Trump Made This G-7 a Lot Different Than the Last

May 27, 2017, 1:23 PM EDT
  • Change From Just a Year Ago Clear in Pared Down Conclusions
  • New Mood Is Also Changing Views on Migration, North Korea

It turns out a year is a long time in G-7 summitry.

The fraying consensus among seven core, like-minded liberal democracies of “the West’’ was clearly on display at the annual meeting that ended on Saturday — even for those not in the room when Donald Trump faced off with fellow leaders in the Sicilian resort town of Taormina.

At a spartan six pages, the summit’s final statement was less than a third the length of last year’s, reflecting the diminished common ground with Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K. The U.S. had to demur and take a separate position on climate change, leaving a G-6 to recommit themselves to the 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce global warming.

On trade it took until 3 a.m. for negotiators to agree on a form of language that would allow each side to walk away believing the text reflected their view of what “fair’’ trade is, keeping a reference to fighting protectionism.

The last Group of Seven summit, held a year ago in Japan, now seems to have met in a different age.

Back then, the political forecaster Nate Silver was giving Trump just a 25 percent of becoming leader of the free world. The U.K. hadn’t yet voted to leave the European Union. Prime Minister David Cameron was a month away from having to resign, and French President Francois Hollande was still expected to run for re-election.

Without Trump, what to do about global warming was non-controversial: ratify the Paris Agreement and get it into force. That free trade was good and protectionism a danger was a given. Cameron enthused that trade deals the EU was negotiating with the U.S., Canada and Japan — and the U.S. with other Pacific Rim nations — would together add half a trillion dollars to the global economy.

The 2016 statement also expressed support for the recently agreed nuclear deal with Iran as an opportunity for it to “reengage with the global community.’’ This time Iran didn’t get a mention, except in connection with Syria. Trump has described the nuclear deal as the worst in history and, while in Saudi Arabia a week ago, called for Tehran’s international isolation.

Absent Sherpas

Last time, the so-called sherpas for each participant nation carried the weight of negotiating positions through to the summit, ensuring that by the time the leaders arrived there was little to debate. The event ended with a 32-page communique plus six annexes covering everything from terrorism to global health.

This year, the leaders arrived to still-unresolved disputes over what to say on climate change, trade and Russia. The U.S. had no sherpa at the summit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the longest-serving G-7 leader, pushed hard against offering the U.S. concessions to secure agreement on climate change, and appeared concerned about what it all meant. At one point, according to an official familiar with the discussions, she told Trump he risked a U.S. departure from the international stage.

“You have to say that there is no common support for an important international agreement,” she said at a press conference, before leaving for the airport. “This Paris Agreement is not simply another agreement, rather it’s a core agreement.” Much has been kicked down the road to the G-20 summit in Hamburg, which Merkel will host in July.

Learning Curve

At the same time, several of the leaders appeared to hope this week’s meeting, Trump’s first, would prove a learning experience. “He was willing to interact, he was curious, was willing to learn from others,’’ said Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. “Believe it or not, he was very interested in what we call drafting,’’ looking at individual words in the text.

“I think the G-7 was very significant in terms of him learning about what we have discussed before,’’ said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, asked to comment on how Trump’s arrival had changed the group’s dynamic.

Merkel, Abe and the others may find out soon whether the tutorial worked. Trump tweeted before leaving Sicily that he would come to a decision next week on whether to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement.

Border Control

Yet the popular frustration and resurgent nationalism that brought Trump to power is not limited to the U.S. There were significant changes in tone where the seven leaders could agree.

In 2016, the G-7 consensus on what to do about the “Migration and Refugee Crisis’’ was to “increase global assistance’’ and boost the use of orderly resettlement programs to take refugees to safety. This time the text stressed “the sovereign rights of states, individually and collectively, to control their own borders and to establish policies in their own national interest and national security,’’ while upholding migrants’ human rights.

Japan also secured tougher language it wanted on North Korea, with the statement declaring that the seven countries stood ready to “strengthen measures’’ aimed at prompting the hermit kingdom to cease nuclear and ballistic missile tests. Speaking at the end of the summit, Abe had one man to thank, praising “the strong action of President Trump in saying that all options are on the table.’’

Trump himself hailed a “tremendously productive meeting” that concluded “a truly historic week.”

Another change this time around: Trump handed out his mobile phone number to his fellow leaders.