Many articles have already been published on this week’s G7 summit in Cornwall, which will bring together ten of the world’s most powerful leaders. Organizers in the United Kingdom have billed it as an opportunity to “rebuild better after the Covid-19 pandemic.” Some questions remain regarding what the leaders of the world’s wealthiest countries should prioritise, and how far they will go to consider the interests of nations other than those in their immediate group.
Moreover, this summit serves as a partial changing of the guard, and, potentially in a first, all seven leaders must have something to show their respective publics by the time the meeting concludes. A delicate balancing act of getting to know one another is expected, with something akin to a high stakes poker game, with possibly enormous ramifications for both their own countries and the rest of the world, we can expect
For Joe Biden, the 46th President of the United States, the summit represents one of his first forays onto the international arena in his capacity as leader of the free world. As a long-serving senator and vice president under President Barack Obama, he is not a newcomer to the political scene. However, based on Biden’s first 100 days in office, he appears to be eager to reset America’s place in the world and strengthen the existing international order, which the G7 symbolises, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president. In terms of the liberal international order, it remains to be seen if the other six leaders will allow Biden to carry up where Obama left off, notably on the issue of nuclear weapons.
According to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the G7 summit is the first important opportunity to advance his vision of a post-Brexit “Global Britain.” Although his Integrated Review, released in March, appeared to be lacking in content, the accompanying Defence Command report, published a week later, appeared to be a step forward. His handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has also been under fire recently, most notably from his former adviser Dominic Cummings, and his government’s lowering of the United Kingdom’s aid budget has had major ramifications for the country’s international position. Consequently, he, more than anyone else, has an obligation to make his mark, to add substance to the storey of a “Global Britain,” and to demonstrate that he and Britain are capable of being recognised as significant actors on the international scene.
The leaders at the meeting this week will be confronted with a slew of key questions, and Johnson will need to rally the troops and deliver an agreement that will pave the way for an effective global response to the pandemic. This appears to be a challenging problem for a prime minister who has tended to take a more transactional approach, similar to that of Donald Trump, in his foreign policy. Furthermore, his commitments to the more right-leaning elements of his own party on the home front could put him at conflict with Biden’s support for the existing liberal international system, which he has shown support for.
Leaders of the G7 for a long time
Although the G7’s “old guard” is more experienced in global diplomacy, they are also under pressure to deliver a meaningful agreement at the summit following a challenging year. French President Emmanuel Macron has been rapidly losing support at home, primarily as a result of proposed economic and labour measures, among other things. When viewed in this framework, a major foreign policy achievement may be beneficial. Given that France’s next general election will take place in 2022, strengthening Macron’s chances of winning a second term as president of the country is critical. Using the sidelines of the meeting, he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel would press British Prime Minister Theresa Johnson to adhere to the Brexit agreement. Additionally, he will want to emphasise France’s global role and capabilities, reminding Vice President Biden that, while the United Kingdom has recently spoken of a mini “pivot” to the Indo-Pacific, France is the only European state that has consistently maintained a diplomatic and military presence in that region.
The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, like Macron, has weathered a series of scandals as well as a tense relationship with Biden’s predecessor, an increasingly combative relationship with China, and a failed attempt for a permanent place on the United Nations Security Council. Trudeau will very certainly come out strongly on Canada’s position in the world, as he will want to be seen as backing an equitable and global pandemic recovery in the face of domestic and international challenges. He will also want to make certain that the G7 speaks with a unified voice and that its members are not targeted by countries such as China and Russia.
Angela Merkel, the great survivor and long-term German Chancellor, is not like the other G7 leaders; this gathering represents one of her last opportunities to make a political impact in her home country. Chancellor Angela Merkel will be hoping to solidify her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party as the undisputed choice of German voters, particularly as the elections for the next German chancellor are near. Because of her support for the EU, it is possible that she may oppose Johnson’s claims to be the leader of a “Global Britain.”
As a result of the necessity for all seven G7 leaders to demonstrate something, this is likely to be a summit in which national interests, rather than a mutual advantage, are prioritised. In this high-stakes environment, the question becomes whether Boris Johnson, as host and the leader with possibly the most to prove, possesses the talents and insight necessary to bring the other players together and assist the greater international community in its efforts. If not, will the other world leaders step in and compel Johnson to comply with their judgments, thereby putting another hole in the hull of the so-called “Global Britain” project?