The amount of time, effort and expense required to pull off a complex event like the G-7 is massive. Just think of the security arrangements, travel logistics, advance preparation and untold millions of dollars required to bring all those world leaders together for dozens of meetings and photo opportunities.
The supposed justification is that the G-7 summit represents a unique opportunity for powerful countries to converge to solve big, shared problems.
But when you look at the 264-word joint statement, listen to the news conferences and observe the leaders up close, you can’t escape the conclusion that the G-7 summit this month was a boondoggle of immense proportions and a failure even when judged by its own meagre criteria. That would be bad enough. What’s worse is that the summit’s failure showed that the G-7 is failing more broadly.
“The French President wanted the G-7 Summit to be useful — it was,” states the website of the Elysee Palace, pointing to the statement’s boilerplate lines on trade, Iran, Ukraine, Libya and Hong Kong. It was all kept so vague that the heads of the seven governments could easily agree.
Trade war with China
French President Emmanuel Macron did try to make something real happen in Biarritz. But his various gambits only succeeded in lowering the bar for success so much that the G-7 leaders could all drag their feet and still clear it.
The US-Europe dispute over President Donald Trump’s trade war with China was not bridged even a bit. Trump’s statements on China veered from harsh denunciations to effusive praise of Xi Jinping to claims of progress disputed by the other side. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s self-described “faint, sheeplike” objection to Trump’s approach was as close as the leaders got to a public discussion, much less resolution of their disagreement.
Macron’s attempt to push Trump and Iran together by bringing Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Biarritz was a lemon. US officials told me they saw Macron’s Iran gambit as an ambush, even though Trump said he “approved” it in advance. Regardless, Macron’s proposal for a follow-on meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was quashed within a day.
In a private dinner at the summit, the leaders of Britain, Germany and Canada objected to readmitting Russia into G-7, because Putin has not honoured his promises regarding Ukraine. Publicly, Macron still espouses that position. It’s unclear why he is telling Trump something different one on one. Regardless, any claim of G-7 unity on Russia or Ukraine is not believable.
Macron’s side projects at the G-7 summit were also failures. Trump didn’t even show up to the climate session. Seven of the most powerful industrialised economies in the world could muster only $20 million to help save the Amazon rainforest, and even that was rejected by Brazil’s president.
To be sure, some blame for the summit’s failure lies with Trump. His press availabilities were downright cringeworthy, filled with falsehoods, attacks on President Barack Obama, kind words about dictators and generally poor command of several foreign policy issues.
Now the rest of the West is normalised to the dysfunction and chaos of the Trump era, as well. Macron didn’t even attempt to forge a substantive joint statement, calling it “pointless.” That’s understandable after Trump unsigned last year’s G-7 statement in Canada. But if the G-7 can’t produce a statement about what it stands for, the truth is it doesn’t stand for much.
“I applaud Macron for containing Trump — but do we really want this to become the new standard by which to measure the success of a G-7 summit?” said Alice Stollmeyer, executive director of Defending Democracy.
Needed action is reform
The broader question is, do we really want this to become the new standard for the G-7 countries? They are, after all, the only group of nations with the capability and desire to tackle the generational challenges facing the world today, chiefly climate change and the rise of an economically aggressive China.
Can the fact that these seven countries still share a common interest in preserving and promoting (relatively) free and open economies, international rule of law, human rights, democracy and liberalism be enough to overcome their differences and the oddities of their current leaders?
Macron’s slogan for this G-7 summit was “It’s time to take action.”
The needed action is to reform and reinvigorate the institutions that have underpinned global stability and prosperity for the past 75 years, which are now dysfunctional and out of touch. The G-7 must be a mechanism whose primary purpose is to perpetuate its own existence.
— Washington Post
Josh Rogin is an American columnist who specialises in foreign policy and national security issues.