The Bottom Line Is, Nobody Won at This Summit

ELIZABETH POND

July 08, 1992|By ELIZABETH POND

MUNICH, GERMANY — Munich, Germany. -- Of all the losers at the economic summit in Munich this week, Japan and Ukraine are the worst off.

Almost everybody is a loser, of course. The leaders of the seven industrialized democracies, Britain's John Major excepted, have never been so unpopular at home. They run listless economies, yet they are too weak to conclude their six-year-long negotiations and make the final concessions on tariffs and non-tariff barriers that could stimulate global trade and growth.

The third world, too, is getting short shrift as the West focuses on the more dramatic misery of the ex-Soviet Union. Russia, for all the attention it gets, is still being denied membership in the Group of Seven economic summit; President Boris Yeltsin is making only a cameo appearance here, like Mikhail Gorbachev last year, to pass the hat. And the Group of Seven itself is proving too flabby an institution to take on any broader responsibility for reordering the post-Cold War world.

Despite all the competition, however, Japan and Ukraine are the biggest losers.

Japan loses because the fading of the Group of Seven as an institution means Tokyo is still shut out of the big boys' club of political movers and shakers. It loses, too, because the other industrialized democracies are not making Western economic aid to Mr. Yeltsin dependent on return to Japan of the four southern Kurile islands Russia seized at the end of World War II.

Prine Minister Kiichi Miyazawa again pointed out this week that major bucks will flow from Tokyo to Moscow only after Russia first gives back the islands. In the present world-wide shortage of capital, with Washington struggling with huge debts of its own and Bonn struggling to finance German unification, this is a persuasive argument.

That sparring is strictly a bilateral game, however, and not one in which the Western powers are reinforcing Japan's position. In its political declaration the Group of Seven urges Moscow to resolve the ''territorial issue'' with Tokyo, but in light of the risk of social explosion in Russia, it is not making the return of the islands a precondition for Western aid.

Indeed, without any proviso about the southern Kuriles, the Group of Seven is blessing immediate release by the International Monetary Fund of the first $1 billion out of $24 billion pledged by the West to help Russian economic reform. And it is passing on to the Paris Club of Russia's creditors a recommendation to reschedule Moscow's debts.

Nor is Japan any closer in other respects to sharing in American-European crisis management in the post-Cold War world. All the Western Group of Seven participants -- the United States, Canada, Germany, Britain, France and Italy -- consult with each other constantly about security and politics in NATO and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Japan alone is absent from this agenda-setting.

The Group of Seven's declaration about ex-Yugoslavia, putting major blame for continued fighting there on the ''Serbian leadership'' and reiterating the Western warning that outside military intervention is not ruled out, was issued in Munich only because this is where the leaders happen to be this week, not because the Group of Seven is evolving a security role.

Western diplomats regularly deplore the absence from world politics of the globe's second largest economy and complain that Tokyo's foreign commitments are limited to ''checkbook diplomacy.'' But so far no one has found a way to include the Japanese politically -- or even to strengthen the Japanese-European leg of triangular relations to equal the intensity of Japanese-American consultations.

The failure to fill this gap on the part of the Group of Seven, the one political institution Tokyo belongs to, is symptomatic.

Things are even worse for Ukraine. It is no economic powerhouse like Japan, of course, but it would like to draw at least as much Western solicitude as Russia does. It has a population and territory equal to France. With its geography and its tradition of an Orthodox church allied to Rome, it is closer to claiming eventual European identity than is Russia.

Ukraine also has a better chance than Russia to succeed in economic reform. It was once the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, and it is more widely industrialized and has a more homogeneous population than Russia.

Moreover, by splitting off from Russia for the first time in 300 years, it has become the West's best guarantee that Russia cannot re-emerge as a threat to Europe in the foreseeable future. And it is only last-minute Ukrainian (and Russian) restraint that brought the two countries to a modus vivendi last week that might prevent their numerous quarrels from escalating to a shooting match that would worry Europe far more than the fighting in ex-Yugoslavia.

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