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Hidden Summits

June 16, 1995



Swarms of media.

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That's what the Seven Pillars of the industrial world get when they hold their annual summits. And you, dear readers, listeners, and viewers, are swamped with carefully choreographed briefings, communiques, and group photos.

At what the Canadian hosts call a "Chevrolet summit" it will be a natural for commentators to note whether President Clinton smiled after he talked with Prime Minister Murayama, and what that might mean for American Lexus shoppers and Japanese replacing mufflers.

That's a serious subject. But it won't be solved in Halifax. Neither leader wants to back down in sight of wall-to-wall media.

Nor will the seven produce a concrete plan to halt the Bosnian war. And their centerpiece subjects - preventing Mexico-style currency crises and tightening nuclear-weapon leakage - will at most result in blueprints to help the International Monetary Fund and the International Atomic Energy Agency snoop around the world to detect shaky treasuries and shady plutonium buyers.

These observations are not meant to be cynical. The annual summits do sometimes launch ideas that may eventually prove useful.

We'd like to propose such an idea for the seven to ponder when they get home. It involves creating the opposite type of summits: no hoopla meetings of G-7 science advisers.

Economic advisers get together. Science advisers rarely do. In fact some nations' leaders don't even have science advisers. And the rest aren't as likely to listen to theirs as they are to their national security and economic advisers. That's a serious omission. Look at the world problems that would benefit from dispassionate scientific analysis and proposed solutions: atmospheric and ocean pollution, nuclear waste disposal, communications, space programs, and research of many kinds.

Science advisers could meet quietly and seriously. They generally aren't driven by publicity needs, as politicians are.

If they could agree on facts and possible solutions, and then brief their bosses back home, more intelligent, coordinated action could be taken on global problems that tend to be put off for later - or too late.

Who knows? - with such quiet summits there might even be enough hotel rooms for everyone.