Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The First G-7 Summit in the Wake of the COVID Pandemic
The First G-7 Summit in the Wake of the COVID Pandemic

The First G-7 Summit in the Wake of the COVID Pandemic

Original Orbis Piece: Amitai Etzioni, “The Global Communitarian Deficit,” Orbis vol. 65, no. 1 (2021)

The Overall Issue: Future Challenges: Confronting a Post-Pandemic World Orbis vol. 65, no. 1 (2021)

Reasons for Revisiting: During the period of transition from the November 2020 elections to the January 2021 inauguration of Joseph Biden as the 46th President of the United States, Orbis dedicated its Winter Issue to examining the scope and shape of a post-pandemic world, and particularly the dislocations caused by COVID-19. Within that issue, Amitai Etzioni noted:

The great weakness of post-national, global, communitarian bonds, we shall see, is a major reason the world has been unable to deal in unison when faced with a new global challenge, COVID-19. This is also the reason that one must expect that, unless such bonds are made much stronger, these institutions will still be unable to cope with many of the main challenges the world faces, like climate change, even if the United States changes course and supports various international institutions.

The June summit of the Group of Seven—along with the participation of other major democratic states, especially from the Indo-Pacific basin—provides a first test of whether nation-states can increase their connective tissue to cope with transnational challenges which are beyond the capacity of any one state to handle. Amitai Etzioni, joined by Ash Jain, discussed where the G-7 might be headed in the time of COVID at a panel hosted by Ronald Granieri at the Foreign Policy Research Institute on June 9, 2021.

Key Points: Amitai Etzioni noted that even before the pandemic began, we were witnessing a growth in nationalism and a retreat from international cooperation, a trend also discussed by Nikolas Gvosdev and Damjan Krnjevic in the context of “great power populism.” COVID-19 intensified this process as countries perceived that globalization made their populations vulnerable to the virus and highlighted defects in extended supply chains for medicines and equipment. Indeed, this has fueled calls for “nearshoring”—a point discussed in the Spring 2021 issue of Orbis in Parag Khanna’s contribution.

Ash Jain observed that the G-7 got its start during the oil shock and economic crises of the 1970s as a way to coordinate among the leading states of the Atlantic Alliance. In more recent years, the G-7 has been less impactful in terms of setting policy. The pandemic offers the opportunity to give the G-7 a renewed mission: rallying democracies to respond to these transnational challenges and to do so in the face of systemic competition with China. In other words, the G-7 should aim to produce coordinated action among a set of like-minded states, but this also means the G-7 must consider evolving with the times to become more representative of the world’s leading democratic powers, especially from the Indo-Pacific region. Yet, the G-7, perhaps expanding into a group of 10 or 12 major democracies (a D-10 or D-12), must limit itself to the smallest number of countries that can have the greatest global impact.

Is the motive force for having an expanded G-7 take the lead in finding solutions to pressing global problems designed to show the citizens of democratic states that their form of governance is more adept and effective than China’s authoritarian model (with the point raised that an expanded G-7 to D-10 brings in other Asia-Pacific democracies beyond Japan whose communitarian-based response to the pandemic counters Beijing’s narrative about the superiority of its command system in dealing with major challenges)? Or is it about gathering a group of countries to engage in geopolitical or geo-economic competition with China?

This discussion also addresses the very question of “democratic community.” As Jain noted, a transnational body, to be successful, needs to have a common worldview and sense of identity shared among its members. Etzioni observed, however, that efforts to transfer loyalty from the nation-state to transnational institutions has not been that successful. But would a democratic community around an expanded G-7 be able to foster a shared sense of identity?

In turn, if a “democratic community” acquires salience, the role of the mobilized and engaged public within democratic states could then act to push governments into adopting joint policies for tackling global challenges, buttressed by the confidence that democratic institutions are capable of enhancing their security and prosperity.

Click here for a link to the June 9, 2021 presentation at FPRI.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.