G7 Summit in Biarritz: Agreeing on Goals Without Agreeing on Approaches

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.”

Germany and France have committed to another round of so-called Normandy format talks with Russia and Ukraine, while Japan has pursued its own dialogue with Russia to advance its interests in East Asia, a region far from Ukraine in which Tokyo does not see Moscow as its principal problem. From this perspective, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom clearly opposed Trump’s specific proposal but may well align with its underlying intent—though clearly only through some form of wider understanding with Russia’s government that addresses Western concerns about Moscow’s international conduct.

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.

China: How Fragile Is the Giant?
Timofei Bordachev
Amid the mass rallies that have been going on for several months now, comprised of a significant portion of Hong Kong’s disgruntled urban population, the Chinese authorities have demonstrated incredible restraint and staying power as they continue to withstand these confrontations with protesters without resorting to the use of tough military suppression measures.

Indeed, even on Iran—where Trump and European leaders have openly differed—the G7 members agreed that “we fully share two objectives: to ensure that Iran never acquires nuclear weapons and to foster peace and stability in the region.” Here again, G7 leaders clearly agree on shared strategic goals despite failing to agree on the best tactics. On the issue of climate change, which is another area of divergence between Washington and other G7 capitals, Trump’s decision not to participate in the meeting among heads-of-state to discuss the topic likely avoided unnecessary public disagreements.

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.

A Crisis of Solidarity: The G7 Divided over Russia
Andrey Sushentsov
It is even possible that Russia will refuse to rejoin the G7, if it receives such an offer, because the only solid foundation of the group is the idea of Western solidarity. Some club members are at odds with each other.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.