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Despite presummit speculation about possible exchanges of views on issues not on the summit agenda, the leaders of the Group of Eight countries generally focused their debates over the past three days on issues contained in the scenario developed by working-level officials. Such speculation had preceded the Kyushu-Okinawa summit mainly because the historic Middle East negotiations at Camp David had drawn greater international attention. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s prominent diplomatic achievement in North Korea on his way to Japan was also seen as a major distraction.

In that sense, the latest G8 meeting, the fourth such gathering hosted by Japan, did not depart from the basic pattern set by the first G7 summit held in France 25 years ago. This must have been a great relief to Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who had unexpectedly taken over from the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi the taxing role of host head of government.

The Okinawa summit was concluded after progressing smoothly on the basis of the prearranged script. Yet not everything followed along the lines of its predecessors. The Okinawa G8 summit went further in one important area. This resulted from its reviewing of the past 25 years’ worth of endeavors to secure global peace and prosperity. The summiteers agreed that a new and stronger partnership with developing nations, international organizations and civil groups (NGOs) is essential if the G8 is to continue playing a successful role. Specifically, they agreed to jointly tackle reform of the United Nations, centering on the Security Council.

This could mark the first step toward changing the G8 from the issue-oriented annual gathering it has always been. The first summit of advanced industrial democracies was launched in an effort to deal jointly with the economic upheavals of the early 1970s, including the dollar’s departure from the gold standard and the shift to the floating exchange-rate system and the first oil shock.

The annual meeting also served to strengthen the unity of capitalist democracies as well as demonstrating their superiority over the socialist countries. Indeed, their cooperation was effective in overcoming economic upheavals and precipitating the collapse of communism. The disappearance of the “common enemy,” as well as the establishment of regional organizations for cooperation, including APEC, apparently has reduced the prominence of the annual gathering’s role.

Cynics therefore insist that the G8’s role should be integrated into that of the U.N. But they do not understand that international cooperation carried out within a framework bound by a charter and related rules is basically different from the role of an entity like the G8, which not only discusses problems from long-range and strategic perspectives but also concentrates on finding solutions for specific problems, in addition to its participants’ ordinary roles as key U.N. members.

The summiteers’ recognition of a greater need to strengthen the G8’s partnership with the U.N. and other organizations seems to represent their perception of the group’s changing but still essential role in the 21st century. Their realization that problems such as infectious disease, crime, drugs and genetically modified foods will be the issues requiring the G8’s continuous attention into the next century is right. Suffice to say that Japan, as the host nation, promised to offer billions of yen to help deal with these problems.

It is only natural that the G8 leaders should have agreed on, or in some cases simply acknowledged, the urgent need to promote cooperative efforts in the area of arms control. What must be singled out in this connection is the action program for conflict prevention adopted earlier by foreign ministers of the G8 governments. This program features a ban on exports of small arms to any country where there is a conspicuous risk that those arms will be used for aggression or domestic suppression. Most of the G8 countries are major arms exporters throughout the world. This places an especially heavy responsibility on those nations with regard to the prevention of conflicts.

Last but not least, Japan’s stress on the importance of the G8’s joint efforts to have all peoples share in the benefits flowing from information technology was accepted by the participating nations. Japan will offer $15 billion for that purpose over the coming five years. The Kyushu-Okinawa summit did not have to deal with any problem demanding an immediate response from the G8 nations. But some issues, such as the infectious diseases that the summiteers promised to unite in fighting, require immediate action.

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