The G7: Hard Talk or a Sleep-Walk?

Policy - - In This Issue - Jeremy Kins­man

As the Charlevoix G7 ap­proaches, there is some ques­tion as to how the June 8-9 sum­mit could play out as a Trumpian disas­ter. As vet­eran diplo­mat Jeremy Kins­man writes, if the dis­rup­tive pres­i­dent plays skunk at the La Mal­baie gar­den party, Justin Trudeau should think about pub­licly call­ing him out on it and is­su­ing a heav­ily qual­i­fied fi­nal com­mu­niqué.

Re­mem­ber Pan Am Air­lines? Ea­ton’s? Ko­dak? The War­saw Pact? Brands that died be­cause they didn’t keep up with com­peti­tors or with de­mand or with the pace of change. Will the G7 be the next to go? The out­come of the G7 Sum­mit June 8-9 in Charlevoix may well de­cide.

The world’s press is com­ing to cover what they an­tic­i­pate will be an epic dust-up with Pres­i­dent Trump over

trade, cli­mate, mi­gra­tion, pop­ulist na­tion­al­ism, and the mer­its of the lib­eral in­ter­na­tional rules-based order. They are ask­ing how the G7 can pre­tend to global lead­er­ship if its lead­ing mem­ber is re­treat­ing from the world in pur­suit of Amer­ica first, “al­ways Amer­ica first?”

Though he was rel­a­tively qui­es­cent at his first Sum­mit in 2017 in Italy, Donald Trump has been feel­ing his uni­lat­er­al­ist and na­tion­al­ist oats since. In fact, the 2017 G7 meet­ing didn’t re­ally get much done. If it hap­pens again, the ques­tion arises: are they nec­es­sary—par­tic­u­larly as the US Pres­i­dent seems to hold au­thor­i­tar­ian strong­men in higher favour than G7 demo­cratic al­lies?

The Cana­dian chair, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, hopes to skirt con­flict with an agenda of big-can­vas hope. Its leit­mo­tif, meant to be the “lens” through which to view ev­ery­thing else, is the Trudeau gov­ern­ment’s timely mantra of gen­der equal­ity and women’s em­pow­er­ment. Its procla­ma­tion is rhetor­i­cally un­con­tested even though the U.S. is slash­ing fund­ing to abor­tion-tol­er­ant in­ter­na­tional health care agen­cies in ways that will cause real dam­age to women and girls. Its un­con­tested rea­son­able­ness can’t evade the fact that the agenda’s other four other items are highly di­vi­sive:

1. In­vest­ing in in­clu­sive growth “that works for ev­ery­one,” in­clud­ing “open trade,” which will have to counter ev­i­dence that in the G7, in­clu­siv­ity trends are in the other di­rec­tion;

2. “Pre­par­ing for jobs of the fu­ture,” an­tic­i­pat­ing tech­no­log­i­cal change, which evokes glob­al­iza­tion’s ex­port of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs.

3. Cli­mate change and clean growth, bound to chal­lenge the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s science-deny­ing iso­la­tion.

4. “Build­ing a more peace­ful and se­cure world.” Canada is safely mo­bi­liz­ing the G7 against the ex­clu­sion of Ro­hingyas and the sub­trac­tion of democ­racy

The world’s press is com­ing to cover what they an­tic­i­pate will be an epic dust-up with Pres­i­dent Trump over trade, cli­mate, mi­gra­tion, pop­ulist na­tion­al­ism, and the mer­its of the lib­eral in­ter­na­tional rules-based order.

in Venezuela, and seek­ing ro­bust solidarity against Rus­sian mis­be­haviour. But will the G7 to­gether re-ded­i­cate sup­port for demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions, the rule of law, and so­cial trust at home?

Frank, open, and pub­lic dis­agree­ment could doom the G7 by ex­pos­ing its dis­unity on the most im­por­tant is­sues of the day. But the G7 could be equally doomed to ir­rel­e­vance by an at­tempt to paper over fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences in favour of loose agree­ments on hope­ful gen­er­al­i­ties and ab­hor­rence of prob­lems else­where, like Myan­mar. The G7 is do­ing what its founders wanted to avoid: in­sti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing it­self in min­is­te­rial com­mit­tees and pro­nounc­ing on other peoples’ prob­lems rather than knuck­ling down in can­dour to con­front our own. Once, the an­nual G7 was the planet’s big­gest po­lit­i­cal draw. It was first con­vened in 1975 at Ram­bouil­let and in­cluded the lead­ers of the United States, France, West Ger­many, Bri­tain, Ja­pan and Italy. Canada, un­der Pierre Trudeau and with back­ing from Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford over ob­jec­tions by French Pres­i­dent Valéry Gis­card d’Es­taing, joined in 1976. The group orig­i­nally sought to build on an in­for­mal fo­rum of fi­nance min­is­ters of the world’s big­gest economies set up in 1973 by U.S. Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Ge­orge Schultz. Mired in their most se­ri­ous re­ces­sion since the 1930s, the lead­ers were grap­pling with the elec­toral costs of hard eco­nomic choices, and the G7 pro­vided group po­lit­i­cal cover for un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions to tighten belts and to re­sist pro­tec­tion­ism.

As sum­mits went from be­ing only “eco­nomic” to also be­ing geopo­lit­i­cal, the G-7 had big mo­ments. There were gamechang­ing con­fronta­tions, no­tably be­tween Brian Mul­roney with Mar­garet Thatcher over her sup­port for South Africa’s apartheid regime. The Euro­peans pressed Ron­ald Rea­gan to come off his hard line on the Cold War. He did, the Cold War ended and to suit more op­ti­mistic times, Russia joined what be­came a G8.

Anti-ter­ror­ism and anti-pro­lif­er­a­tion moved to the top of the po­lit­i­cal agenda. After 9/11, the meet­ings re-com­mit­ted to a com­mon front against ji­hadism, sear­ingly un­der­lined when the 2005 Gle­nea­gles Sum­mit was in­ter­rupted by the Lon­don Un­der­ground bomb­ings by rad­i­cal­ized Bri­tish men that killed 52. (Will the in­fa­mous van mur­ders on Toronto’s Yonge Street April 23 by a dis­turbed cit­i­zen sim­i­larly gal­va­nize G7 mem­bers to face up to the home­grown dam­age wrought by our mon­e­tized so­cial net­works?)

On its main eco­nomic credo, the G7 was un­wa­ver­ing in its in­ter­na­tion­al­ist faith in the rules-based sys­tem for dis­pute set­tle­ment and in open global mar­kets and eco­nomic growth which in­deed brought hun­dreds of mil­lions out of poverty. But as China, In­dia, and Brazil ben­e­fited and rose, they in­sisted on rep­re­sen­ta­tion and their say on the rules. Hopes for the more broadly-based and rep­re­sen­ta­tive G20—cham­pi­oned by Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Paul Martin—ac­cel­er­ated at the G8’s ex­pense when the fi­nan­cial cri­sis of 2008-09 called into ques­tion the cred­i­bil­ity of western eco­nomic man­age­ment.

The G20 did help steer the world through the fi­nan­cial cri­sis. But it failed to find the po­lit­i­cal will and

agility to re­al­ize hopes it would en­able trade-offs be­tween de­vel­oped and ris­ing economies across sec­tors, so as to advance cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion and con­ces­sions on world trade in re­spec­tive ne­go­ti­a­tions that were stalled. It didn’t hap­pen: the Paris Ac­cord on cli­mate change did emerge, though with­out bind­ing na­tional com­mit­ments, but the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion Doha Round col­lapsed.

Au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes pros­pered from glob­al­iza­tion with top-down eco­nomic com­mand and con­trols. In the G20, they op­posed dis­cus­sion of hu­man rights, in­clu­sive­ness, refugees, and, God knows, democ­racy. So did Russia, kicked out of the G7 over the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea in 2014, now em­barked on a Pu­ti­nesque fan­tasy ad­ven­ture into a mythic Rus­sian past of au­thor­i­tar­ian glory.

In try­ing to re-gain its cred­i­bil­ity, the G7 comes across as de­fen­sive. In­di­vid­ual lead­ers are buf­feted at home by po­lit­i­cal cross-winds from di­vided elec­torates. Ja­pan’s Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe may soon be forced from of­fice. It’s un­clear who will rep­re­sent Italy. Bri­tain’s Theresa May is on the ropes over Brexit, and Ger­many’s An­gela Merkel is a re­duced po­lit­i­cal force. France’s Em­manuel Macron has the most in­ter­na­tional wind in his sails, but has to con­front union re­bel­lion at home.

When Pierre Trudeau hosted Canada’s first G7 Sum­mit at Mon­te­bello in 1981, he wanted a North-South theme (Mar­garet Thatcher sneered, “Oh, come on, Pierre”.) The crowd of for­eign jour­nal­ists thirsted in­stead for the colour story on how just­elected con­ser­va­tive Rea­gan would get along with so­cial-demo­cratic Euro­pean part­ners. Trudeau did emerge as some­thing of a global cham­pion of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. Rea­gan charmed ev­ery­body and went back to Wash­ing­ton ev­i­dently un­changed by any­thing he’d heard.

Justin Trudeau will be both skilled and lucky if his turn, again in an exFrench seignio­r­ial lo­cale, comes off as well. Reach­ing a mean­ing­ful ac­cord with cli­mate skep­tic and eco­nomic na­tion­al­ist Donald Trump is go­ing to be a stretch. On the other hand, with Pres­i­dent Macron in Wash­ing­ton, Pres­i­dent Trump seemed flex­i­ble on Iran and on trade. If the Trump who comes to Charlevoix is that guy, there’s some hope for con­cil­i­a­tion. How­ever, in­ter­na­tional me­dia are lust­ing for the “Great Dis­rupter show” know­ing that Trump has sys­tem­at­i­cally dis­dained the norms of in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion that the G7 de­fends. Still, G7 lead­ers have tried to keep their own re­la­tion­ships with the U.S. pres­i­dent as con­struc­tive as pos­si­ble.

All share one point of agree­ment: re­lief that some­one else is in the chair. They’ll give Trudeau a break. No one ex­pects him alone to browbeat Trump into sub­mis­sion on is­sues like trade, cli­mate, and mi­gra­tion. Widen­ing in­come dis­par­i­ties? No way Trump’s team would agree to that pre­oc­cu­pa­tion even be­ing on the agenda. Trump’s hold-out and iso­la­tion will make an agreed com­mu­nique of any sub­stan­tive sig­nif­i­cance hard to pro­duce.

If Canada pushes hard, it could blow up. Trump could walk out. Or not show up. How­ever, if Canada goes in­stead just for a bland chair’s state­ment, in order to keep him in, it will show the G7 has no added value left. Ex­hor­ta­tions to cut back on plas­tics, save the oceans, and em­power women and girls won’t save its global brand for de­ci­sive rel­e­vance on G7 is­sues right now if they de­fer to Donald Trump’s fix­a­tions. Hope­fully, some­one at this meet­ing—Macron, Merkel—will step up and re­mind part­ners that the global eco­nomic re­ces­sion that was the group’s found­ing rai­son d’etre has now been suc­ceeded by a global demo­cratic re­ces­sion, whose re­ver­sal should be a chal­lenge these democ­ra­cies wel­come. If they can’t be­cause the big­gest mem­ber is prac­tis­ing a di­vi­sive and un­healthy pop­ulist na­tion­al­ism, the G7 will go the way of En­ron and Nor­tel, and other once-great but mis­man­aged ven­tures that sleep-walked into ob­scu­rity.

Reach­ing a mean­ing­ful ac­cord with cli­mate skep­tic and eco­nomic na­tion­al­ist Donald Trump is go­ing to be a stretch. On the other hand, with Pres­i­dent Macron in Wash­ing­ton, Pres­i­dent Trump seemed flex­i­ble on Iran and on trade.

If Trump re­mains a ma­lign uni­lat­er­al­ist pres­ence, to save the G7, Justin Trudeau may have to rec­og­nize openly that the world’s ma­jor in­dus­tri­al­ized democ­ra­cies re­ject Donald Trump’s harm­ful view of in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion, and his manhandling of ba­sic, in­clu­sive tenets of democ­racy. A chair­man’s clos­ing state­ment that says “most of us here” con­tinue to place our be­lief systems in in­ter­na­tional rules-based co­op­er­a­tion, fact-based and trans­par­ent de­ci­sion­mak­ing and in­clu­siv­ity may be the G7’s first such ac­knowl­edged in­ter­nal sep­a­ra­tion. But it may be its sur­vival mo­ment, a stand on val­ues that looks for­ward con­fi­dently to fu­ture, bet­ter, more har­mo­nious, times. “Let’s see what hap­pens.”

Con­tribut­ing writer Jeremy Kins­man is a former Cana­dian am­bas­sador to Russia, the UK and the EU. He is af­fil­i­ated with Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. kins­manj@shaw.ca

Adam Scotti photo

Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau at­tends a work­ing lun­cheon dur­ing the G7 in Taormina. May 26, 2017.

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