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Shocked into Strong Success:
Prospects for the 2018 G7 Foreign Ministers' Meeting

John Kirton, Director, G7 Research Group
April 22, 2018

The 2018 Toronto meeting of foreign and security ministers will be a strong success. This is due to its advances against the negative shocks of Syria's use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians and Russia's nerve gas attack in the United Kingdom. This is also due to the G7 ministers' support of the positive shock of the statement of North Korea's leader that he is prepared to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

G7 foreign ministers will also make progress on a broad range of burning issues, including Russia's cyber attacks and election interference, China's advances in South and East China Seas, the plight of the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, the political crisis in Venezuela and the devastation and migration it creates, and Iraq. More broadly, they will pioneer a broad discussion of the link between gender equality and foreign policy and the role of women in international security.

Above all, they will address the defining issue of our time — how to shore up the rules-based international order and make it work for the world order of the 21st century, and how to shape the struggle between democracy and authoritarianism in the way that the G7 and global community want. Because the G7 summit was created in 1975 to promote both internally and internationally the values of open democracy and human rights, this challenge is integral to the effectiveness and identity of the G7 club and the global community as a whole, as Spaniards well know when they recall their own great transformation in 1975. The common theme of the Toronto G7 foreign ministers' meeting is thus defending and deepening democracy and human rights, in face of the assault from a recidivist Russia above all but also in Venezuela, Myanmar and elsewhere.

G7 leaders at their Charlevoix Summit on June 8-9 can also take a common position, and a strong united one, in response to these clear security threats and other ones. They did so at President Donald Trump's first G7 summit, in Taormina, Italy, in May 2017. G7 members are complying rather well with the security commitments they made at Taormina, on terrorism, non-proliferation and Ukraine. On April 16, a few days before their foreign ministers' meeting, they issued the G7 Leaders' Statement on Syria of unprecedented strength, containing the clearest G7 endorsement ever of its members' use of military force.

On North Korea, all G7 leaders share the goal of a complete, permanent and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and support Trump's summit effort with Kim Jong Un to see if he is serious in reaching this goal, even if Japan — the G7 member geographically closest to North Korea — wants any such pact to cover North Korea's short-range missiles, which could hit it.

G7 members are completely committed to enforcing sanctions against North Korea, even if some smaller members of the European Union take a more relaxed approach. The problem is getting all the other G20 members to be as committed, in word and deed, and to act against outside countries under their influence that are engaged in financing proliferation. The immediate struggle for the G7 finance ministers is to get their full G20 colleagues and the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund to use their formidable resources to help stop those countries facilitating North Korea's proliferation and its defiance of United Nations sanctions.

Trump has, for the moment, backed off his threats to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran, and thus deferred to the wise counsel of President Emmanuel Macron of France and other G7 leaders. Trump's unpredictability cuts both ways: it means he can at times be surprisingly accommodating of his closest friends — still largely those in the G7 — especially when he meets them face to face at the G7 summit.

On Russia, the G7 can be very tough and effective in using sanctions against President Vladimir Putin's bad behaviour, as the special G7 Foreign Ministers' Statement on Russia's alleged nerve gas attack in the United Kingdom clearly showed. Trump has recently moved in word and deed to take a harder line against Russia than he ever had before, even if he remains surprisingly reluctant to criticize Putin by name. The reluctance within the G7 to impose more sanctions now comes more from Italy, where a member of its would-be governing coalition seems pro-Russian. But sanctions are certainly an essential part of the answer, as recently seen in the immediate damage to the Russian economy from the latest U.S. moves, and by Russia's recent reduction in its attacks in Ukraine and through cyberspace elsewhere.

The Charlevoix Summit will be highly significant for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on its peace and security priority and on much else. The world has long counted on Canada to solve the key challenges of the time, as in 1914 and 1939. There are now many clear and present dangers, including the existential threat of uncontrolled climate change. Justin Trudeau must also live up the high standard of other Canadian leaders who have hosted successful G7 summits in the past. Stephen Harper did in 2010. So did Justin Trudeau's own father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, in 1981, at a time when the new Cold War raged and a right-wing Republican president, Ronald Reagan, first met a new far left-wing French president, Fran├žois Mitterrand, who put communists in his cabinet and nationalized French banks. Justin Trudeau also needs to transcend the missteps in his recent summit trip to India. Above all, this is his pre-election summit, a year before he asks Canadians to re-elect him and his party in 2019. The international issue they care most about is controlling climate change. He needs to make that priority a central success at Charlevoix, and the foreign ministers at Toronto need to forge the climate-security link to help pave the way.

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John KirtonJohn Kirton is director of the G7 Research Group, and co-director of the G20 Research Group, the Global Health Diplomacy Program and the BRICS Research Group, all based at Trinity College at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. He is also a Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at China's Renmin University. A professor of political science, he teaches global governance and international relations and Canadian foreign policy. His most recent books include Accountability for Effectiveness in Global Governance, co-edited with Marina Larionova (Routledge 2018), China's G20 Leadership (Routledge, 2016), G20 Governance for a Globalized World (Ashgate, 2012) and (with Ella Kokotsis), The Global Governance of Climate Change: G7, G20 and UN Leadership (Ashgate, 2015), as well as The G8-G20 Relationship in Global Governance, co-edited with Marina Larionova (Ashgate, 2015), and Moving Health Sovereignty in Africa: Disease, Govenance, Climate Change, co-edted with Andrew F. Cooper, Franklyn Lisk and Hany Besada (Ashgate, 2014). Kirton is also co-editor of several publications on the G7/8, the G20 and the BRICS published by Newsdesk Media.

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