This year’s G7 summit took place under the shadow of the Ukraine crisis, with world leaders reaffirming their solidarity in the face of the Russian threat.
In the past, G7 leaders have been criticised for failing to establish a common political and economic outlook – most notably in 2019, with President Trump’s absence from the climate talks and his commitment to showcasing his resolute belief that the US was losing out from the global order.
For many, this reputation of disarray has reduced the summit to a domestic political opportunity for leaders to advance their interests back home – just a ‘photo opportunity’. In times of war, however, summitry presents an important opportunity to showcase a united front against a common enemy.
It is true that domestic struggles currently plague G7 leaders. Both President Biden and Boris Johnson are facing calls to resign – and from within their own parties. Macron has just been dealt a blow in the last parliamentary election, while Draghi’s coalition experiences significant internal conflict. G7 leaders are aware that their messy domestic affairs are being keenly watched by the Kremlin. It may be that Putin is counting on the breakdown of Western resolve under these internal pressures, eager to exploit resultant weakness.
What has emerged from the summit, however, is a fierce display of unity and a joint commitment to restrict Putin’s ability to finance the war. This includes plans to impose fresh sanctions on the Russian arms industry and a cap on Russian oil prices, as well as a series of demands to allow the free movement of agricultural shipping from Ukrainian ports and the return of Ukrainians sent to Russia against their will.
Points of tension earlier on, specifically Macron’s more sympathetic approach to negotiations with Putin, raised concerns that discord in European relations would weaken their position in the conflict. However, warnings against peace agreements with Moscow, spearheaded by Boris Johnson, ultimately resulted in a friendly consensus with France that any concessions would cede too much power to Putin.
Some worry that other crucial issues, namely climate commitments and migration, were pushed further down the agenda to focus on the Ukraine conflict. With Germany now leading the G7, climate change was expected to dominate discussion at the summit. Many also anticipated that Johnson and Macron would devote some attention to the channel crossings that have been subject to intense domestic debate.
However, talks were – understandably – overshadowed by the conflict in Ukraine; it is perhaps the only topic fostering unanimity among G7 leaders at the moment. Nevertheless, this consensus must endure if effective action against Russia is to be pursued.
It is a mistake to dismiss this ‘photo opportunity’ as just a superficial tool for leaders to strategically advance their respective domestic agendas. While it is equally important that the commitments made in support of Ukraine are upheld, the summit itself has proven to be a step forward in challenging Russian advances by establishing a united front against Putin.