Media reports following the G7 Summit in Biarritz, a French Atlantic resort just ten miles from Spain, have emphasized disagreements between President Donald Trump and other heads of state participating in the meetings. Nevertheless, there is likely more unity among the G7 nations than may appear on the surface.
Trump’s suggestion that the G7 should invite Russia to rejoin the organization was predictably divisive and predictably doomed—few other than the American President were likely to accept the symbolism of an invitation to Moscow absent a satisfactory resolution to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis over eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Perhaps more important, Russia never really belonged in the G7 in the first place, having been included in the group primarily as a gesture by former U.S. President Bill Clinton to Russia’s then-President Boris Yeltsin at the time of NATO’s initial round of eastward expansion. In retrospect, had they been given the choice, Russia’s elites would likely have preferred to stay outside the G8 and to avoid NATO enlargement.
Today, both Russia and the G7’s members probably recognize that Russia would not be a good fit in the group, which defines its shared values in a manner that would not easily incorporate either Russia’s governance or its foreign policy. And there is scant evidence that the Kremlin wants back into the group. Still, if one sets aside the specific format of G7 summits, most if not all the G7 leaders probably agreed with Trump’s observation that “having them [Russia] inside the room is better than having them outside the room.”
Likewise, despite reports that raise questions about Trump’s approach to U.S.-China trade disputes and highlight other G7 leaders’ anxieties about the possible global economic consequences of a continuing trade war between the world’s two largest economies, the G7’s brief summit communique is rather forthright in stating that “the G7 wishes to overhaul the WTO to improve effectiveness with regard to intellectual property protection, to settle disputes more swiftly and to eliminate unfair trade practices.” While diplomatically written, this language sets out a unified position on global trade that includes many of Trump’s principal complaints about the U.S.-China commercial relationship. This makes clear that the other G7 members share and support America’s concerns on a pivotal issue. It is notable in the context of recent protests in Hong Kong that the communique also points a finger toward Beijing in its reaffirmation of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration ceding British sovereignty and establishing a framework for the city’s future governance.
None of this should suggest that the G7 is fully unified or that differences among G7 members don’t matter. After all, agreeing on goals without agreeing on approaches is not enough to allow for cooperative action; for the G7 to operate effectively, its members will have to coordinate their policies. That said, it would also be a mistake to assume that Trump’s dramatic public statements and the reactions they produce—which tend to dominate media reports—say all that observers or analysts need to know about international relations. Looking only one level below the surface demonstrates that they aren’t.