The Russian-U.S.-British Triangle
№3 2003 July/September

Dr. Penttila is Director of the Center for Finnish
Business and Policy Studies. He is also a Member of Oxford
Analytica International Advisory Board. This article is based on
his recent Adelphi Paper The Role of the G-8 in International Peace
and Security, Oxford University Press, 2003.

Dr. Penttila

Russia’s membership in the G-8 has had a dramatic impact on the
role of this organization. It has transformed a Western economic
actor into a global concert. It also has given the G-8 a new
impetus as a security actor.

The G-8 is a potentially powerful actor in the domain of global
security. In questions of war and peace the group cannot command
the legitimacy of the UN Security Council but, for the
international community, it would be, perhaps, a more acceptable
vehicle than unilateral action. Therefore, the G-8 can be
visualized as a noteworthy ‘second best’ option after the Security

The G-8 bears great resemblance to the 19th century Concert of
Europe. Whether it will assume a similar role in the 21st century
depends in the final analysis on whether the United States, Russia
and to some extent Britain welcome such a role for the G-8.


The year’s G-8 Summit was an unusual diplomatic double-header:
the world leaders gathered first in St. Petersburg to celebrate the
300th anniversary of the city; following the grand festivities, the
leaders departed for Evian-les-Bains, France for the official G-8
Summit. To the surprise of the reporters gathered at Evian, the
world leaders did not spend their time fretting about the state of
the global economy. Instead, they gave considerable attention to
issues of international security. The Middle East in general and
Iraq in particular were awarded a central place in the
deliberations. In addition, the United States used the Evian Summit
to win support for a proposal that would allow the interdiction of
missiles and suspected components of weapons of mass destruction
during transportation.

The news media responded with surprise to these security topics,
but their reaction seems unwarranted. Had the assembled journalists
studied the history of the G-7 and G-8 summits, they would have
noticed that the group has played a significant and continuously
evolving role in international peace and security matters since its
foundation in 1975. During the 1970s and 1980s, the G-7 coordinated
Western strategy toward the Soviet Union. In addition, it involved
Japan in security-policy discussions, developed a policy for
dealing with cross-border hijacking and hostage situations, and
included such ‘new’ security threats as international drug
trafficking and refugee flows on its agenda.

In the 1990s, the G-8 played a significant role in anchoring
President Boris Yeltsin and, therefore, moving Russia into the
Western camp. The withdrawal of Russian troops from the Baltic
states, the denuclearization of Ukraine and Russia’s acceptance of
NATO enlargement can all be partially attributed to the success of
the G-7/8. G-8 membership was the carrot that persuaded Yeltsin to
accept a compromise with the U.S. and the West.

The pinnacle of the group’s security role came during the Kosovo
crisis of 1999. After months of unsuccessful efforts to resolve the
crisis through the UN Security Council and the Contact Group, the
G-8 emerged as the forum where the Western powers and Russia
arrived at their common position. The G-8 foreign ministers drew up
a draft resolution in April 1999 and sent it to their permanent
representatives in New York. Within hours, Security Council
Resolution 1244 was adopted.

Following the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington
DC, on September 11, 2001, the G-8 was seen as a potentially
pivotal element in the fight against terrorism. Fran?ois Heisbourg,
Chairman of the IISS, suggested that the G-8 should be given a
central role in the war on terror. In his view, the G-8 could
evolve as a forum where world leaders could create “the new rules
of the game that will be needed for any effective attempt to
throttle modern hyperterrorism.” Graham Allison, Karl Kaiser and
Sergei Karaganov took the idea one step further. In a joint
newspaper article they suggested that a new entity, a Global
Alliance for Security, should be constructed using the G-8 as the
starting point and foundation for such an enterprise.

The idea of utilizing the G-8 as an instrument in the war on
terror has won support among political leaders. Italy, the holder
of the rotating G-8 presidency in 2001, suggested a special G-8
summit which would be designed to stamp out international
terrorism. Russia emphasized the need to expand the G-8 agenda. In
December 2001, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov held talks
with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien. The two leaders put
emphasis on the “expansion of cooperation of the Group of Eight and
other international organizations in such key questions as the
promotion of strategic stability, the non-proliferation of weapons
of mass destruction, and nuclear, chemical and bacteriological

The Americans were not impressed. U.S. Secretary of State Colin
Powell rejected the idea on the grounds that America was so
satisfied with the ‘worldwide reaction of solidarity’ that he did
not think it necessary to hold a special G-8 meeting. Nor did the
U.S. administration seek in any other way to incorporate the G-8 as
a group in the war on terror. Instead, the group was given a
strictly defined technical role: the finance ministers of the G-8
were given responsibility for coordinating policies needed to
intercept the financial sources that support terrorism. In other
words, Washington accepted the help of the G-8 finance ministers
but rejected the G-8 as a security policy actor. As a result, the
G-8 became sidelined in the war on terror.


The gathering of G-8 leaders in St. Petersburg together with the
official G-8 Summit at Evian constituted an important step in the
reconstruction of great power relations after the divisions created
by the war in Iraq. From the point of view of the G-8, the two
meetings were important because they signaled the comeback of the
G-8 as a key actor in international peace and security.

The comeback had already begun in 2002. Despite U.S. reluctance
to make the G-8 the focal point of the war on terror, Washington
did not oppose Canadian plans to include terrorism as one of the
key items on the agenda of the 2002 Kananaskis Summit. As a result,
at this gathering the G-8 launched a Global Partnership Against the
Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The acceptance of the plan
by the Bush administration was a clear reversal of its earlier
strategy of not involving the G-8 in the war against terror.

The Kananaskis plan was aimed especially at preventing the
spread of nuclear material from Russia. As such the plan was a
logical continuation of the 1996 Nuclear Safety and Security
Summit, organized by the Russian government in Moscow. At Evian,
President Bush placed further emphasis on the role of the G-8 in
the fight against terror. Yet, it was clear that he did not intend
to dispose of his strategy of maintaining a maximum freedom of
action: rather than deliberating next steps with other G-8 leaders
he left the summit early for a series of meetings in the Middle

For President Putin, the Evian Summit was a success. Evian’s
predominantly political and security focus was to Moscow’s
advantage, highlighting areas of cooperation where it is most able
to make a positive contribution. Oxford Analytica pointed out that
Putin managed to advance three policy objectives at the summit.
Firstly, he managed to play a constructive role in bridge-building
with and between the United States and European members of the G-8.
Secondly, he reinforced the notion of Russia as a leading country
in the world. For this purpose, “it was important to present it as
a multi-dimensional power – not just the world’s second nuclear
weapons state, but an economically advanced nation and constructive
international player.” Thirdly, Putin was able to secure
“commitments on international terrorism, while retaining some
freedom of action in other areas, namely the thorny question of
nuclear cooperation with Iran.”


Pundits and politicians are divided in their analyses regarding
the role of the G-8. Some see the G-8 summits as little more than
giant photo opportunities. Margaret Thatcher, for instance, noted
that the 1989 G-7 summit in Paris featured the best meal she had
ever had, “otherwise very little of note was achieved.” Others –
such as professor John Kirton, a University of Toronto expert –
claim that the group has become a de facto center of global
governance. The G-8 is indeed an unusual institution. It does not
have a charter, a secretariat or a website. Its agenda is
constantly changing; its relevance is challenged every few years.
Yet, it manages to bring together the most important political

In dealing with economic prosperity and global security at the
highest political level the G-8 resembles the 19th century European
Concert. I have argued elsewhere that Russian membership converted
the G-7 from a concert of Western powers into a global Concert. By
inviting their former Cold War enemy into their midst, the Western
powers have managed to turn a Western economic actor into a global
political actor. An almost identical move laid the ground for the
establishment of the Concert of Europe after the Napoleonic wars.
The victorious powers (Austria, Britain, Prussia and Russia)
invited France, their former enemy, into their midst in 1818. This
move was the start of a Concert of Great Powers that played a
crucial role in the 19th century international relations.

Indeed, the parallels between the G-8 and the 19th century
Concert of Europe are striking. Like the G-8, the Concert of Europe
was not a formal institution. There were no formal rules; instead
there were plenty of tacit understandings and unwritten
regulations. Like the G-8, the Concert of Europe was based on the
notion of a fundamental inequality between states. There were great
powers whose role it was to make history, and there were lesser
powers whose function was to obey the rules and norms set by the
dominant states.

The Concert’s main task was to ensure ’repose and prosperity’
and to maintain peace in Europe. This was done through restraining
the actions of its members, as well as coordinating its policy
toward outsiders. In the pursuit of order, the Concert proved to be
a pragmatic undertaking. It sought to preserve the status quo and
was always ready to intervene on its behalf. However, if change
proved inevitable, the Concert was just as quick to condone it.
Thus, it suppressed uprisings in Italy in 1820 and in Spain in
1822, but it condoned Belgium’s rebellion and proclamation of
independence and accepted as fait accompli the unification of
Germany and Italy. In addition to European issues, the Concert
dealt with the entire global agenda, ranging from relations with
China to piracy and navigation.

The suppression of uprisings in the early nineteenth century
does not differ in essence from the G-8’s involvement in Kosovo.
Both the Concert of Europe and the G-7 had to come to terms with
German unification. Even the broad definition of security strikes a
common chord. And both the Concert of Europe and the G-8 reached
out to the non-governmental sector: the former granted the
International Committee of the Red Cross official status, while the
G-8 has sought the advice of several NGOs, such as the World
Economic Forum.

One can also argue that the status of the two main outsiders is
strikingly similar. In the 19th century the U.S. was the main
outsider; in 2003, it is China. Both countries steered clear of the
interests of the established great powers while consolidating their
economic strength, political unity and regional influence. Finally,
the role of the dominant power in the 19th century and at the
beginning of the 21st is also similar. In the 19th century, Britain
was the leading nation with its control over the seas. Now the
leader is the U.S., commanding the skies and able to project power
anywhere in the world.

Yet, these parallels should not be taken too far. The current
international environment is radically different to that of the
19th century. Despite the fact that many of today’s international
laws and organizations were established in the 19th century,
international relations were much more state-centric and anarchical
in the 1800s. One may ask the question whether a Concert of great
powers can adapt to the much denser international institutional
environment of the twenty-first century. A second significant
difference arises in regard to the dominance of the U.S. During the
19th century the great powers were closer in terms of economic and
political weight. Consequently, a Concert-based model of joint
management of international relations was advantageous to all the
participants. Again, one may forward yet another question: Can a
Concert of great powers operate successfully when one state (i.e.
the United States) is economically, militarily and politically far
superior to the others?


Whether the G-8 will fulfill its promise of becoming a Concert
with the status and power of the Concert of Europe is open to
debate. Some light may be shed on the question, however, by drawing
together some of the lessons of past Concerts. There have not been
many Concerts, thus it is possible to distill some general

The first rule is that these Concerts only appear after major
wars.  The G-8 would be considered an exception in that it did
not emerge as a global Concert following a typical war but after
the end of the Cold War. Despite this difference, the political
context in which the G-8 began to assume global responsibilities
did not differ from that which accompanied earlier Concerts of
political power. Following the Cold War there was a sense of common
purpose and idealism about the possibility of a new international
system. This was combined with a reluctance to return to the
balance-of-power politics that had been part and parcel of the Cold
War system. Thus, more cooperative forms of governance were sought.
Whether the current U.S. emphasis on unilateral action will break
the cooperative mold is a question that will have a strong impact
on the G-8’s future as a contemporary Concert. If the U.S. chooses
to ’go it alone’ on a more regular basis, the G-8 will not be able
to sustain its influence.

The second rule is that these Concerts tend to be short-lived.
Over the past 200 years there have been four great-power coalitions
that merit the criteria of a Concert – the G-8 being one of them.
The Concert of Europe served as an efficient form of international
governance for some 35 years. It then lingered for another five
decades. The second Concert existed from 1919-1920. The third was
in place from 1945-1946. The UN Security Council is a special case.
On paper it looks like a Concert; during the immediate postwar
years it even acted as one. But it is certainly not an informal
organization. Indeed, the history of the Security Council suggests
that once a Concert is hindered by strict procedures, voting
systems and legions of lawyers, it loses its power to act. Whether
the G-8 will be an enduring part of the system of international
governance is an open question. Nevertheless, it has already
outlived its two immediate predecessors.

The third rule is that coalitions of great powers need to be
inclusive; in order to be functional a Concert must include all of
the major powers. The crucial determinant of major-power status in
this context is whether the state in question is capable of
destroying the existing international system simply by changing its
policies. For the G-8, the test case is China. China is the most
obvious candidate for membership because of its economic, political
and military weight. The question is whether the country is willing
to contribute to the more effective joint management of
international relations, or whether its vital interests and
diplomatic style are so fundamentally different that its membership
would paralyze the group. China was invited to Evian as a guest;
however, it was not awarded the same observer status as was
designated to Russia in the early 1990s. Moreover, the Chinese
leadership publicly expressed its desire to join the group. In
other words, the point of no return regarding Chinese membership in
the G-8 has not yet been passed. 


The global dominance of the United States raises pertinent
questions concerning the relationship between a hegemonic power and
a Concert of Powers. William Wallace notes that Concerts are likely
to form when there are several powers of equal weight in the
international system. This observation is reinforced by the golden
age of the Concert of Europe which coincided with the absence of a
clear hegemonic power. It is also supported by the experience of
the      G-7: this group was at its most
effective during the Carter administration when the U.S. believed
its relative power to be in decline. It therefore sought collective
methods of managing the world economy. Nevertheless, Wallace
concedes that a Concert may co-exist with a hegemonic power, and in
his view this gives the Concert a different function. Instead of
setting the rules for international behavior, a Concert that
includes a hegemonic power plays a role in mitigating and
legitimizing the policies of the dominant state.

The relationship between the U.S. and the G-7/G-8 is an example
of a changing relationship between a hegemonic power and a Concert
of Powers. There exist three contradictory themes relating to this
relationship that run through the history of G-7/

G-8 summits. The first theme concerns the U.S. effort to recruit
other leading powers to assist with the joint management of
international relations.

As was stated before, these efforts were strong in the 1970s
when the U.S. power was seen as being in decline. This tendency
resurfaced again in the 1990s when the U.S. was reluctant to
shoulder responsibility for managing crises around the world.

The second theme concerns other members’ attempts to use the
G-7/G-8 as an instrument for softening the U.S. power. America’s
traditional European allies want the U.S. to adapt less
confrontational policies as a price for their support. A case in
point was the debate concerning intermediate nuclear forces in the
1980s. The so-called double-zero proposal combined Western resolve
with an offer of compromise to the Soviet Union.

The third theme in the relationship between a hegemonic power
and a Concert of Powers concerns the U.S. efforts to enlist support
for its own policies. An example was the first post-Cold War round
of NATO enlargement. The U.S. wanted to placate Russia by giving
President Boris Yeltsin official status within the G-7. Member
states were less than convinced of the wisdom of integrating
Russia, but when faced with strong U.S. resolve they consented to
the idea. As a result, Russia was treated as an almost equal
partner at the 1997 Denver Summit of Eight. A year later it was
made a full member of the G-8, although it was not granted
permission to attend the meetings of the finance ministers. Finally
at Evian Russia was awarded all of the rights and privileges of

Most observers accept the argument that a Concert of Powers can
accommodate a degree of hegemonic behavior. Similarly, it can
sustain a level of internal balance-of-power politics (that is,
alliances and counter-alliances within the group). However, at some
point a Concert becomes dysfunctional. Such a situation transpired,
for example, following the end of World War II when the Soviet
Union and the Western powers began to build military alliances
against each other. Unilateralism is a form of hegemonic behavior.
With regard to the perceived unilateralism of the United States the
question must be asked: How much unilateralism and/or unmitigated
anti-status quo politics can a Concert sustain? In the 19th
century, the Concert of Europe began to lose its significance, as
European powers began to pursue anti status quo policies both
outside and inside Europe.

Following the Evian Summit there was a general feeling of
rapprochement between the United States and Great Britain on the
one hand and France, Germany and Russia on the other hand. If the
spirit of cooperation endures, the G-8 has a chance of becoming a
more robust actor in maintaining international peace and security.
If internal balance-of-power politics within the group takes
precedence over cooperation, then the prognosis for the

G-8 is not particularly good.


Concerts are highly dependent upon the personalities of the
leaders involved. Henry Kissinger studied the intricate
relationship between Castlereigh and Metternich during the early
years of the Concert of Europe and credited them with gains they
had initiated; he also blamed them for opportunities that were not
exploited. AJP Taylor is of the opinion that the Concert of Europe
ended in 1848 when Metternich fell from power. The G-7’s experience
is similar. Gains were made only when leaders had similar
worldviews or a close personal friendship. During times of
inefficiency, personal relations between leaders were poor.

At the moment there are two G-8 leaders who get along well with
President George W. Bush. They are Prime Minister Tony Blair and
President Vladimir Putin. The three men have much in common.
Firstly, they are leaders in political systems that award the chief
executive with considerable powers in questions of war and peace.
Secondly, they have shown a readiness to use military force.
Thirdly, they take the war on terror very seriously. And fourthly,
they happen to host the next three G-8 Summits.

The United States, Great Britain and Russia are in a crucial
position in determining whether the G-8 assumes a significant
security role in the 21st century. President Bush will host the
2004 summit while Prime Minister Tony Blair will be the host of the
2005 summit. In 2006, the G-8 Summit comes to Russia for the first
time. If all three put security issues high on the summit agenda
then the G-8 will emerge as a major actor in international
security. Russia is perhaps the most likely to do so. Moscow will
seek to reaffirm Russia’s position as a major international actor
when it plays host to the group; a heavy emphasis on economic
matters would not be in harmony with such a strategy. Instead,
Moscow is likely to give priority to security issues where it is
most able to make a positive contribution. Great Britain has always
been very pragmatic about the G-8. If London feels that
transatlantic relations can be improved by concentrating on global
security then it is likely to include security items on the agenda
of the 2005 G-8 Summit.

Why would the U.S. want to engage the G-8 in the joint
management of international security? There are two overriding
reasons. First, the U.S. would increase the legitimacy of its
actions by consulting other great powers. Second, it would be able
to strengthen cohesion between the West and Russia in relation to
matters of global security, such as the war on terror. The risks
involved would be limited. The G-8 does not have a habit of
publicly criticizing or contradicting its members. Thus, even if
the other member states did not agree with U.S. policies, they
would be unlikely to use the G-8 as a forum for concerted
criticism. If hegemony is “imperialism with good manners,” as Georg
Schwartzenberger has argued, the G-8 would be an ideal place for
the U.S. to show its command of proper etiquette.