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G8 Compromise on Missile Defense, Climate Change

Prepared by: Lionel Beehner
Updated: June 12, 2007

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Group of Eight summits generally follow a predictable narrative. Ahead of the meeting, there is always some big controversy. Once the summiteers meet, tensions cool off as the eight leaders make various vaguely worded declarations of agreement on a broad range of long-term topics related to debt relief or development. Sometimes the meetings are eclipsed by unforeseen events, as they were two years ago when terrorists struck London. Other times the most memorable moments reflect unscripted personality quirks captured on YouTube, as with President Bush’s impromptu shoulder massage of German Chancellor Angela Merkel last year. When the summit disbands, many wonder whether anything of consequence actually occurred.

With the G8 summit wrapped up, all sides can claim partial victory, even the protesters (Scotsman).President Bush arrived in Europe amid warnings by some Russian commentators, including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, of a new cold war over U.S. plans to stage a missile defense system in Russia’s backyard. Bush appears to have defused these tensions by promising to study an offer by Russian President Vladimir Putin to share a similar radar system Russia operates in Azerbaijan. The offer ratcheted down the pre-summit tensions between the two sides ahead of the presidents’ final face-to-face meeting in Kennebunkport, Maine, next month.

Merkel, who made climate change the centerpiece of this year’s agenda, can also claim a partial victory (IHT). Summit talks led six out of eight members (only Russia and the United States refused to sign on) to embrace her plan to cut greenhouse emissions in half by 2050, renewing hope for a post-Kyoto framework that includes the world’s worst polluters in both the developing (China) and developed worlds (United States). The pact also sets the stage for a UN summit on climate change (FT) in Bali next September.

Yet some observers say the declarations made, like those of previous G8 summits, lack teeth and specific deadlines. Russia experts wax skeptical about the missile-defense offer. “For that kind of cooperation to be treated seriously,” CFR’s Stephen Sestanovich tells the New York Times, “they would have to have more trust than people really do now toward the Russian military.” Moreover, environmental critics say little was accomplished on climate change. Europeans, for instance, criticized (EU Observer) the measure for not going far enough to address global warming or firming up specific emissions benchmarks for Washington and Beijing to meet. “In the global warming community, there’s a consensus that you need more than aspirational goals,” CFR's Charles Kupchan tells Bernard Gwertzman. Even the deal reached to address HIV/AIDS in Africa—basically reaffirming an earlier commitment to boost funding to $60 billion—lacked deadlines and drew the ire of activists like Bono, who called the declaration “deliberately misleading” (NYT).

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