Boston Review
CURRENT ISSUE
table of contents
FEATURES
new democracy forum
new fiction forum
poetry
fiction
film
archives
ABOUT US
masthead
mission
rave reviews
contests
writers’ guidelines
internships
advertising
SERVICES
bookstore locator
literary links
subscribe

 

Search this site or the web Powered by FreeFind


Site Web



 

Cooperative Security: From the Top Down

Alan K. Henrickson

The key to achieving a cooperative form of international security in the post-Cold War world might prove to be the work of "the Summit Alliance" -- the informal but powerful partnership of the industrially advanced countries (the Group of Seven or G7) whose leaders gather at annual summits and whose foreign and finance ministers also periodically meet.

The chief purpose of G7 meetings is to coordinate national macroeconomic policies. But the Seven-Power Summit countries have also been discussing common security problems since the early 1980s. Their initial concern was to address the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the placement of SS-20 missiles in Eastern Europe and Asia. Meeting in Williamsburg in May 1983, the seven powers demonstrated their solidarity in the face of the missile danger by declaring that "the security of our countries is indivisible and must be approached on a global basis."

Since then the Group of Seven governments also have dealt cooperatively with terrorism, and have contributed as a group to disarmament. In April 1987, for example, they announced the self-limiting guidelines of what since has become the Missile Technology Control Regime, of which 22 countries now are members and to which some non-signatory countries adhere. Still more recently, the G7 partners have extended their combined influence into issues of international cooperation with both economic and security aspects -- in particular, the stabilization of Russia and the other successor states of the former Soviet Union through economic and technological assistance.

Expanding the G7

Although it includes only Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States -- as well as, effectively, the European Community (EC)-- the Summit Alliance of the Group of Seven nations could be expanded to involve other major countries and international organizations. Thus, it would gain increased authority, if not formal legitimacy, as a Free World grouping capable of transcending its narrow Euro-Atlantic, Cold War origins and becoming a kind of joint international steering mechanism -- a cooperative global directorate, so to speak. Such a widening of the circle of the Summit Alliance would, it seems reasonable to assume, increase the acceptability of its leadership, which today is unparalleled.

Australia, for example, long has been considered a possible associate of the group. Recently, it has been suggested -- for example, by former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher -- that the post-communist Russian Federation soon be brought into the arrangement, changing the name of the entity to the "Group of Eight" (G8).

It might now be harder to imagine that the People's Republic of China would qualify for membership -- unless its political reforms catch up with its economic-policy changes. But even that eventuality cannot be excluded. The prospect of membership could be an added incentive to China's democratization and further market liberalization.

Not yet under discussion is the possibility of some connection of the new Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group with the Group of Seven. Such an association would establish an "Asian" counterpart to the central participation of the European Community, which gives the G7 an increasingly unrealistic "European" tilt. The G7 Summit meeting in Tokyo in July 1993 provides an excellent opportunity for consideration of a link-up of APEC with the Group of Seven diplomatic mechanism. A further possibility, favored by the Japanese government, is to invite Indonesian President Suharto -- currently the president of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)-- to the July Tokyo Summit, at least to meet informally with some of the G7 leaders if not to participate in the Seven-Power conclave itself.

Cooperation in the G7

The G7 is a unique and remarkable international grouping which, even with its present limited and uneven membership structure, is arguably more "cooperative" today than some of those institutions which are collective in principle -- notably the United Nations. Some observers, particularly from the Third World, believe that the UN is increasingly dominated by the Security Council and, in particular, by the ascendancy of the United States. The other superpower, Russia, was marginalized during the Persian Gulf conflict. The People's Republic of China, though potentially influential, often has preferred, for fear of interference in its own affairs, to abstain from voting in the Security Council. That leaves, among the permanent five veto-holding members, the United States, flanked by France and Great Britain. An assortment of "representative" UN members from the world's various regions fill the remaining, temporary seats on the fifteen-member Council. Although Germany and Japan are regularly selected to sit on the Security Council, they have no assured presence there. Their early election to permanent seats (even without the veto power) is not at all definite, given the organizational and political complexity of the UN reform question at present.

Proposals have, of course, been made over the years to increase the cooperation of the rich and influential states in the UN system by, for example, creating an "Economic Security Council" with 23 member nations including Germany and Japan. Just last year, a 22-member "Development Security Council" was suggested. This would replace the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) with a body that would include, as permanent members, China, France, Germany, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the United States, and, most probably, Brazil, Egypt, India, and Nigeria.

By contrast with these United Nations organs -- those that exist and those that have been proposed -- the Group of Seven, which is "elitist" in fact if not in title, is guided by a collegiality that largely accounts for its success and sets it apart from more formal bodies. There is a noteworthy sense of common regard and mutual respect among equal leaders, who hold comparable positions in democratic political systems and market-oriented, capitalist economies, and who therefore tend to understand one another's problems even if they do not speak one another's languages.

This feeling of fellowship derives in significant part, of course, from the personal nature of the Summit meetings themselves. (The United Nations Security Council has in its history had only one such meeting at the highest level, a brief and rather stiff affair in late January 1992 -- at which President Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Prime Minister Li Peng of China as well as George Bush, François Mitterand, and John Major were present.) Meetings of the foreign and finance ministers, as well as lower-level officials, of the G7 also tend to have some of this "familiar" quality. So, too, could further gatherings of specialized ministers, such as those dealing with defense or development assistance, if, as has sometimes been suggested, a more elaborate "council of ministers" system like that of the EC were developed by the Group of Seven. This would broaden the scope of G7 governance.

The intimacy of cooperation within the Group of Seven is only possible, of course, because of the lack of formality of the group, and corresponding lack of institutionalized structure. Not having a legal status, the G7 operates on and through national governments and also international arrangements, such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). This fact, however, should be thought of more as a strength than as a weakness of the Seven-Power collaboration.

The Summit Alliance is not, nor can it be, a substitute for the United Nations. The UN is the only body that can make decisions regarding international peace and security that are binding on all of its members-- that is, on virtually all of the countries of the globe. The G7 does not have, and cannot have, such legitimacy or universality. What it does have, however, is efficacy-- in significant part because of its relative lack of institutional predefinition.

Using the G7

These considerations point to the wisdom of increased reliance for achieving cooperative security on the Group of Seven powers, whose major relationships during the Cold War period have been not so much with the United Nations as with the EC, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the US-Japanese Security Treaty collaboration. These affiliations will not change, nor should they. So why not adapt them, rather than try to replace them? Already the Group of Seven has provided a de facto model of world political-economic management, beyond that which the United Nations, with its existing Charter and constitutional mission, can now (or perhaps ever) offer.

To be sure, the Summit Alliance is a "top down" directorate, but that does not preclude "democratizing" its deliberations through broad consultations with smaller and more peripheral countries. For many years Canada has consciously conducted such consultative exchanges with fellow Commonwealth countries and other middle- and small-sized nations. Within la francophonie and also through its contacts with the Non-Aligned Movement, the French government has done so as well.

There are also, as I suggested above, structural ways by which the Summit Alliance could gradually be converted into a post-Cold War institution -- perhaps the most effective one of all. The early incorporation of Russia into a regular relationship with the Group of Seven partnership for most purposes -- perhaps even renaming the G7 the "Group of Eight" -- would powerfully contribute to the post-Cold War "new world order" within the broad realm of the former Soviet Union. So, too, would the early expansion of ties between the Seven-Power Summit countries and nations of the Asia-Pacific area, through contact with the newly formed APEC leadership and organization. This would improve the global cultural and political balance of the Summit Alliance.

The approach to "cooperative security" recommended here is, admittedly, indirect. The Group of Seven came into existence in the early 1970s for macroeconomic rather than for multilateral-security purposes. It has evolved significantly toward consideration of security policy, but at a time when the world's security agenda is turning increasingly toward economics. The two phases of policy are now inseparable and should be treated together. They are allied at the summit.

Click here to return to the Boston Review Forum, After the Cold War: The North/South Divide.

Originally published in the June-August 1993 issue of Boston Review



Copyright Boston Review, 1993–2005. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission.

 | home | new democracy forum | fiction, film, poetry | archives | masthead | subscribe |