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University of Toronto

Special Events

Prospects for the
2005 G8 Gleneagles Summit

By Sir Nicholas Bayne
London School of Economics and Political Science

Seeley Hall, Trinity College, University of Toronto
November 22, 2004

Introduced by Professor Margaret Macmillan, Provost of Trinity College

Presented by the G8 Research Group
and co-sponsored by the
Asian Institute
Centre for International Studies
Centre for the Study of the United States
CIS Development Studies Seminars
Collaborative Master of Arts Program in International Relations
International Relations Programme
Institute of European Studies

The Summits of the First G8 Sequence
The Development of G8 Summit Process
Performance against Summit Objectives
Conclusions I: Prospects for Gleneagles
Conclusions II: Inclusiveness, Intensity and the Unexpected

Summit meetings — that is, international gatherings of heads of state and government — go back before the dawn of history. If you read the accounts of the debates of the Greek kings before Troy, in Homer’s Iliad, the records of all later summits pale in comparison. The summit as council of war is the earliest form; but the summit as peace conference followed close behind. So members and friends of the G8 Research Group get added pleasure and enlightenment from Professor Margaret Macmillan’s masterly book on the 1919 peace settlement, because of her analysis of the four-month summit between Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau and Vittorio Orlando. That surely holds the record for both stamina and long-term impact — we are still living with the consequences, in another century.

I shall examine today a very different summit, in assessing the ‘Prospects for the 2005 G8 Gleneagles Summit’ that British Prime Minister Tony Blair hopes to chair next July. But before I offer any forecast for the future, looking forward to an event still seven months off, I need to define where we are now and how we got here. So I shall have to look back in time a bit before I look forward; not all the way back to the earliest G7 summits, 30 years ago, but at least to the first G8 summit chaired by Tony Blair at Birmingham in 1998.

Throughout their 30-year life, the summits have always had the same three objectives:

But when Tony Blair took office in 1997, the advance of globalisation had greatly increased the demands being made on the summit. There were many more active players in the international system. Many more external factors needed to be reflected in domestic decision-making. The end of super-power confrontation had removed some political stimuli to settling economic disputes. But the G7 summit process had not adapted to deal with these new demands and the summit was threatening to collapse under its own weight. At the 1998 Birmingham Summit Blair pioneered fundamental reforms to the summit process: to make Russia a full member, so that G7 became G8; to have heads of government meet on their own, without supporting ministers; and to simplify the agenda and the documentation.

These reforms have now been operation for a complete sequence of seven summits, with each G7 leader hosting the summit in turn — Russia’s first turn will come in 2006, after Gleneagles. In this lecture I shall first give you snapshots of these seven summits, to remind you of what has happened. Then I shall analyse the course of the reforms to process and the performance against each of the summit objectives — identifying as I go the British aims for Gleneagles. In my conclusions I shall summarise the Gleneagles prospects and add some more speculative thoughts on what the G8 summit is for in the early 21st century.

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The Summits of the First G8 Sequence

The first two summits of the sequence, Birmingham 1998 and Cologne 1999, mesh closely together. Their general aim was managing globalisation — enhancing its benefits and correcting its drawbacks. They confirmed the reforms to process introduced by Blair. They tackled some issues of domestic concern in G8 countries — employment, crime, social protection and education. But their main achievements were in international finance — new financial architecture in response to the Asian crisis and debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries. Birmingham laid the foundations for Cologne to conclude far-reaching agreements on both these topics. Cologne also produced a political and economic settlement of the crisis in Kosovo, demonstrating the advantage of having the Russians at the table.

The next pair of summits, Okinawa 2000 and Genoa 2001, maintained the priority given to managing globalisation and concentrated on world poverty. At previous summits the G8 had neglected trade and thus contributed to the disastrous meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) at Seattle. But thanks to the consensus reached between Bob Zoellick, George Bush’s new Trade Representative, and Pascal Lamy, the European Union Trade Commissioner (who had first met as sherpas in the early 1990s), the G8 gave a concerted push to the WTO’s Doha Development Agenda launched late in 2001. Both the Okinawa and Genoa summits promoted development initiatives linked to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially in information technology (IT) and infectious diseases. But they were less successful in mainstream development issues such as aid volume, while debt relief was losing momentum. These two summits pioneered outreach by the G8 both to non-G8 countries and to non-state actors such as business firms and civil society, though Genoa was disturbed by violent demonstrations.

The Kananaskis Summit of 2002 was the first to be held after 9/11, which had a profound influence on this and the two following summits, at Evian in 2003 and Sea Island, Georgia, in 2004. Political issues inevitably got more attention, especially terrorism and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, where the summits adopted a cumulative series of measures. But the fight against terrorism meshed with managing globalisation in the attention given to Africa by all three summits, building on a decision of principle taken at Genoa. Kananaskis and its successors undertook to support the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) by G8 measures that combined political and economic elements. Evian also helped to reconcile the G8 leaders after their deep divisions over Iraq, while Sea Island launched an ambitious programme of combined economic and political reform in the broader Middle East, from Morocco to Afghanistan. Earlier items, such as debt relief, trade and development, also came back to these three summits.

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The Development of G8 Summit Process

Let me now assess the evolution of the summit process over this sequence and the impact on Blair’s aims for Gleneagles.

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Adding Russia — G7 into G8

The first change to the process was the addition of Russia, making G7 into G8. Russia has made an essential contribution to politics at the summit, for example on Kosovo and non-proliferation. It still does not contribute much to economics. Even so, the G7 heads agreed at Kananaskis that Vladimir Putin could host the summit in 2006 and have now given up their earlier practice of meeting without Russia. One aim of the UK will be to ease the transition between Gleneagles and Russia’s first summit and to act as mentors to the Russians.

Adding Russia to the summit has opened up the question of whether other countries should join. The G8 heads are wary of this; they want to keep their summit small; and they know from experience with Russia that, once invited, countries cannot easily be uninvited. At Kananaskis they showed no appetite for further enlargement. However, over the two years since then the economic and foreign policy case for admitting China has grown strongly. China is now taking part in G7 finance ministers meetings. But China’s autocratic system is still a major obstacle. I doubt whether the UK chair next year will think the time is ripe for a move on China — but the balance could change quite suddenly.

Short of enlarging the membership the G8 has explored outreach to non-G8 countries in various other forms — I shall come to that later on.

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Heads-Only Summits

The second change to process was to have the G8 heads of government meet on their own, without supporting ministers. There are thus only nine or ten chairs around the summit table, depending on whether an extra one is needed for the EU presidency. The G8 heads welcome this greater intimacy, which is now entrenched in the process. The riots in Genoa and the security requirements after 9/11 have increased this intimacy, by requiring the G8 to meet in secluded resorts with only room for small delegations. Gleneagles continues this trend.

Meeting without their ministers has encouraged the G8 heads to pay more attention to non-state actors, such as business and civil society, thus increasing the transparency of the process. Since Okinawa the summit chair has normally involved firms and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the preparations, provided facilities for NGOs at or near the summit site and met their representatives. The U.S. departed from this practice this year, but the UK will certainly reinstate it.

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Simplifying the Agenda and Documentation

The third change in the process was to simplify the agenda and shorten the documents. This was well observed over the first five G8 summits, up to Kananaskis. The Japanese wavered a bit, but the Italians returned to the earlier rigour. The Canadian chair went further and replaced the formal communiqué with an informal ‘chair’s statement’ recording only what the heads said among themselves. But the drive for simplicity has weakened in the last two years. The French and Americans chose broad open-ended agendas, which easily became inflated. Evian and Sea Island issued more documents than any previous summits, sacrificing quality for quantity.

The UK will try to get back to the original simplicity next year. Blair wants a short agenda. He has already picked two items — Africa and climate change. He will probably add one more, nearer the time, steering any more suggestions to subsidiary meetings of G8 ministers. Likewise, he will want to keep the Gleneagles documents focused on this limited agenda.

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Performance against Summit Objectives

Let me now turn from process to look at performance against objectives. I shall look first at political leadership and collective management, where performance has been on balance good. I shall then identify integrating economics and politics as a new and valuable objective. Finally I shall come to reconciling international and domestic pressures, where the assessment is much less positive.

Political Leadership

During this sequence the G8 heads showed leadership by innovation. Sometimes they simply encouraged innovation at lower levels, as with the finance ministers’ work on new financial architecture. But they also launched their own ideas, building on what had been prepared for them and making their own impact. This applied to debt relief at Cologne, the Digital Opportunity Task Force (Dot Force) at Okinawa, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria at Genoa and the new initiatives on Africa, non-proliferation and the broader Middle East at later summits.

The G8 heads showed leadership also by striking deals among themselves, to resolve disagreement elsewhere. This was done at Cologne over Kosovo, which required Boris Yeltsin’s formal agreement. It was done at Genoa over Africa, where the heads took the decision of principle to engage with Africa without any advance preparation. Kananaskis was rich in such deals among the heads: they committed a further US$1 billion to debt relief, where finance ministers had not agreed on a figure; they fixed a total for extra aid to Africa, which needed Bush’s explicit assent; they agreed a US$20 billion programme to clean up nuclear installations in Russia, which needed assurances from Putin; and they decided, without advance preparation, that Russia should host its first summit. European agreement to the nuclear clean-up programme was traded against U.S. assent to more funds for debt relief, in the sort of cross-issue deal that only G8 summits can strike but very seldom do. The more cluttered summits of Evian and Sea Island struck fewer deals. But this year the assent of the rest of the G8 to U.S. proposals on the broader Middle East required the Americans to renew commitments at the summit on Israel and Palestine.

Blair will try, I believe, to recreate at Gleneagles the same sort of atmosphere as at Kananaskis, which was so conducive to deal-making. He may not have fundamental new ideas to propose on Africa, but will hope for progress on two initiatives that have been meeting resistance: first, deeper debt relief for poor countries, going up to 100% on debt to institutions such as the World Bank; second, the International Finance Facility (IFF) intended to generate extra aid funds to meet the Millennium Development Goals. On climate change, he will hope that the preparations will generate new approaches, which escape the transatlantic confrontation that has prevailed so far over the Kyoto Protocol.

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Collective Management

The concept of collective management is likewise in good shape. The best way of discovering whether the G8 is working collectively is to look at the pattern of initiative between subjects. You might have expected George Bush to insist that only American initiative counted, but it has not worked out that way. In the first four G8 summits, including Genoa, Bush’s first, the sources of initiative were widely dispersed. The Americans took the lead in financial architecture, with Canada more active in support than the Europeans. On debt relief the UK, Canada and France were the leaders, with the U.S. in support and Germany a late convert at Cologne. On trade there was confusion till Bush took office, enabling Zoellick and Lamy to develop a shared initiative. Japan initiated the attention given to IT and infectious diseases, but the rest of the G8 soon joined in.

In the three more recent summits, since 9/11, the pattern has changed a bit. On political items, such as terrorism and non-proliferation, the U.S. has always taken the lead — not surprisingly. But the rest of the G8 are active players, for example on North Korea and Iran. On Africa, the most ambitious and original subject at these summits, the UK, Canada and France are the leaders, but the U.S. is fully engaged. The Americans introduced the broader Middle East initiative, but the other G8 members modified it greatly. Development initiatives have had different sponsors: France for clean water; the U.S. for AIDS and famine; the UK for transparency in governance; Canada for entrepreneurship in development.

But collective management has changed in that the G8 no longer pursues it exclusively, but involves other non-G8 countries. This emerged early on with the Kosovo settlement and the new financial architecture, which launched the G20 finance ministers, first chaired by Paul Martin for Canada. The G8 Africa programme involves explicit joint action with the African leaders of NEPAD, who have attended the last three summits as participants, not just guests. The Middle East programme likewise involves the states of the region. Though only a few leaders agreed to come to Sea Island, all regional states (except Syria and Iran) are preparing to attend ministerial meetings with the G8 in Morocco next month. At Evian last year, for the first time, the G8 heads met a group including major developing countries such as China, India, Mexico and Brazil, as well as the leading Africans, though the Americans did not repeat this formula this year.

For Gleneagles, Blair is well placed to engage the other G8 leaders in the pursuit of genuine collective leadership. The UK is known for its mid-Atlantic stance. Blair is manifestly close to Bush. But he will have special reasons for demonstrating how close he is to the European leaders too, as the UK will hold the European presidency and a British referendum on the new EU constitution will be only a few months off.

On outreach, since Africa is a major topic for Gleneagles, Blair will invite the African leaders again. He also envisages holding another large outreach meeting, with China, India and others. But the countries present may not be the same as those that came to Evian, as the UK will choose states with an interest in the Gleneagles agenda.

Paul Martin’s proposal for a leaders-20 (L20) summit, building on his experience as chair of the G20 finance ministers, is intended to complement the G8, not to replace it. On that basis, I think most of the G8 members are open to the idea. But they would not be attracted by the suggestion, made by some outside commentators, that the G8 should disappear and the L20 should supersede it. The larger group would be more representative, certainly, but it would not have the same capacity to generate new ideas and overcome disagreements. I shall come back to this issue at the end.

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Integrating Economics and Politics

Political issues only came on to the original summit agenda rather furtively. Even when openly accepted, in Ronald Reagan’s time, political and economic issues were treated separately. For several years in the mid 1990s Yeltsin was admitted to the politics but kept out of the economics. In the current sequence, however, and especially since Kananaskis, the practice has been reversed. The summit has deliberately pursued issues that integrate economic and political elements. Africa is the most obvious case of this. It applies equally strongly to the Middle East reform programme. In addition, many of the terrorism and non-proliferation items, though driven by politics, involve economic activities, such as tracking down terrorists’ finances.

So integrating politics and economics has emerged as a new G8 objective, which the current sequence of summits has pursued fairly successfully. Blair at Gleneagles will maintain the trend in the priority given to Africa. But in the Africa programme one could argue that the G8 has been more active and generous in the political elements, especially peacekeeping, than in the economic ones. For reasons to be explained shortly, I believe Blair will seek at Gleneagles to build up the economic pillar of the Africa programme to balance the political one.

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Reconciling International and Domestic Pressures

So far the G8 summit record has sounded pretty good. I now come to the darker side of the picture. Recent summits, in my view, have not been very good at reconciling international and domestic pressures. The summit was originally intended to convince the participating heads of the merits of international cooperation and encourage them to overcome domestic resistance to it. But these days G8 heads give way to domestic interests too easily.

The first evidence of this is in poor implementation of summit commitments. This had been a long-standing complaint against the summits. The new process, by making the heads more directly involved in their decisions, should have improved matters. There have been some examples, in the first G8 sequence, of successive summits coming back to an issue to get better results. But there are too many cases of the G8 launching an initiative and then losing interest.

For example, Okinawa launched a task-force on renewable energy. But at Genoa the U.S. and Canada would not endorse its report and it was shelved. Genoa set up a task force on primary education, covered by one of the MDGs. Its findings were accepted at Kananaskis, but the G8 failed to back it up with the funding needed. While the debt relief programme agreed at Cologne was a great advance, after a time even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank agreed it was not generous enough. But the G8 could not agree on improving the terms. These unfulfilled promises have turned environmental and development NGOs against the G8.

Cutting the heads free from their supporting apparatus, as the new format does, should also improve their ability to get good arguments from their peers at the summit on how to overcome domestic obstacles to cooperation. But this is not happening. The environment is the most obvious case. On climate change, renewable energy and food safety there have been no G8 agreements, because domestic pressures in North America and in Europe plus Japan work in opposite directions. In trade policy, Europe, the U.S. and Japan separately have not done enough to overcome domestic resistance to liberalisation, especially in agriculture. Despite the close links between Zoellick and Lamy, G8 action on trade since Genoa has been disappointing. In Africa too the G8 are most forthcoming on external political issues, such as peacekeeping, and least generous where changes in domestic policy are required, such as market access and debt relief.

In all this, you would hope the heads would be personally working to get round the obstacles — but sometimes they are the obstacles. Bill Clinton himself contributed to the WTO’s failure at Seattle. Bush himself chose to denounce Kyoto and pursue the Farm Bill, despite advice from within the White House and from his own Secretary for Agriculture. Jacques Chirac, on four distinct occasions, tried to hold up progress on liberalising trade in agriculture.

These factors explain why the G8 summit has such a low reputation with the media. The G8 leaders have not helped to improve matters. It is bad enough for the media to be kept in Calgary, 90 kilometres away from Kananaskis, or in Savannah, 130 kilometres away from Sea Island. The G8 never produces a collective message for the media. Unlike the African leaders, who always brief together, G8 heads always brief separately, so that the impression is of competition and rivalry, rather than joint endeavour.

For Gleneagles, Blair has recognised recent failings in giving way to domestic pressures and resolved to tackle them head on. He has chosen Africa as one priority, with attention to the economic aspects of the programme. The focus will be on aid flows, debt relief and development issues in the shadow of the special UN meeting on the MDGs and on trade access in the run-up to the WTO ministerial due later in 2005. The Commission for Africa is expected to report next March and bring more public attention on African economic issues. All this is intended to focus G8 members on the domestic policies they need to adopt so as to live up to their promises.

The second priority is climate change, where the gap between the U.S. and the others seems widest. But the aim is to leave Kyoto on one side and to circumvent domestic pressures by focusing on the science of climate change and on new technology to reduce greenhouse gases; making these the basis for policy decisions; and involving developing countries, who are not covered by the Kyoto process.

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Conclusions I: Prospects for Gleneagles

I have been scattering thoughts about the prospects for Gleneagles throughout this lecture. Let me now try to pull them together.

Summit Process

In the summit process, Blair and his team will try to recapture the spirit of his original reforms at Birmingham and of successful summits since then, such as Kananaskis. Following current practice, the site will be secluded, with heads lodged close together and only room for small delegations. The agenda would be kept short — ideally only three items, with two (Africa and climate change) already selected. Similarly, the documentation should be cut back, unlike the plethora of papers at Evian and Sea Island.

There should be outreach to non-G8 countries through a meeting with African leaders — naturally, since Africa is a lead item — and a larger meeting of key players such as China, India, Brazil, Mexico and others, chosen for their interest in the subject matter. There would be close consultation with business, academic opinion and civil society in the run-up to Gleneagles. (I single out the conference to be hosted by Glasgow University together with the G8 Research Group on 29-30 June 2005.) There should be facilities for NGOs at the summit and a media centre within reasonable range of Gleneagles. Finally, before, during and after the summit the British will be sharing their expertise with the Russians as they prepare to host the summit in 2006.

Will the British achieve their aims, as regards the summit process? I think the chances are quite good, since all of them go with the grain of the earlier reforms and are based on good precedent. There are two potential dangers. The first is rioting at the site, with worries about security. But British police have a better record in handling such events than almost anyone. The second is a sudden crisis, perhaps a disaster in Iraq or another terrorist attack, which demands G8 attention. I think this is why the British are keeping the third agenda item vacant for now, to leave space for sudden crises while maintaining their established topics. In this, they follow Jean Chrétien’s example at Kananaskis. I shall return to this later.

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Summit Content

On the policy side, one focus will be on Africa and associated economic issues, such as trade access, debt relief, finance for development and infectious diseases such as AIDS. The summit will use its capacity to integrate politics and economics, but the aim will be to have the economic component of the Africa programme catch up with the political elements that have featured at the last two summits. The British also want to revive the G8’s ability to make a difference in mainstream economic issues such as trade and finance. Ideally Blair would hope for G8 agreement on 100% debt relief for poor countries; on the IFF or a similar mechanism to boost aid flows; on advance commitments on trade measures to benefit African and other poor countries in the WTO; and on the replenishment of finance for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This is an ambitious list, but it builds on earlier commitments to help Africa.

The aims on climate change are likewise ambitious, since they seek to bring all the G8 members to agree on a new approach to this problem, where there has not been substantive consensus since before Birmingham seven years ago. On both subjects the UK is relying on careful preparation, begun well in advance and concentrated on a few topics. This is intended to lead into an uncluttered summit, with the same scope for deal-making among the heads as at Kananaskis. External pressures, such as the approach of the UN meeting on the MDGs and the WTO ministerial, should also act as stimuli to agreement, while on climate change Blair may seek to make use of his close personal rapport with Bush. So while the aims are ambitious, they are not unreasonable.

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Conclusions II: Inclusiveness, Intensity and the Unexpected

However, as I said at the outset, the Gleneagles Summit is still seven months off. This is the time to establish ambitious objectives. But the tough negotiations involved in the summit preparations have not begun. The UK has not yet taken over the G8 chair, which only happens at the beginning of 2005. The UK sherpa team know that inevitably the preparations will not run exactly according to plan and they will have to adapt to new and unforeseen pressures. In this last section of the lecture, I want to speculate on what some of these pressures might be and combine this with some broader reflections on what the G8 summit is for.

The purpose of the G8 summit in the early 21st century is, I believe, to manage the adaptation of states to the advance of globalisation. The summit is only one of a range of institutions with this remit. It cannot do everything, but can sometimes resolve or initiate issues better than other bodies in the field. This underlying role in relation to globalisation has been a bit diluted since 9/11 by the imperative of resisting terrorism. But the counterterrorist agenda has been reconciled with the globalisation agenda and has not displaced it — the Africa programme is the clearest evidence of this.

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In any international body there are conflicting pressures between intensity, that is, getting deeply into the subject matter, and inclusiveness, that is, making sure that everyone who needs to take part can do so. One consequence of advancing globalisation is to strengthen the pressures for inclusiveness. There are now more key players in the international economy, such as China and India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. The G8 has been trying to respond to these pressures by the large outreach meetings first held at Evian last year and now planned for Gleneagles. But a new approach is now appearing in the form of the L20 summit proposed by Paul Martin. I believe that the ambition is to hold the first L20 meeting in the summer of 2005. If this happens, it would hardly make sense to have both an L20 summit and a G8 outreach meeting, involving essentially the same countries, so close together.

It occurs to me that the L20 movement could prove an unexpected blessing for the British as they begin to organise the Gleneagles Summit. There is a certain awkwardness in inviting major powers such as China and Brazil to an extra session added on to the G8 summit. They are more likely to be attracted by a summit in which they participate on equal terms with everyone else. An L20 meeting would not be directly linked to the G8, but rather derive from the G20 finance ministers. Though the G20 originated with the G7 in the late 1990s, it has since established its complete independence and been chaired by two non-G8 countries, India and Mexico.

If the UK can hand on this torch to the L20, it could greatly simplify the organisation of Gleneagles. But the L20 resolves one aspect of inclusiveness only to confront another. It brings in major non-G8 countries and covers other regions of the world, such as Australasia, Southern Africa and the Middle East. But as the L20’s advocates realise, it cannot easily represent small countries or very poor countries. For trade policy, for example, the members of the other G20, composed of larger developing countries in the WTO, are well represented. But the members of the G90 of small and poor countries are not.

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Let me turn from inclusiveness and the L20 to intensity. The demand for this is also increased by globalisation in its aspect of deep economic integration. Deep integration means that international factors are embedded in domestic economies and have to be accommodated in policy-making. The rewards of this are great, but the scope for international disputes increases as integration deepens. Nowhere is economic integration deeper than between the U.S., the EU, Japan and Canada. So here above all we need mechanisms for dealing with the inevitable disputes while making sure they do not disturb the beneficial parts of the relationship — i.e., we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The summits, right from the start, had been intended to concentrate on this issue, because heads of government have the power to determine whether a country is open to the benefits of international co-operation or rather inclined to resist it and see it as a threat. But the G8’s capacity to act in this area has been slipping, so that it is right for Blair to steer the summit back to its original vocation.

Where we are in the summit sequence provides a further reason for the UK to take the initiative now. The next summit, in 2006, will be chaired by Russia. The Russians are not yet part of the zone of deep economic integration. If the UK has started the summit on the way back to tackling mainstream economic issues with domestic impact, then the Russians can probably maintain this trend till they hand over to Germany in 2007, followed by Japan in 2008. But if Gleneagles fails to start this trend, then the Russians themselves could not be expected to initiate it.

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Meeting the Unexpected

But I can see another reason for bringing the summit back to its original economic vocation. This stems from the political tensions that prevail across the Atlantic. The other G8 members, in varying degrees, have been worried by the way the United States, during George Bush’s first term, acted against the grain of the current international political system. The worries are most intense and divisive over Iraq. But they also extend to the International Criminal Court, to arms control and disarmament and to other issues handled by the United Nations. This political tension clearly affected the quality of the results of the last two G8 summits. The summits helped in the process of reconciliation, but in many areas the agreements the G8 reached were broad but shallow.

In international economic relations, however, there is not the same transatlantic tension. On trade Zoellick and Lamy have kept the relationship under control, despite the American steel tariffs and the new Farm Bill. On international finance there have been differences of approach, but always a constructive dialogue, which has led to some agreements on debt issues. The only serious breach in the economic domain has been in climate change, with Bush’s early withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. The British strategy for Gleneagles is intended to heal this breach, so that there are serious and fruitful exchanges with the U.S. across the entire range of economic issues.

No one yet knows exactly what Bush’s foreign policy will be in his second term. It may that the unexpected difficulties he has met in Iraq will make more concerned in future to build up international backing. But if not, the G8 summit can provide insurance against nasty surprises in the political domain that send the transatlantic temperature up again. The present truce among the G8 on handling Iraq is holding and the agreement just reached on reducing Iraq’s debts is a useful advance. But the truce is still fragile and could easily collapse under the pressure of escalating violence. On Israel and Palestine, Bush has made some promises — but will action follow? Iran is even more sensitive. If the U.S. should decide that a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear installations is the only option, the rest of the G8 would oppose it, including, I believe, the UK. I hope none of these things happen; but if they should, at least a summit with a solid economic agenda would serve to convince the G8 leaders that, whatever their political disagreements, they still benefit from cooperating economically.

The G8 could also be the place for some blunt but cathartic exchanges — of a kind you could not have at an L20. While I have singled out the United States, tensions within the group could arise from other members too. For example, there might be the need for blunt exchanges with Putin if the others thought standards of human rights and democracy were slipping in Russia’s domestic practice or external policy.

In short, the United Kingdom has well defined aims for next year’s Gleneagles Summit and a clear idea of how to achieve those aims. But the British are also prepared, I believe, to respond to unexpected shocks and diversions. They are thinking of ways to make the G8 more inclusive — though Paul Martin’s L20 might ease their burden. But they mainly see the G8 as an instrument of intensive co-operation among the countries where economic integration has gone deepest.

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Sir Nicholas Bayne is the author of Staying Together: The G8 Summit Confronts the 21st Century, soon to be published by Ashgate Publishing, as well as Hanging Together (with Robert Putnam) and Hanging In There. He lectures in economic diplomacy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and is a longstanding senior expert with the G8 Research Group. Sir Nicholas served in the British Diplomatic Service from 1961 to 1996, including postings as High Commissioner to Canada and Ambassador to Zaire, Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. He was the UK’s Representative to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Economic Director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He received his D.Phil. from Christ Church, Oxford.

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