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Home > Debates Last Updated: 13:02 08/29/2008
Commentary (August 28, 2008)

The Emergence of an Expanded Forum to Replace the G8: The Silver Lining to the Cloud over Russia and the West

Jun OKUMURA (Counselor, Eurasia Group)

On 27 August, the G7 issued the Joint Statement on Georgia by Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom:*

We, the Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom, condemn the action of our fellow G8 member. Russia's recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia violates the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia and is contrary to UN Security Council Resolutions supported by Russia. Russia's decision has called into question its commitment to peace and security in the Caucasus.

We deplore Russia's excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia. We call unanimously on the Russian government to implement in full the six point peace plan brokered by President Sarkozy on behalf of the EU, in particular to withdraw its forces behind the pre-conflict lines. We reassert our strong and continued support for Georgia's sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders and underline our respect and support for the democratic and legitimate government of Georgia as we pursue a peaceful, durable solution to this conflict.

Contrast this with the initial response from Japan, the 27 August Statement by Mr. Masahiko Koumura, Minister for Foreign Affairs, on Russia's Recognition of the Independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia:

1. Japan has supported consistently a peaceful resolution of this issue based on Georgia's territorial integrity. It is regrettable that while international efforts are in progress for a peaceful resolution of the issue, yesterday Russia unilaterally recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which is inconsistent with these international efforts.

2. Japan calls on Russia not to take unilateral actions, as it is of the view that to achieve true regional stability, the issues surrounding Georgia should be peacefully solved based on the six-principle ceasefire agreement. Japan strongly hopes that Russia will take responsible actions as a G8 member.

The MOFA Minister's statement is pretty tame compared to the G7 one. The Prime Minister and the Chief Cabinet Secretary have not issued any statements on Georgia. Compare this with the United States, where an 26 August White House press entitled President Bush Condemns Actions Taken by Russian President in Regards to Georgia:

The United States condemns the decision by the Russian President to recognize as independent states the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This decision is inconsistent with numerous United Nations Security Council Resolutions that Russia has voted for in the past, and is also inconsistent with the French-brokered six-point ceasefire agreement which President Medvedev signed on August [16], 2008. The six-point agreement offered a peaceful way forward to resolve the conflict. We expect Russia to live up to its international commitments, reconsider this irresponsible decision, and follow the approach set out in the six-point agreement.

The territorial integrity and borders of Georgia must be respected, just as those of Russia or any other country. Russia's action only exacerbates tensions and complicates diplomatic negotiations. In accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolutions that remain in force, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are within the internationally recognized borders of Georgia, and they must remain so.

It is obvious that Japan is a passive partner on one side of a transatlantic conflict.

But will G7 NATO members move to take any meaningful action? And if they do, will Japanese authorities follow suit? Compare this with the situation in the Middle East, more specifically regarding Iran. There, at least it can be argued that we Japanese have more of our national interest at stake, given our special interest in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. What is Japan's national interest where Russia is concerned?

In fact, it is highly unlikely that the West will take any further measures beyond the symbolic against Russia on this, at least for the time being. There are too many vital economic interests at stake, beginning with Russian natural gas. France, for one -though President Sarkozy lost face when his six-point ceasefire plan fell through-, won't go along, if past behavior is any indication**. Neither can Germany, whatever its political class thinks.

The wild card here is John McCain, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Presidency. Mr. McCain already wants to kick Russia out of the G7. If he wins, it is likely that the G8 format, at least at the heads-of-state level, will have to be scrapped. I can see a G7-plus-BRICS(-plus?) format emerging in its stead, with the G7 and possibly other developed liberal democracies caucusing in a corner of that umbrella. This could actually be a good thing; the G6/G7 was a child of the Oil Crisis 70s, and Russia's addition was a 90s response to the breakup of the Soviet Union. Times have changed, and it is evident that a larger group of key states must be engaged in a leadership role regarding the issues of global concern that we face today. More immediately, moving in this direction will provide a way to accommodate the new, unpleasant realities that has seen its most spectacular manifestation in the showdown in the Georgia-Russia conflict without escalating the tension. Come to think of it, a President Obama may be forced to go in this direction as well.

That is the silver lining to the emergence of a lower-case "cold war".

* In the Japanese press release posted today, MOFA notes that Deputy Minister Sasae (a career diplomat) sat in for our side. Mr. Koumura presumably handles bilateral talks himself, accompanied by an interpreter.

** In July 2006, The Japanese oil company Inpex gave up most of its development rights in the Azadegan oil fields (from 75% down to 10%) under worries over potential economic sanctions**. By contrast, the French state oil company Total only halted further investments in the South Pars gas fields last month. Worries over land mines was also cited as a cause for the Inpex delay and eventual (partial) retreat.

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