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A Strong Security Success at the Hamburg Summit

John Kirton, Co-director, G20 Research Group
July 8, 2017

The Hamburg Summit got off to a fast start on its first day with strong success on the key security issues of terrorism and nuclear proliferation. German chancellor Angela Merkel, as the host, wisely decided to open the summit with a leaders' only retreat where she focused on terrorism. This was the subject most likely to unify all members, including the otherwise difficult US president Donald Trump and Turkish president Recep Erdogan, especially following the recent terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Merkel's instincts paid off. Later that day, the G20 leaders released The Hamburg G20 Leaders' Statement on Countering Terrorism, which recording the results of their morning discussion. It was an extensive document of 21 paragraphs and 1,431 words. It affirmed the G20's distinctive foundational missions of promoting financial security and making globalization work for the benefit of all. Moreover, it made more references to the G7's distinctive foundational missions with two affirmations of open democracy and eight of the value of human rights. On open democracy, its actions extended to "addressing underlying conditions that terrorists exploit" by declaring that it was "crucial to promote political and religious tolerance." It thus extended last year's Hangzhou Summit's endorsement of human rights from the security field of corruption to that of terrorism by declaring that G20 leaders would work to "fight exploitation of the Internet and social media for terrorist purposes … while fully respecting human rights."

In their statement, the G20 leaders also made 23 precise, future-oriented, politically binding commitments covering a broad range of traditional and new security concerns. The judicial ones included aviation security which was where the G7 summit had started its counter-terrorist action at its summit in Bonn, Germany, in 1978. The new ones included having the private sector prevent terrorists from exploiting their digital infrastructure and mobilizing "the media, civil society, religious groups, the business community and educational institutions" to prevent radicalization and terrorism.

G20 leaders also developed global governance on counter-terrorism by giving guidance to three of their own institutions. They also gave such guidance to 22 outside institutions. This list was dominated by the Financial Action Task Force with ten references, followed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the United Nations with four each, Interpol with two and the International Civil Aviation Organization with one.

To be sure, there were some shortcomings. One was paying ransoms to terrorists to finance their activities. Whereas recent G7 summits had directly declared that the leaders would not pay ransom to terrorists who had kidnapped their citizens, the Hamburg G20 merely called upon countries to "address … kidnapping for ransom" as part of a long list for concern. Nor did the Hamburg leaders authorize the holding of their ministers responsible for terrorism, a measure which would have probably increased members' compliance with the 23 commitments the leaders had made.

At their morning retreat, G20 leaders also took up the key security subject of nuclear weapons proliferation. Inspired by the shock-activated vulnerability of the launch a month before the summit on June 4 by North Korea of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the U.S. homeland in Alaska, they addressed this immediate threat. Led by the leaders of North Korea's neighbours, South Korea and Japan, with the support of those from adjacent China and Russia, they agreed on the need to secure a new UNSC resolution condemning the illegal launch and perhaps authorizing more sanctions to be imposed on the dangerous North Korea. To be sure, previous G20 summit had dealt with weapons of mass destruction, notably the leaders' dinner at St. Petersburg in 2013 devoted to Syria's chemical weapons attacks on its own citizens and in Pittsburgh in 2009 whose host, Barack Obama, took the time to stand with a few other leaders to send a direct message to Iran saying its nuclear weapons program should stop. However, this was the first time that a regular summit session had been devoted to nuclear proliferation and where the summit host publicly announced the results to the outside world.

Together, these actions meant that the Hamburg leaders took a significant step forward in making the G20 a global security governor of a central and successful sort. It remains to be seen whether this strong spirit of unity and decisive action will extend to the many other subjects that the Hamburg Summit will address.

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John KirtonJohn Kirton is director of the G7 Research Group, and co-director of the G20 Research Group, the Global Health Diplomacy Program and the BRICS Research Group, all based at Trinity College at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. He is also a Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at China's Renmin University. A professor of political science, he teaches global governance and international relations and Canadian foreign policy. His most recent books include China's G20 Leadership (Routledge, 2016), G20 Governance for a Globalized World (Ashgate, 2012) and (with Ella Kokotsis), The Global Governance of Climate Change: G7, G20 and UN Leadership (Ashgate, 2015), as well as The G8-G20 Relationship in Global Governance, co-edited with Marina Larionova (Ashgate, 2015), and Moving Health Sovereignty in Africa: Disease, Govenance, Climate Change, co-edted with Andrew F. Cooper, Franklyn Lisk and Hany Besada (Ashgate, 2014). Kirton is also co-editor of several publications on the G7/8, the G20 and the BRICS published by Newsdesk Media.

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