The latest G7 gathering grappled with a troubling land war, economic security, nuclear proliferation, global healthcare architecture in the COVID era as well as the rise of nations comprising what’s known as the “global south.”
The G7 2023 Hiroshima Summit from May 19 to 21 was a summit like no other.
That statement may seem hyperbolic, but it reflects a May 19 front-page article from The Japan News entitled: “Japan hosts key summit with world ‘at historic turning point,’ ” paraphrasing Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s address from the Prime Minister’s Office before the meet began. Nikkei Asia’s May 22 edition branded the summit “Japan’s G-7 test” as the leaders of Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union gathered in Hiroshima.
The G7 Hiroshima Leaders’ Communiqué included the following items:
The summit focused on support for Ukraine, stepping up sanctions against Russia, and hindering the latter’s ability to continue its aggression, covering exports of industrial machinery, tools and technology useful to Russia’s war effort.
“We reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes to bring a comprehensive, just and lasting peace,” the post-meeting communiqué stated. “We commit to intensifying our diplomatic, financial, humanitarian and military support.”
Economic resilience and economic security
The G7 nations stated that their economic policies will aim to “de-risk” their relationship with China, which was explicitly addressed in the communiqué with a focus on not harming or decoupling from that nation. To ensure economic resilience and security, the plan is to diversify supply chains, avoid being dependent on one country, and prevent economic coercion.
Climate and energy
The G7 members reaffirmed their pledge to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and to limit global warming to 1.5°C in accordance with the Paris Agreement.
The G7 produced a Hiroshima Action Statement for Resilient Global Food Security, with the goal of responding to and preventing future food security crises. In particular, this initiative involves supporting grain exports from Ukraine and Russia.
The G7 committed to strengthening global health architecture following the “unprecedented impact” of COVID-19.
G7 leaders pledged greater outreach to the “global south”—a term used for some low- and middle-income countries, including India—to bridge the vast gap between them and more advanced economies by creating infrastructure and debt relief and accelerating progress on the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation
Having experienced the devastation of the atomic bombings that ended World War Two, the G7 summit venue of Hiroshima was particularly significant for talks on nuclear nonproliferation.
A Summit Apart
What set this summit in Hiroshima apart from previous gatherings? While the 48th G7 summit held in 2022 at Schloss Elmau in Germany occurred while the Ukraine-Russia war was already hot, in 2023 it was the largest land war in Europe since World War Two ended, and with a much stronger commitment from the G7 and NATO to support Ukraine.
Russia’s unprovoked February 2022 invasion of Ukraine united NATO, the G7 member states and other like-minded countries and has created unprecedented unity among the global community in condemning Russia’s war of aggression.
In particular, the United States and the United Kingdom have led the way in providing significant military assistance to Ukraine by providing game-changing battlefield weapons such as M142 HIMARS rocket launchers and Storm Shadow cruise missiles, respectively. The Friday of the summit brought even better news when U.S. President Joe Biden announced that he would allow his European allies to supply Ukraine with U.S.-made F-16 fighters—a much-needed addition for defending Ukraine’s airspace.
No Nukes, Please
As the only country in history to suffer the devastation of a nuclear attack, Japan is in a unique position to promote nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has a personal stake in this matter: Hiroshima is the constituency he represents, and relatives of his were among the victims on August 6, 1945. His grandmother often told him about the horrors of the nuclear attack.
Kishida has pledged to seek a world without nuclear weapons, while both Russian President Vladimir Putin and deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev have threatened to deploy nuclear weapons against Ukraine on numerous occasions and made similarly veiled threats toward NATO countries.
Man of the Hour
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a historic visit to the summit in Hiroshima on the final day, hoping to renew support for Ukraine’s war effort to repel the Russians. He compared the destruction suffered to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, stating: “Russia has not used a nuclear weapon (against us),” at a news conference, “but after their bombing, when you see the burned cities of Ukraine, it is similar to the photos that I’ve seen in the atomic bomb museum in Hiroshima.”
The courage Zelenskyy displayed in attending the Hiroshima summit showed that he had things back in Ukraine under control and was confident in an eventual victory, achieving the goal of liberating Ukraine from Russian occupation. The G7 leaders also made it clear that they would not waver in restoring peace to Ukraine and defending the rules-based free and open international order.
Engaging the Global South
The growing influence of the so-called global south of nations was on display at this summit. Also known in some quarters as the “nonaligned world,” they are rationally driven by their respective interests and economic growth. Going into the Hiroshima summit, the G7 leaders knew they would need to do a lot of maneuvering to win over these countries at a time when they have strong ties to both China and Russia. A few decades ago, the G7 nations accounted for 70 percent of global GDP. That figure is now about 40 percent, showing the rising influence other nations now possess.
Since the end of World War Two, Japan has maintained a pacifist foreign diplomacy, with the United States being its main partner for security and international affairs via the U.S.-Japan alliance. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, however, Japan’s leadership have come to see the international geopolitical situation in a new light. “Ukraine today could be East Asia tomorrow” is a phrase Kishida often uses, since there are mounting concerns that China could attempt to reunify with Taiwan by force. This is in addition to North Korea continually test-firing ballistic missiles and both China and Russia coming alarmingly close to Japanese territorial boundaries.
Reflecting Japan’s transition from pacifism to realism diplomacy, the Japanese government plans to significantly increase defense spending to 8.9 trillion yen ($65 billion) by 2027 and bring Japan’s overall defense spending to over 11 trillion yen. This would account for 2 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product—a major shift from Japan’s longstanding policy of keeping defense expenditures to within 1 percent of GDP.
Kishida’s vision is to truly back up Japan’s interests with real ability and not just idealism. “Neither diplomacy nor diplomatic language can be persuasive unless they are backed up by an ability to protect the lives and livelihoods of [Japan’s] people.”
Canada’s G7 Role
Although it ranks as the number seven economy in the G7, Canada is the second-largest country by landmass and claims a vast amount of territory in the Arctic. This will prove pivotal with regard to trade routes and land as a warmer climate opens access to more areas in the north. Canada needs to significantly increase its defense spending and military readiness. Peacekeeping and security cooperation with its NATO partners will also be paramount when dealing with an assertive Russia in the years to come.
Samuel G. Gildart is an associate professor at the Chiba University of Commerce and holds a Ph.D. from the International Graduate School of Social Sciences at Yokohama National University.