With the world still living in the shadow of the Sept. 11, this year’s Group of Eight summit meeting had its work cut out: reinforcing the ongoing campaign against terrorism. On this score, G8 leaders achieved a measure of success during two days of talks last week in the Canadian Rockies resort of Kananaskis, Alberta. They hammered out a set of proposals to remove this new threat to international security, including steps to prevent terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction.
These proposals, however, are no assurances that the world will be freed from fears of terror. Nor do they guarantee the success of multilateral efforts to eliminate the pockets of conflict and poverty in the world, including Africa and the Middle East, that seem to lie at the root of terrorism. But there is no doubt that the G8 has given a much-needed push to the war on terror.
G8 leaders adopted an action plan to prevent terrorists from hijacking commercial aircraft and ships. The Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, they said in a statement, “illustrated the critical yet fragile nature of the international transportation system.” The summiteers also agreed to keep nuclear weapons and related materials, particularly those in Russia, out of the reach of terrorists.
The agreement is particularly important because of the very real possibility of extremist groups making “dirty” or crude nuclear bombs from stolen radioactive material. Russia is expected to get $20 billion in cash from other G8 nations, including $200 million from Japan, to destroy its decommissioned weapons of mass destruction. The deal speaks volumes about burgeoning cooperation between Russia and the West, particularly the U.S., in the international effort to stamp out terrorism.
Russia’s new status as a full-fledged G8 member is symbolic of such cooperation. How times change. During the Soviet era it was simply unthinkable that Russia, the standard bearer of communism, would join an elite club of major industrial democracies. After the end of the Cold War, however, the born-again Russia attended G7 summits as a political partner. Now a participant in economic discussions as well, Moscow is expected to host the G8 summit 2006.
That augurs well for the world. The U.S. and Russia, former archenemies, are now joining forces, not only in the war against terrorism but also in strategic nuclear arms reduction. But it would be naive to think that the G8 is now on the cusp of history, ready to usher the world into a new era of stability. Prospects for G8 cooperation, as well as Russo-American partnership, are at best uncertain.
For all its outward solidarity, the antiterror campaign contains seeds of serious division. For example, whether to mount a pre-emptive strike on Iraq, an option reserved by the U.S., remains a big bone of contention. To keep up a united front the U.S. needs to control its unilateralist inclination. Its “go-it-alone” policy has already undermined cooperation on a number of vital international issues.
With Russia no longer watching from the sidelines, the G8 will have a still larger role to play in dealing with pernicious problems of regional conflict and economic misery. At Kananaskis, however, they betrayed a lack of unity, as they often did before. The summit endorsed a new U.S. plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but was split over the fate of the embattled Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. They came away with no effective solutions for breaking the cycle of suicide bombing and military retaliation.
By contrast, the G8’s hands-on approach to Africa’s development holds out much promise. The case in point is the African Action Plan to combat the continent’s chronic problems of poverty, famine and disease. The package as it stands, however, is long on advice and short on detail; it comes up short particularly in the way of cash. To make the plan stick, the summit nations need to cast off their parochial interests and demonstrate broad-minded leadership.
The summit cast a spotlight on Japan’s continuing economic malaise. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said his colleagues had given him “high praise” for sticking to his reform plans. In fact, however, he appeared to stay largely on the sidelines. With his popularity at home waning and with his opponents mounting an offensive, he faces formidable obstacles ahead.
Russia’s full membership puts Japan in a delicate position, especially because of the territorial dispute over the Northern Territories. This problem will continue to hamper Russo-Japanese relations. Chances are that Japan will have to perform a diplomatic balancing act with Russia, on the one hand, and with the expanded G8, on the other.
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