) as well.

The Kananaskis Prospects: A Summit of Real Results

Will the Kananaskis Summit be able to deliver this ambitious African-centric agenda? It will by no means be an easy task. Unlike Genoa last year, where the focus was raising a few more badly needed billions of dollars to combat one crisis that was damaging development - the HIV/AIDS pandemic - Kananaskis has adopted the entire vast array of obstacles to poverty reduction in Africa as its agenda, and seeks to replace the prevailing "aid-first" approach of the past 50 years. This requires a high-risk effort to secure consensus from G8 governments now ideologically split along a liberal-right divide, and to mobilize new resources from a deficit-ridden United States and Japan - the two economic titans in the G8 and the world. This familiar challenge of G8 summitry has now been more than doubled, for if Kananaskis is to be successful, major African leaders will have to come to a genuine consensus on the new development paradigm, first among themselves and then with the G8.

The first hurdle to be overcome is an African created one: whether South Africa's Thabo Mbeki and his colleagues will agree that the way Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe conducted his recent election is not what they mean when they speak of "good governance" and respect for the "rule of law" as part of their new NEPAD paradigm. Once the glare of publicity on Zimbabwe fades in the coming weeks, and the facts come in, Mbeki may be better able to overcome the constraints of his own racially sensitive society and move in the direction desired by most. In the meantime, he could help the cause by setting aside his deep denial about the extent of the AIDS pandemic in Southern Africa and downplaying his rhetoric about how external efforts to help combat it are new manifestations of the white imperialism of old.

Within the G8, the necessary incentives to put the new paradigm into action are rapidly falling in place. Jean Chrétien led off as host in his December 10, 2001, budget, by committing an additional C$500 million for Africa amidst his successful struggle to keep the Canadian government in the black. George Bush followed on March 14 when, just prior to dining at the White House with Chrétien for the traditional pre-G8 planning session, he announced a new US$5 billion in ODA from the United States. The Europeans, moving into their Barcelona Summit, hosted by the Spanish Prime Minister who will come to Kananaskis, seem willing to commit to an enhanced level of ODA as a percentage of their GDP. The UN Summit on Financing for Development will encourage others to join in. As the Kananaskis Summit draws nearer, it will become obvious that the counter-terrorist coalition, and the many developing countries within it, need to reduce poverty to prevent their countries from becoming new terrorist havens - in particular, to prevent the sad situation of the Sudan and Somalia from spreading southward into sub-Saharan Africa itself.

At present, then, three months prior to Kananaskis, the G8 appears posed to deliver real results. It is now largely up to the African leaders to come together with the G8 leaders to make Kananaskis a truly historic success.

Source: Center For Strategic & International Studies (CSIS)

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