No. 28 — July 21, 2000

 

Weekly Review

G-8 FOREIGN MINISTERS TACKLE CONFLICT PREVENTION
--- by Barbara Wanner

Given the continuing threat that regional conflicts pose to global peace and stability, the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrial nations plus Russia seemed to have few problems reaching a consensus during their July 12-13 confab in Miyazaki prefecture on the importance of undertaking preventive measures. The resulting Miyazaki Initiative for Conflict Prevention, a five-point action plan for developing a "constructive response to international concerns over security, nonproliferation, humanitarian and human rights issues," lays the groundwork for further discussion on diplomatic and security-related matters by the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, the United States and Russia when they convene on Okinawa for this year's summit.

Noting that the G-8 foreign ministers "underlined the need to nurture the culture of prevention," Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, who chaired the meetings, described the Miyazaki Initiative as a "major product that compiles specific G-8 steps." Although they took a comprehensive approach to defusing regional conflagrations, the participants did target one hot spot for action — Central and West Africa, where bloody civil wars have devastated Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. The Miyazaki Initiative specifically calls on diamond producers and buyers to choke off the illicit trade that has been used to underwrite aggression in these nations. The ministers also agreed to cooperate in blocking illegal diamond transactions from their nations.

Among the other pillars of the conflict-prevention blueprint are tighter policing of the illegal trade in small arms, particularly with countries where there is a risk that these weapons will be used for "aggression toward other states or domestic suppression." The G-8 representatives also pledged to use development assistance to promote democracy, transparent governance and peaceful resolution of disputes and committed to exerting pressure, in cooperation with the United Nations, on governments and armed groups that either victimize or recruit children to participate in conflicts. Finally, the world powers will seek improvement in the capacity of U.N. peacekeeping forces to coordinate more effectively with civilian police.

While applauding both the substance and the timeliness of the action plan, some observers pointed out that its implementation may be problematic. For example, the call for tighter control over the small-arms trade affects all G-8 members except Japan; the seven are said to account for 90 percent of total exports of conventional weapons worldwide. Expecting these nations to limit an important source of revenue for their respective domestic industries is arguably unrealistic. Presumably with that in mind, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy was said to have asked Japan, as the only G-8 nation to enforce a strict arms-export ban, to take the lead in the implementation of the crackdown on international small-arms traffic.

Tighter regulation of the diamond trade also will be difficult to achieve in the near future, these same analysts noted. In an effort to prevent smuggled diamonds from entering G-8 markets, the foreign ministers agreed on the need to study certification schemes for diamonds mined in areas involved in conflict as well as to develop industry codes of conduct and to establish an international body to promote transparency and accountability in the trade of this valuable commodity. But all of these steps will take time to implement. An unnamed Ministry of Foreign Affairs source acknowledged in effect that follow-through on this African-related initiative would occur further down the road since additional discussions are required to establish the international monitoring entity.

The other subjects covered by the foreign ministers in a second, more comprehensive communique were topics that have been discussed at previous G-8 gatherings as well as in bilateral meetings involving various industrial powers. Specifically, the participants reaffirmed their commitment to reform and strengthen the United Nations, including revising the size and the composition of the Security Council (see JEI Report No. 15A, April 19, 1996). Referring to the nuclear competition between India and Pakistan in particular, the foreign ministers agreed to continue efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation. The United States and Russia also were urged to quickly enforce the 1993 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II and to conclude START III negotiations as soon as possible.

While skirting the issue of North Korea's provocative missile launch over Japan in August 1998 (see JEI Report No. 34B, September 4, 1998), the G-8 ministers sought to accentuate the positive by applauding the fledgling dialogue between North Korea and South Korea (see JEI Report No. 17B, April 28, 2000). They also urged Pyongyang to "act constructively" on security and humanitarian matters. The participants tried as well to give a shot in the arm to Indonesia's uneven record thus far in liberalizing its economy and political system.

Not surprisingly, the foreign ministers devoted special attention to the stalled Middle East peace process, urging both Israel and the Palestinians to "accelerate negotiations." At the same time as the G-8 participants were meeting in Miyazaki prefecture, President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright were huddling with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David near Thurmont, Maryland in an effort to bring their peace negotiations to a conclusion.

Ms. Albright's decision to dispatch Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott to the foreign ministers' gathering in her place irked Tokyo as well as the meetings' prefectural hosts. The Miyazaki government had planned to name a building after her. Ms. Albright's absence also called into question Washington's commitment to the major industrial nations' annual forum. President Clinton's unequivocal promise to be in Okinawa for the July 21 start of the summit was designed to reassure Tokyo as well as his counterparts that he places just as much importance on these high-level discussions as on the Middle East peace process.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author
and do not necessarily represent those of the Japan Economic Institute

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