The leaders of the largest industrialized democracies will meet tomorrow in a highly symbolic setting where those absent will weigh heavily.
The Group of Seven is made up of the United States, Germany, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada and — besides — the European Union.
For almost 50 years, the members of this select club have met annually to coordinate their policies on the economy, security, energy and the environment.
This year, the holding of the summit in Hiroshima brings to the fore the concern about the nuclear threat which hangs over the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, but also the challenge posed by the rise of China.
A disputed forum
The G7 no longer has the overall weight it once had. First, the group excludes emerging powers. Russia was part of it from 1998 to 2014, but was excluded following the annexation of Crimea.
The influence of the G7 has also faded as the overall economic weight of its members fell from two-thirds of world GDP in the 1990s to less than 45% today.
This year, to complicate matters, participants face internal pressures almost as serious as the international challenges of the day.
An imposing agenda
At the summit, all eyes will be on Asia and on the main long-term challenge facing major industrialized democracies: the rise of a China led with an iron fist by Xi Jinping, who wishes to redefine the rules of the global economy to its advantage.
However, it will likely be the immediate challenges posed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ever-present nuclear threat that will dominate the talks. On the sanctions side, the members of the G7 were able to coordinate their efforts quite well, but their political weight was not enough to extend the application of the sanctions to the rest of the world.
With regard to support for Ukraine, the G7 is demonstrating quite remarkable cohesion, but the level of aid is far from the expectations of the Ukrainian forces. How can these expectations be met without triggering a nuclear response? That’s the question.
The elephants in the room
As we gather for the family photo near the ruins of the first atomic attack, it will be impossible to ignore the risk that the conflict in Ukraine will become an excuse for Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons.
This challenge would already be incredibly difficult if the leaders enjoyed the unconditional support of their fellow citizens, but this is far from being the case. In France, Emmanuel Macron is contested from all sides. Across the Channel, his British counterpart Rishi Sunak is on an ejection seat.
Above all, it is the internal pressures on Joe Biden that will command attention. The president will even have to cut his stay short to return to negotiate with a Republican leadership powerless to contain the Trumpist far right which now constitutes the center of gravity of their party.
For the G7, which depends primarily on American leadership, the possibility of the return of Trump, who declared last week that a default by the United States would not pose serious problems, is as worrying as the other existential problems which we will discuss in Hiroshima. Nice weekend in perspective.