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A. Piskarev. G8 presidency awaits Russia


A. B. Piskarev, divisional head of Department of Foreign Policy Planning, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, candidate of historical sciences.

From 1 January 2006 the role of G8 president will pass to Russia. A resolution on the first Russian presidency of the G8 was adopted in June 2002 at the summit in Kananaskis, Canada. This step represented an acknowledgement by the partners of Russia's growing role in the modern world and the real success of our economic and political reforms. Russia's 2006 G8 presidency will facilitate promotion of national interests in the international arena, and further growth of our country's standing in the world. One particularly significant circumstance for us is that during this stage of the G8 Russia will be proactively participating in regulation of international relations, and development of new methods for counteraction of new challenges and threats to humanity, by acting in partnership with other G8 members, including through channels of personal diplomacy at the highest level. As president, in the coming year Russia will define key activity directions for this elite club of the world's leading industrial democratic powers.

The role and place of the G8 in the international relations system is defined primarily by the fact that the G8, which besides Russia includes the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Canada, the USA, France, Japan and also (with limited status) the European Union, is one of the most important mechanisms for agreement between the world's leading nations on collective approaches to resolution of key international issues and global problems of development of humankind.

Resolution of these problems lends real political, economic and even military weight to the group's participants. The club contains four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and four of the five 'official' nuclear powers. The share of G8 participants in total worldwide gross domestic product is around 67%, in international trade 49%, and in industrial production 51%.

The G8 is not an international organisation. It is not based on any international treaty, and has no formally defined entry criteria, no charter, and no permanent secretariat. The resolutions of the G8 constitute moral and political obligations of the leaders of the member states.

The G8 does have a permanent working procedure and its own unwritten rules. Summits take place once a year in rotation between partner nations, and the country hosting the summit assumes G8 presidency for the entire calendar year. That country sets the agenda and organises the summit and ministerial, expert and working meetings, as well as setting the timetable and coordinating all G8 work. Discussions between heads of state and government take place in private, their content is not made public, and no minutes are taken. Decision-making is based on the principle of consensus.

G8 documents do not have any international legal power. Rather, they represent 'gentlemen's agreements', political statements of intent that do not create any legal obligations for participants. This feature of the G8 defines both its strengths and its weaknesses with regard to the degree of obligation imposed by adopted resolutions for participant nations themselves, non-participant countries and international organisations, as well as the legitimacy of this mechanism in the eyes of the international community; the flexibility and breadth of summit agendas; and speed of reaction to various international crises.

Similar informal mechanisms for regulating international relations have existed historically, and still exist today. However no other mechanism, past or present, has had such significant potential for influencing international events, or such global coverage, both territorial and functional, as the G8.

The G8 is unique in the format of its work. It is primarily a forum of individuals rather than of governments or national diplomatic services; it is an instrument for confidential exchange of opinions and action plans between the leaders of the world's leading powers, not only in the sphere of international relations, but with regard to issues which have always been considered to be governments' own internal affairs; it is simultaneously a means for coordination of long-term approaches and also one of searching for solutions to 'burning issues' of global politics and economics.

One of the key core functions of the G8 is to enable more manageable global development through strengthening trust-based relationships between the leaders of the leading countries and by keeping interests balanced. In recent years this has been most clearly demonstrated in connection with the war in Iraq, which began in the run-up to the Evian summit in 2003.

The war in Iraq became a serious test of relations between G8 participants. The discussion, at times highly charged, between supporters and opponents of military resolution of the Iraqi problem, went far beyond the issue of the future of this Arabian country, and touched on fundamental issues of international relations: the legality of unilateral use of force to resolve conflict situations, the consequences of such actions for the world order, and the role of the UN and its Security Council in the current and future world. Relations were most strained between the USA and United Kingdom on one side and France and Germany on the other. The dispute even went as far as public exchange of cutting remarks and severance of direct contact between the leaders of these countries.

At this critical moment, the G8 was able to demonstrate its ability to rise above the emotions and polemics that had arisen around Iraq, and bring the common interests of all the club's partners to the fore. The main political result of the Evian summit (1-3 June 2003) was the return of the issue of Iraq to the legal framework of the UN, and that club participants were able, to a great extent, to restore personal working relations and strengthen mutual respect. In view of the role played by each of the G8 states in the modern world, the G8 has already shown itself to be a factor enabling greater predictability and stability of the international situation. After the end of the war in Iraq, the leading countries attempted to end this chapter in their relations as quickly as possible, and to embark on implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1483.

The history of this club began in 1975, when French President Valry Giscard d'Estaing invited the leaders of the USA, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Japan to Rambouillet Castle for a closed informational meeting in order to discuss ways of bringing the Western economy out of the energy crisis. This experiment spawned a unique institution of high-level international diplomacy. Since 1976, Canada's head of government has also been invited to these meetings. Since 1978, representatives of the EU have also participated (initially the Commission of the European Communities, then the president of the European Council). Russia became a full member at the Denver summit in 1997.

Already at the first meeting at Rambouillet, the discussion went far beyond the stated agenda. The imperatives of developing global interconnections, as well as crises in international economics, finance, and interrelations between North and South, prompted the Western leaders to discuss matters significantly wider in scale than those specified by the agenda. In 1975 the discussed themes centred not only on ensuring sufficient energy resources for the Western economies, but also such issues as supporting openness of international trade, increasing volumes of trade and strengthening price stability, and assistance in resolution of the socioeconomic problems of developing countries.

The agenda of the summits subsequently expanded to include new subjects, and today the G8 deals with a range of problems, perhaps comparable only to the agenda of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The documents ratified by the leaders at the yearly summits in recent years have established approaches to around fifty issues from human cloning to conflict in Africa and from lifelong professional education to the battle with international terrorism.

The work of the G8 is necessary in the modern world due to the dynamics of globalisation, which demand a growing degree of intergovernmental collaborative action, efforts to work together with intergovernmental and regional structures (EU, OSCE, APEC, NATO) and international organisations (UN, IAEA, OECD, WTO, IMF, World Bank). In this context, the G8, which unites countries that occupy leading positions in all of these institutions, has, and is already actively realising, unique potential to create and effectively promote new mechanisms for cooperation in solving those problems whose resolution largely depends on the successful functioning and evolution of the international system.

The first steps on the road to Russia's full G8 membership came with meetings between the Russian president and leaders of the leading industrial countries as part of the yearly G7 summits in Munich (1992) and Tokyo (1993).

The beginning of formation of the G8 as opposed to the G7 was the 1994 summit in Naples. Its first part was conducted as seven, and the second as eight, with the Russian president participating as an equal partner. Two summary documents were approved a G7 communique (economic and global problems) and a president's statement in the name of the G8 (foreign policy problems).

A key stage in becoming the G8 was the 1995 summit in Halifax. The principal point here was the proposal, accepted in Halifax, of a G8 summit on nuclear security, to be held on 19-20 April 1996 in Moscow under joint French-Russian presidency. The Moscow meeting took place at the same level as the regular summits hosted by the leading industrial nations. A variety of resolutions were adopted in the G8 format, specifically aimed at increasing safety in nuclear power stations and preventing illegal sale of nuclear materials.

Russia's cooperation with its partners rose to a new level following the Lyon summit (June 1996), At the suggestion of the Russian leadership, this meeting took place in three stages: stage one (as G7) was dedicated to examination of a range of international economic issues, with stages two and three being devoted to discussion, with Russian participation (as G8), of various global and foreign-policy issues.

In Lyon Russia was for the first time fully included in development of resolutions on 'globalistics', and the entire 'globalistics' section was included in the G8 summary document.

The G8 format was strengthened at the summit in Denver (1997), which from beginning to end took the form of a G8 meeting of equal partners. The Western partners acknowledged that Russia had taken bold measures to complete an historic transformation into a democratic state with a market economy. It was significant that the meeting's hosts asked the president of the Russian Federation to open the leaders' discussion. At the same time, Russia did not take part in the G7 meeting dedicated to discussion of financial and economic problems. This practice is often applied to this day.

The agenda for the summit in Birmingham (May 1998) included three key themes: employability, combating international organised crime, and global economic issues, including the South-East Asian crisis. At Russia's suggestion, international energy was discussed as part of the third topic a speech was made by Russia's president. The summit's participants also reviewed a range of regional problems, and besides the summary communique also ratified a separate statement on the Middle East, Kosovo, Bosnia, Indonesia and Northern Ireland, as well as India's nuclear programme.

The next G8 summit, which took place in Cologne on 18-20 June 1999, was conceived by the German hosts as a 'global economic' summit. However, issues of conflict-resolution in the Balkans soon assumed first place in the summit's work. Immediately prior to the summit, a meeting of G8 foreign ministers was called at Russia's initiative, at which key parameters for peaceful resolution of the problems of Kosovo were devised. This further highlighted the significance of the G8 as an effective instrument of international cooperation to resolve complex international problems, as well as the active and constructive role played in the G8 by our country. At the summit, the president of the Russian Federation promoted large-scale initiatives on 'Global Conceptions in the 21st Century', and on proposal by the G8 that the legal aspects of use of force in international relations under globalisation conditions be discussed at the UN's Millennium Summit in 2000, as well as on creation of a global system of control over non-proliferation of missiles and missile technology.

At the next G8 summit on 21-23 July 2000 in Okinawa, the entire range of global and international problems was reviewed. The summit participants ratified a communique, a charter for the global information society, a statement on key regional issues, and a separate statement on the Korean Peninsula. The president of the Russian Federation participated in discussions on all agenda items. We emphasised the themes of strategic stability, combating international terrorism, information security, integration of Russia into the world economy, and peacekeeping on the Korean Peninsula.

The main discussion at the G8 summit in 2001, held in Genoa on 20-22 July 2001, centred on the issue of ensuring sustainable development of humanity under circumstances of globalisation, including combating poverty and overcoming the divide between developed and developing countries, particularly in the spheres of health, education and modern technology. With active participation by Russia, the summit took up a range of practical steps aimed at resolving these problems.

During preparation for the Genoa summit, the subject of Russian presidency of the G8 in 2003, once Canada had concluded the seven-nation rotation cycle in 2002, was first raised. An agreement not to raise this issue at the leaders' meeting was reached based on the understanding that the Russian side would reserve the right to raise this issue subsequently, taking into account the existence of prerequisites for G8 presidency.

As it turned out, these requisites were satisfied significantly sooner than even the most optimistic forecasts had predicted. The fundamental upheavals in the international situation that took place after Genoa, which gave rise to a global anti-terrorist campaign and related changes to relations between Russia and its G8 partners, created serious opportunities to definitively switch to working as eight on the entire spectrum of issues. At the next G8 summit, which took place in Kananaskis on 26-27 June 2002, the first decision made was a historic agreement by the leaders to award the 2006 presidency to Russia. This resolution laid the path for our country's entry into practically all the mechanisms that had previously been the province of the old G7. The summit's participants praised Russia's efforts to develop its economy, its integration into the international economy and international trade, our domestic policy with regard to the global energy market, and Russia's contribution to strengthening of the international credit and finance system. The partners spoke in favour of acknowledging the market status of the Russian economy, and expressed political support for Russian WTO entry.

Russia's position in the G8 was gradually consolidated at the Kananaskis summit, and then at Evian (2003), Sea Island (2004) and Gleneagles (2005).

Our country has taken an active part in development of G8 resolutions with regard to non-proliferation of weapons, technology and materials of mass destruction. A most important event in this regard was the 2002 G8 initiative on expansion of the Global Partnership against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and also the 2004 Action Plan for WMD non-proliferation.

Russia attaches particular significance to the G8's activities in combating terrorism. With Russian participation, during recent summits a solid base has been formed for long-term actions with regard to repression of financing for terrorism, exposure of individuals and organisations involved in terrorist activities, and prevention of terrorist acts using vessels of transport aeroplanes and ships. At the present time our cooperation with regard to counter-terrorism issues involves an unprecedented range of agencies and organisations from G8 countries. Through a mechanism created in 2003, the counter-terrorism group of the G8 provides assistance to other states and helps develop their capabilities to combat terrorism.

The growth of our country's national economy allows it to increase its participation in G8 efforts to resolve the pressing problems of the world's poorest countries. Issues of the global battle with poverty and ensuring sustainable development are discussed with full Russian participation. Our country is one of the main donors to the programme of debt-reduction for the poorest countries, provides them with highly advantageous preferential trading terms, and provides significant assistance to international efforts to overcome underdevelopment of education and healthcare. At the Gleneagles summit, Russia expressed readiness to actively participate in development of a real partnership between the developed world and the African continent, as part of the global community's efforts to overcome underdevelopment and set Africa on the path of sustainable development.

An important aspect of our participation in the G8 is development of collaborative approaches to solution of global problems, primarily those of an environmental nature. In this connection, at the Evian summit a forward-looking resolution was adopted, with active Russian participation, on expansion of cooperation in promising directions of scientific and technical progress hydroelectric energy, biotechnologies and agricultural technologies, and global monitoring of natural processes. During the United Kingdom's presidency in 2005, priority attention was given by the G8 to development of common approaches to overcoming the negative consequences of global climate change, specifically through development of environmentally friendly energy and implementation of energy-saving and resource-conservation technologies. The Action Plan ratified at Gleneagles defined practical steps in such priority directions as implementation of energy-saving and resource-conservation technologies and raising the efficiency of energy use, including both industrially and in relation to transport and home life, and development of the required scientific and technical base. You can expect these resolutions to be further developed during Russia's presidency.

In recent years, Russia's G8 participation has grown into a large and independent aspect of our state's foreign policy, and is becoming a more and more important component of the international activities of a wide range of federal ministries and agencies. Seeing this mechanism for consultation and agreement of positions in relation to the most important modern problems as a significant means of assertion and promotion of foreign-policy interests, the Russian Federation is cultivating interaction with its G8 partners in practically all directions of its work.

The inclusion of our country in the G8's presidency-rotation cycle entails new large-scale challenges for Russian foreign policy and diplomacy, as well as all federal executive bodies. During 2006 Moscow will set the key vector of the group's work, and will be responsible for realisation of resolutions previously adopted.

In order to form the agenda for the Russian presidency, we need to ensure continuity from previous G8 work, whilst identifying several priority themes that we consider to merit thorough G8 attention in view of key global development tendencies.

As regards continuity during the period of our presidency, themes that will obviously be reviewed to a greater or lesser degree include combating terrorism and WMD non-proliferation, as well as issues of assistance in socioeconomic development of developing countries, and cooperation in resolution of nature-conservation and other global problems. Of course, settlement of the acute regional conflicts in the Middle East, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan will remain the focus of attention for the G8, was well as potential new crisis situations of international significance.

As regards key themes for the Russian presidency, in a preliminary plan outlined at the Gleneagles summit, President Putin specified the priority directions for the G8's work in the coming year. These are: energy security, education, and combating infectious diseases. Account is taken of our partners' experience, and resolutions and results from previous summits are analysed. The work takes the forms of dialogue, interaction with partners, and searching for common ground which will allow the resolutions taken at the Saint Petersburg summit to have practical significance for the entire global community. Intensive work is currently being concluded on elaboration of the key themes of the Russian presidency.

Today, the G8 has been in existence, in one form or other, for over 30 years, and great attention is paid to its activities, as it has particular responsibility for resolution of global political, socioeconomic and humanitarian problems. The scale and importance of its tasks require consolidated efforts from its participants, and energetic collaborative actions.

The forthcoming Russian presidency of the G8, during which we will be charged not only with ensuring continuity of the club's activities, but also with heading its work on further development in key directions of global politics and economics, represents the latest stage on the path to strengthening the economic position of our country, and its role as one of the 21st century's leading powers in world politics. The main task for the Russian presidency is to confirm the G8's leadership in the search for answers to modern international challenges of security and global development.

'Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn' (International Life) magazine, issue 12 2005

Unofficial translation from Russian

Expert opinion

Halter Marek

02.12.06

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Le College de France
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Mika Ohbayashi

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Bill Pace

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Peter I. Hajnal

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Peter I. Hajnal
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