Clinton and the Six Dwarfs

March 13, 1993

Of all the leaders of the seven largest industrial democracies, President Clinton is the only one who is politically secure at home. The rest are in such deep trouble that their ability to contribute to world stability is seriously at risk. The Group of Seven, once a proud organization capable of dealing with global economic problems, is on a losing streak of four years of failure in world trade reform and three years of fumbling on aid to Russia.

Look at the sorry lineup: France's Francois Mitterrand, facing a setback for his Socialist Party in parliamentary elections later this month; Germany's Helmut Kohl, on the defensive before an extremist right-wing surge; Britain's John Major, sinking in opinion polls as his nation's economy sinks; Japan's Kiichi Miyazawa, beset by horrific scandals in his Liberal Democratic Party; Italy's Giuliano Amato, leader of a four-party coalition teetering from its connection to mob-associated corruption; Canada's Brian Mulroney, already on his way out in a bid to save his Conservative Party.

These are the men with whom Mr. Clinton is supposed to make common cause when the next G-7 summit convenes in Tokyo next July, or earlier if the president's increasing alarm about Russia's deterioration leads to a quick get-together. Though he came to office as a candidate focused like a laser on U.S. domestic concerns, the president is quickly discovering what it means to be in charge of the world's only remaining superpower. Not only does the sheer weight of the U.S. economy make him preeminent; his recent election to a solid four-year term puts him in a class apart.

The short-term crisis facing Mr. Clinton is closely linked to Russian President Boris Yeltsin's increasingly tenuous hold on power. Last summer, after Mr. Yeltsin grabbed the G-7 summit spotlight as a less-than-welcome guest, he got a grudging $24 billion bailout for the foundering Russian economy. So far, however, all he has secured is $10 billion in short-term bank notes, $3 billion of which are already due and unpayable.

Mr. Clinton needs to get a fast re-scheduling of the Russian debt and to steer aid toward real investments rather than toward statist dinosaurs or the Russian mafia. With Yugoslavia in flames, neo-Nazis feeling their oats, inflation and unemployment stalking Europe, popular disgust with politics on the rise, protectionism rampant, Japan increasingly isolated and xenophobic, it is no wonder Europe is reminded of the Twenties and Thirties.

The longer-range crisis for Mr. Clinton stems from six years of stalemate in negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. In 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992 -- all George Bush summits -- G-7 participants solemnly put their personal prestige on the line for a GATT agreement. And four times they failed to deliver.

President Clinton's task is to revive G-7 and provide the leadership other member nations cannot. He must bring to world affairs a vigor comparable to his initiatives on the domestic front.

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