On June 17-18, 2013, official leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom will meet at Lough Erne for the 39th G8 summit. The summit’s stated priority is on supporting global economic development through advancing trade, ensuring tax compliance and promoting greater transparency. This week, experts Bessma Momani and David Welch explain how global security issues might take centre stage at the upcoming G8 summit.
CIGI: Why, and which, global security issues do you think will be raised at this summit? — any specific issues in Asia or the Middle East?
David Welch: The G8 began as a macroeconomic policy coordination mechanism. Over the years, as both membership and formality increased, it began to take on more and more issues — there’s been a kind of mission creep at the G8. Now it tackles just about anything. To some extent, summits tend to get overtaken by immediate events, but the actual communiqué is negotiated well ahead of time and is not tweaked much during the summit itself. So the communiqué may not have much to say (for example) about Turkey, but the actual conversations at the summit would be significantly affected by any ongoing events in Turkey.
Bessma Momani: Syria and Iran are probably the two security issues that are on the forefront of the G8’s mind. But the challenge is that while the G8 shares common interests on global economic stability, it tends to have very different views on the political dimensions of Syria. And in some respects, the same ideological views held by some on Syria also apply to Iran. For example, Russia tends to be very much against any potential intervention into Syria and similarly holds a softer stance on Iran. Within the G8, the British and French tend to be the hardest on Syria. You could say that the Germans and the Americans are a little more concerned and cautious about intervention in Syria. And so the chance of seeing a consensus or breakthrough at the G8 on some form of intervention won’t come up, but we will see something to the effect of “we hope both sides will come to the negotiating peace talks in Geneva” — that is now being scheduled for some time in July.
Welch: On Asia, almost certainly the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands will come up, because Japan will bring it up. Japan is very good at making sure the G8 addresses whatever is at the forefront of their mind and at the moment, this island dispute is very much there. But a lot of quiet back-channel diplomacy is taking place on this issue, and I imagine no one will want to disturb or jeopardize that conversation by saying too much about it in a public forum. The G8 will probably stress the importance of peaceful settlement of disputes, stabilizing the rules of the road, preventing incidents at sea, and that kind of thing—which is all well and good; but I wouldn’t expect any kind of grand statement out of the G8 taking sides on the issue.
CIGI: The Iran and North Korean nuclear programs have been mentioned by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as security issues that will be “crucial” to discuss at the G8. How can or will Mr. Harper and leaders at the G8 address these issues of nuclear security and non-proliferation?
Welch: The G8 is not in any meaningful sense a Northeast Asian organization; if anything, it’s more Eurocentric. It has never taken the lead on North Korea, which is seen as a regional issue. East Asia is thick with security organs of various kinds. The Six Party talks were the preferred mechanism for trying to bring pressure to bear on North Korea — or perhaps I should say a combination of carrots and sticks—to try to get it to behave. But there is significant overlap between the G8 membership and the Six Party talks. So there is latent G8 interest. No one really wants to bring non-Asia Pacific countries to the table, however. I wouldn’t expect the G8 to take a forward role. China, the United States, and South Korea will take the lead. One good sign is that the Americans and Chinese finally seem to be on the same page with North Korea, and may now stop working at cross purposes.
On Iran, the G8 will probably say a lot in general about the importance of bolstering the non-proliferation regime and making sure that states live up to their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But the actual diplomacy around Iran is not G8 diplomacy; it’s the United States, Russia and to some extent the European Union, with Israel in the background playing bad cop to everyone else’s good cop.
CIGI: Media have reported that UK Prime Minister David Cameron will make ransom paid to terrorists an issue at this summit. What progress can we expect from this effort? Separately, the UK has been highlighting the rebuilding of Somalia as a main foreign policy concern. Is there a link between the two?
Momani: Somali pirate attacks on ships passing through the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea remains an issue. Increasingly, there are also fears of trafficking through North Africa — for example, Libya and Mali. Officially, all countries claim that they don’t pay ransoms. We know that the Canadian government, for example, whether it does or doesn’t, has refused to acknowledge it. So it wouldn’t be hard for countries to agree to this principle, which doesn’t necessarily ensure there is compliance. Even if governments do pay out, the illusion is useful to dissuade people from using that method. I think this ransom effort is an issue that will probably see some consensus because it’s an easy one to do; no one wants to disagree, which would diminish the prospects of further kidnapping activity.
CIGI: As host, what outcome would the United Kingdom consider successful for this G8 Summit?
Welch: I think it’s important to note that we may see the G8, rather than the G20, re-emerge as the main forum for global governance, as it’s easier to get an agreement out of a smaller number of participants. The argument in favour of the G20 is that it has more of a critical mass now, in terms of total global economic output and hard military power; but you have to balance that against the larger coordination and cooperation problem. I think we may have overestimated the ripeness of the G20 to take the lead.
It’s a mistake to say there is a single UK perspective on evaluating the success of a summit. There is never just one perspective in any country. Different players in the United Kingdom will have different criteria. For Mr. Cameron, it will almost certainly be a success because he’ll get a lot of airtime, unless he or someone in his country does something really embarrassing while he’s hosting. It’s rarely a “lose situation” for those who value style over substance. Those who like to evaluate the success of a summit in terms of concrete agreements and commitments will have to wait and see. I know of no grand initiative in the works, but if there is one, it will be on one of the summit’s stated themes.
At the end of the day, crises tend to overwhelm summit themes. The themes are set well in advance. And we often see entirely different issues come up at summits. The Kananaskis Summit that Canada hosted provides a good example. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien wanted the summit to be about Africa, but 9/11 got in the way. We may see something similar at Lough Erne. If we do, my guess is that it will be the Middle East.