First meeting for the 'board of directors'
This weekend the political leaders of seven major industrial democraceis head for their annual summit meeting, this time in Ottawa. There are four "new boys" among them; the heads of government of the United States, France, Italy, and Japan. The interest of all will be keenest about "new boy" Ronald Reagan of the United States.
Four of the others have already met and talked with Mr. Reagan; West Germany's Helmut Schmidt, Britain's Margaret Thatcher, Canada's Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and Japan's Zenko Suzuki. But those earlir meetings were more social than professional. They were "get acquainted" sessions, not the occasions for tackling major affairs of the grand alliance.
This year's summit in Ottawa from July 19 to 21 is big league and serious. Mr. Reagan goes to it with one advantage over his predecessor. Those who have met him like him personally and find it pleasant to deal with him.
This will help Mr. Reagan in what is mostly an uphill effort to persuade the other leaders of the industrial democracies to see their mutual problems more from the Washington point of view. But is not going to be enough to obtain from this "board of directors" of the alliance anything like a united position on Mr. Reagan's most important projects.
One difficult question before the meeting is the amount of help the American President can get from other members of the group toward safeguarding the access of all of them to the oil of Arabia. The others, particularly Japan and French and the Germans, depend more on that oil than does the United States. But small naval and air units from britain and France are about all the actual military support that the others think they can provide.
Nor will Mr. Reagan find sympathy at Ottawa for his administration's anti-Soviet posture. Much as the others may hope for firm barriers around Soviet power, they do not believe in rhetorical bear-baiting.
One economic matters Mr. Reagan will discover, if he does not yet realize it, that the others are unhappy about his economic program. The program is a good thing in Mr. Reagan's homeland. The US public generally gives him high marks for checking the inflation and raising the value of the dollar.
But the high interest rates that are part of the Reagan policy at home have added to inflation for the others. The oil they buy costs more, since oil is marketed in dollars. And high Us interest rates are sucking their funds into American investments rather than allowing those funds to work at home for higher productivity.
One advantage of Mr. Reagan is that France's new President, Francois Mitterrand, agrees with him that the West should build military strength before negotiating with Moscow and wants no part of Valery Giscard d'Estaing's idea of trying to play a middleman role between Moscow and Washington.
Italy's new prime minister, Giovanni Spadolini, seems not to be troubled by the new trend noticeable in northern Europe toward neutralism. However, the Italians join most of their neighbors in Europe in wanting Mr. Reagan to begin negotiaating with Moscow just as soon as possible.
All particularly want Mr. Reagan to get on almost at once with negotiating with Moscow for a new SALT II. None of them is willing to join Mr. Reagan in proposing major military increases in their own budgets. The Japanese are especially sensitive to any suggestion that they should increase their defenses. There is a tide in favor of nuclear disarmament developing in West Germany and also in Britain.
One subject will find the seven at Ottawa thinking alike. They all want a politically safe way out of inflation. But none knows what the way is. The fact that Mr. Reagan is making progress by the way is. The fact that Mr. Reagan is making progress by a tight money policy does not arouse their enthusiasm because his policy has been accompanied by a rise in unemployment.
Rioting in Britain over the past week is a grim warning to the others of the danger of trying to check inflation by tight money and unemployment. Mrs. Thatcher preached it, although she did not practice it as much as Mr. Reagan has. She is now in deep political trouble for having been willing to accept high unemployment.
One consolation to those at Ottawa is that countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain are having even less success with their economic policies than they are. Stagnation is the rule in most of the communist countries. Worse than stagnation lies behind Poland's problem. Economic folly in Poland has virtually bankrupted the country. Food lines grow longer by the day. Meat has almost disappeared from the shops. Even if Moscow keeps its hands off, the new political freedom Poles have won for themselves at home may well be ruined by a disastrous economic breakdown.
The interesting fact is that on both sides of the Iron Curtain the governments of today are finding it difficult to meet the expectation of modern man that his government will provide him with a rising standard of living. In what countries today is the standard of living act ually going up?