Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy G7 Information Centre
Summits |  Meetings |  Publications |  Research |  Search |  Home |  About the G7 Research Group
Trinity College in the University of Toronto

G7/G8 Scholarly Publications and Papers

The Struggle for Summit Success: Prospects for Georgia’s G8

Professor John Kirton
Director, G8 Research Group
University of Toronto

May 19, 2004

Paper prepared for The Monitor, Center for International Trade and Security, University of Georgia, May 19, 2004. Download the whole issue [PDF].

On June 8–10, 2004, President George Bush will host the 30th annual summit of the G8 major market democracies, at Sea Island, Georgia. It is unusually difficult to determine, even on the eve of the event, the success of this year’s summit, which dates back to 1975. An informal international institution, the G8 is designed, delivered and driven by leaders, who determine — even during the meeting itself — what they discuss and decide. U.S. presidents, including George Bush, are historically the last to plan and prepare for the annual summit. Only once before, in 1976, has a U.S. president hosted a summit in a presidential election year; that summit was also held in a luxurious resort on the Atlantic seaboard and was one of the poorest performing summits in G8 history (Bayne 200: 195). The Republican host went down to electoral defeat that November.

G8 summits succeed when their politically secure leaders, as they confront systemic shocks, shared vulnerabilities and the failed performance of older multilateral institutions, pull together as equals in a small-group setting to promote democratic values in the world (Kirton 1989, 1993, 2004). With “America the victorious” after the Cold War now becoming “America the vulnerable” to elusive enemies everywhere — enemies that kill Americans at home and require the collaboration of all America’s G8 allies to defeat — the conditions are ripe for a Sea Island success. But getting the co-operation of this highly capable G8 “coalition of the willing” requires an American president who is willing to lead and act and to listen, learn and adjust to his G8 allies.

There is much now encouraging President Bush to do so. These powerful forces drive the momentum of the G8’s rising success over the past 30 years, the foundation from last year’s French-hosted Evian Summit, the strategic plan and increasingly accommodating preparations for Sea Island, and the succession of shocks and United Nations failures that should bring even reluctant American and allies leaders together in the face of imminent defeat. Yet Bush, a G8 skeptic, has designed a very short summit, starting with a dinner for the leaders and their wives and friends, and then complicated by dialogues with one group of invited leaders from the Middle East and another from Africa. His recent plunge in the polls restricts his freedom at home to do what he must on the international stage. His only hope is that his highly ambitious the Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI) is so consonant with the G8’s core mission of promoting open democracy, individual liberty and social advancement that he and his G8 colleagues will succeed at Sea Island, regardless of their shortcomings at home or in the world beyond the G8.

[back to top]

The Productive Past Thirty Years

The annual G8 summit has shown a rising trend of performance over the past 30 years. Each year, the G8 leaders take more time to deliberate, do so on more subjects, set more set bold normative directions, produce soaring numbers of collective decisions, comply with them increasingly and develop the institutions of global governance, both beyond and increasingly within the G8.

To be sure, since 1975 the U.S. has been the least successful host. After Gerald Ford’s dismal start at Puerto Rico in 1976, U.S. hosting performance peaked with Ronald Reagan at Williamsburg in 1983 and fell under George Bush Sr at Houston in 1990 and Bill Clinton at Denver in 1976. Yet a closer look at the summit’s deliberative, directional, decisional and development of global governance performance shows that U.S. is steadily becoming a better host.

Last year’s Evian Summit produced considerable momentum, despite the transatlantic political war between France and the U.S. over Iraq. Yet while George Bush and Jacques Chirac embraced each other at Evian, a record high of 14 G8 documents containing 206 commitments gushed forth. The leaders created three new G8 bodies, — for terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and science and technology for sustainable development — and requested reports on terrorism and transport security for the 2004 Summit and on Africa for the UK-hosted 2005 Summit. They also recorded the common G8 determination to respond collectively to external shocks such as the proliferation of WMD, terrorist acts and sinking oil tankers. With such a record, it was easy for Bush to rush off to the Middle East to promote peace, even before the Evian Summit was done.

[back to top]

U.S. Plans and Preparations: Ambition and Adjustment in Action

Also promising has been the direction of the U.S. preparatory process. Despite Bush’s initial uncertainty about the value of the G8, the U.S. has mounted important and productive ministerial meetings on counterterrorism and crime, foreign affairs and finance. Indeed, Bush met with the G8 foreign ministers when they gathered in Washington on May 14. These meetings have been backed by a dense set of official-level preparatory meetings and bilateral meetings among G8 leaders and expanding coalitions of the willing. G8 members are also complying well with their priority commitments from Evian, with the Iraq War adversaries of France and the U.S. scoring an above-average +50% each (Kirton and Kokotsis 2004).

Another promising sign is the focused but ambitious agenda, covering the economic and political-security domains and reflecting the distinctive priorities of all major G8 partners. America’s initial trilogy of “prosperity, security and freedom” has generated a wide-ranging, robust list topped by four major deliverables and a growing number of items added in part by America’s allies in the G8.

At the strategic centre is the GMEI, likely to take the form of a general political statement followed by a list of ongoing work in the region collectively or (mostly) individually by G8 members plus new initiatives for the G8 members to do together. These would cover issues such as literacy, education of women, freedom of the press and financing, probably as a fund to which G8 governments and rich regional governments contribute. The U.S. is now open to mobilizing new money at Sea Island for this and other projects. But the question remains whether Bush can convince others in the G8 to give. To get support from the region, the U.S. hopes to invite a group of selected Middle East leaders to join the G8 leaders for a session at Sea Island.

Two big challenges for the GMEI are getting the respectable regional powers to buy into the plan and its relationship to the Middle East Peace Plan (MEPP). Efforts to reach out to the region have been bedevilled by the leak of a draft text and predictable cries that the U.S. and the G8 were dictating to the region and by delays caused by Bush’s support for Ariel Sharon’s peace plan, outrage over Iraqi prisoner abuse by Americans and a steady stream of terrorist shocks in the Middle East. Nonetheless, the Arab League is on track to proclaim the needed partnership at its May 22 Tunis Summit. Both the Arab leaders and the G8 are coming to agree that the GMEI not be held hostage to the success of the preceding MEPP, but that GMEI would go further and faster, given more movement on MEPP.

The second deliverable for Sea Island is the Secure and Facilitated Transport Initiative (SAFTI). This involves advancing work on transport security launched at the 2002 G8 Kananaskis Summit. Still outstanding are the issues of deploying immigration and customs personnel and the screening of airline industry personnel.

The third deliverable is on WMD nonproliferation. There remains some degree of disagreement among G8 members as Sea Island approaches, for example over a U.S. initiative for full nuclear fuel cycle controls, aimed at countries such as Iran and North Korea. Such items would be allowed for civilian nuclear power, but any elements needed to make a bomb would be denied. Another component is the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), where the U.S. has made steady progress in getting agreement from major maritime countries to interdict suspicious vessels on the high seas.

Also subject to some discord is a proposal to expand the Global Partnership, the $20 billion fund created at Kananaskis to dismantle WMD in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Russia has demanded faster disbursement from its G8 partners, who want exemption from onerous Russian legal liability requirements. Some think it is time to start spending elsewhere in the CIS. It is uncertain whether new money can be found to support Libya, which has suddenly shifted to the good side and thus deserves to be rewarded — before it changes its mind. Matters related to chemical, biological and radiological sources are progressing well, and the May 17 discovery of sarin nerve gas in Iraq, which had been used with deadly intent, will likely concentrate G8 minds at Sea Island.

The fourth deliverable is on private sector development, inspired by the report by America’s neighbours, Canada’s Prime Minister Paul Martin and Mexico’s former president Ernesto Zedillo. With more money transferred north to south through remittances than through official development assistance, the G8 wants them to flow effectively, by reducing transaction costs. When they meet on May 24, the G8 finance ministers will probably prepare this item for their leaders to adopt at Sea Island. A more difficult component is a U.S. proposal, reluctantly supported by Germany, to issue growth index bonds to reward investors according to GDP growth rates in the developing countries that would receive the money. This proposal is linked to a British financing initiative, not supported by the U.S., for an international finance facility that would borrow from promised aid flows from the long-term future to spend all the money now. Whether George Bush and Tony Blair could come to a mutual accommodation, rather than a mutual veto, remains unclear.

A fifth item was peace support, principally in Africa. In a joint initiative with the Italians, the U.S. is seeking a commitment to help train African peace support for constabulary duties and related tasks, with a ready $670 million of U.S. money. The G8 partners propose using “existing mechanisms,” and, led by Germany, are resisting contributing their own money. Perhaps to help build pressure, and accommodate those G8 allies more deeply committed to Africa, Bush has invited a group of African leaders to Sea Island. Blair’s recently created Commission for Africa, containing members from many G8 and African countries, will also likely be discussed.

Another agenda item is global economic growth, including managing prospective rising interest rates, imbalances in America and elsewhere, and China’s booming economy and fixed undervalued exchange rates. Rapidly rising oil prices make this traditional issue increasingly relevant for the G8.

The G8 could decide to spend new money to eradicate polio, an issue to which all members are committed, and on which even Germany seems ready to spend. America’s geographically and linguistically closest G8 partners are pushing for action on HIV/AIDS, through the Global Health Fund. Also possible, but resisted by Bush’s America, is follow-up on sustainable development, an Italian initiative on global observation and a Japanese proposal to reduce, recycle and reuse.

[back to top]

The Powerful Pressures to Produce

In the weeks before the Sea Island Summit pressure is growing on the G8 leaders to agree. The escalation of world oil prices, and the steady succession of terrorist shocks in the Middle East, Russia and Europe create a strong incentive for collective G8 action, and revive G8 memories of past shocks when the G8 previously pulled together to produce summit success. The discovery and use of sarin nerve gas against U.S. forces in Iraq in mid May showed that the new nightmare of terrorists using WMD, long emphasized by George Bush and accepted by the G8 at Kananaskis, remains real.

While all hope that the UN can manage Iraq after the June 20 transition of power, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has admitted his UN agency was unable to deal with the WMD threat in Iran, North Korea or Iraq. UN performance is more far promising in the field of development, which could inspire an America looking for easy deliverables to add more private sector development in Africa or even sustainable development to the Sea Island agenda than it initially intended.

Nonetheless, the capabilities of the countries of the leaders around the Sea Island Summit table do not allow them to produce the required supply collectively. The booming economic growth of China and other emerging economies reduces the G8’s capabilities, physically and psychologically, to govern the globe confidently through it alone. Within the G8, the rise of Russia and revitalization of long stagnant Japan support all members treating all others as equals. But the first-place GDP performance of the U.S. and the rise of the U.S. dollar could inspire an already self-confident U.S. president to lead unilaterally, rather than to listen, learn and adjust to what his G8 colleagues want and will help fund.

Nor is the Sea Island Summit physically designed to encourage the leaders to bond as only G8 leaders can. To be sure, it follows the 2002 Kananaskis model, and the 1981 Montebello model before it, of allowing leaders to be alone together with the media and its tempting distractions 60 miles away. Moreover, the June 6 celebration of the 60th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy offers most G8 leaders a chance for last-minute deals and remembering how they have fought together to bring freedom to authoritarian polities in the past. Yet, with Sea Island being a short summit, the elaborate arrivals ceremony on June 8, the social dinner that night and the meetings with the visiting leaders leave little time for the G8 leaders to go beyond what their ministers and officials have already agreed on their behalf.

Nor will the G8 leaders be free of domestic distractions, or of concerns of how much freedom they have at home to take action abroad. George Bush, as host, will be preoccupied with the looming election and his recently plunging popularity into minority standing in the polls. Moreover, all G8 leaders, save Russia’s Vladimir Putin, are similarly afflicted by poor popularity or impending elections.

The great hope for Sea Island to be successful, and historically significant, lies in Bush’s very ambitious agenda, focused on the democratization and social development of the Middle East and so close to the G8’s core unifying mission of promoting open democracy, individual liberty and social advancement around the world. Under the leadership of Bush’s father, notably at Houston in 1990, the G8 succeeded in bringing the Soviet empire peacefully into the democratic fold. Under the leadership of Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien at Kananaskis in 2002, the G8 brought the democratic revolution to Africa, through a partnership with forward-looking leaders both north and south of the Sahara. Bush can justifiably assume that the time has come, during his time as host, to bring democracy to the Middle East, a region almost entirely left out of the great wave of openness and democratization sweeping the world since 1989. With their backs to the wall, his G8 allies may well put aside their differences and pull together to allow them all to succeed. On Sea Island’s eve, it remains to be seen whether they will have enough powerful partners in the Middle East region ready by June 8 to take a chance on America and its allies of the G8.

[back to top]

References and Related Reading

Bayne, Nicholas (2003), “Impressions of the Kananaskis Summit,” in Michele Fratianni, Paolo Savona and John Kirton, eds., Sustaining Global Growth and Development: G7 and IMF Contributions and Challenges, Ashgate, Aldershot.

Fowler, Robert (2003), “Canadian Leadership and the Kananaskis G8 Summit: Toward a Less Self-Centered Policy,” in David Carment, Fen Osler Hampson and Norman Hillmer, eds., Canada Among Nations 2003: Coping with the American Colossus, Oxford University Press, Toronto..

G8 Research Group (2003), “Interim Compliance Report, 2002–03,” (May 2004).

G8 Research Group (2003), “Final Compliance Report, 2002–03,” (May 2004).

Kirton, John (2004), “Explaining G8 Effectiveness: A Concert of Vulnerable Equals in a Globalizing World.” Paper prepared for the International Studies Association convention, Montreal, March 17–20 (May 2004).

Kirton, John (2003), “After Westphalia: Security and Freedom in the G8’s Global Governance,” in Thomas Noetzel and Marika Lerch, eds., Security and Freedom: Foreign Policy, Domestic Politics and Political Theory Perspectives, Nomos, Baden-Baden.

Kirton, John (1993), “The Seven Power Summit and the New Security Agenda,” in David Dewitt, David Haglund and John Kirton, eds., Building a New Global Order: Emerging Trends in International Relations, Oxford University Press, Toronto.

Kirton, John (1989), “Contemporary Concert Diplomacy: The Seven-Power Summit and the Management of International Order.” Paper prepared for the International Studies Association Annual Conference, March 29–April 1, London, England.

Kirton, John and Ella Kokotsis (2004), “An Evaluation of the G8’s Commitment to the Kananaskis Pledges.” Paper prepared for a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations G8 Africa Roundtable, Washington DC, February 4 (May 2004).

Kirton, John and Ella Kokotsis (2003), “The G7/8 Contribution at Kananaskis and Beyond,” in Michele Fratianni, Paolo Savona and John Kirton, eds., Sustaining Global Growth and Development: G7 and IMF Governance, Ashgate, Aldershot.

[back to top]

G8 Centre
This Information System is provided by the University of Toronto Library and the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto.
Please send comments to:
This page was last updated February 09, 2007.

All contents copyright © 1995-2002. University of Toronto unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.