G8 and Security

17 June 2005


G8 and Security
Tom Blickman
TNI Website, 17 June 2005

The United States and to a lesser extent the European Union are trying to force international institutions as well as less powerful nations to adopt a wide variety of policies that invade on civil liberties and privacy of its citizens as part of the so-called "war on terror." This challenge is what has been dubbed "policy laundering" - the use of foreign and international forums as an indirect means of pushing policies that might never win direct approval through the regular domestic political process. (1) In a rapidly globalizing world, this technique is increasingly becoming a central means by which the US (and other nations) seek to overcome civil liberties objections to privacy-invading policies.

A classic case of "policy-laundering" are the plans, that started in G8 and which are now being pushed in the EU by the US and the UK, to bring in preparatory "terrorist" offences, to give a free rein for intrusive investigative techniques and allow "intelligence information" in to be used in court while protecting the sources. (2) This includes the use of 'special investigative techniques' including phone tapping, bugging of premises, the use of informers, undercover agents and bribes for information, with results being made available to agencies across the EU and outside it. Intelligence information - surveillance 'products' from more then a dozen sources including from outside the EU - will be presented as 'evidence' in court while protecting the sources. And 'preparatory offences' intended to criminalise people prior to a terrorist act being committed may be introduced.

The G8 is one of the main vehicles through which "policy laundering" takes place. Originally created to coordinate global economic policies by the major powers of the industrialized world, the G8 is increasingly used to harmonize international policies on drugs, money laundering, transnational organized crime and terrorism, while it fails to address major problems concerning the world economy - for instance, the possible disastrous impact of the US war debt and deficit on the US balance of payment on the global economy.

Global Enforcement Regime

Over the last two decades, the international community - often under the aegis of the G8 - has set up a global enforcement regime to counter the alleged proliferation of transnational organised crime, political terrorism and money laundering. More recently, especially since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the "criminal underworld" is increasingly merged with that of political terrorism and constructed into one underground "axis of evil" of drug trafficking, transnational organised crime and international terrorism that is a major global security threat.

A new Washington consensus on how to fight this underground "axis of evil" seems to be emerging, that is dominated by a US national security agenda, which is extending into a global one. No one doubts that international cooperation is needed to address global security issues, but there is serious doubt on the effectiveness of the current construction of a global enforcement regime, as well as worries about the predominant role of the US in setting the agenda. The US is able to force its agenda on the international community through its unparalleled resources and diplomatic strength both at the multilateral and bilateral level.

The wide array of multilateral agreements, conventions, rules and regulations on drugs, crime, money laundering and terrorism amount to a modern day version of the "software of empire" - complementing the hardware of military intervention, economic sanctions etc. However, there are hardly any mechanisms in place to evaluate their effectiveness or adverse effects for human rights and civil liberties. The emphasis is on coercive and law enforcement measures and not on addressing the underlying root causes, which would force the dominating powers to scrutinize the current socio-economic and political world order, and redefine national security interests into a truly international one.

Increasingly, these multilateral agreements are reached at inter-governmental level (such as the UN, G8, the EU) and presented as a fait accompli before national parliaments that are pressured to ratify them. No government wants to be labelled as an outcast because a national parliament refuses to ratify these international agreements that are the result of complicated diplomatic bargaining and an alleged international consensus. At the level of the European Union a similar process is taking place in order to harmonize is security area.

The problem is not that there is a consensus that transnational security problems should be addressed on a transnational level. The problem is who is setting the agenda on how these transnational security policies are shaped. The US seems to be primarily concerned with safeguarding US national security at an international level instead of addressing global security needs, despite its rhetoric to the contrary.

The G8 Security Mechanism

The G8 is more than just a series of summit meetings. Over the years a full-fledged programme of political coordination has grown up around this annual event. Although the G8 is no more than an informal grouping, which can only create obligations for its members, nonetheless, its intention is to raise issues, which can then be taken further by the eight member states using other multilateral instruments. The G7 (Russia joined in 1997) pushed for measures against money laundering and was instrumental in setting up the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 1989 - that was hosted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The G8 called for negotiations that led to the 12th United Nations Counter-Terrorism Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Financing. Following the 9/11 attacks, the G7 Finance ministers issued an action plan to fight terrorist financing, directing the FATF to design measures.

The G8 mandates groups of experts on an ad-hoc basis to research topics, such as the international fight against organized crime and terrorism. The key G8 working groups are the Roma Group (set up in 1978 and comprised of intelligence and internal security officials, known as the Counter Terrorism Experts Group); the Lyon Group (law enforcement officials dealing with organised crime set up in June 1996); and the judicial cooperation group (there are others on issues like immigration). Terrorism was the first political issue to be addressed in the context of the G7 (Russia joined in 1997). The Roma Group prepared 25 measures to address new terrorist threats, which were adopted in Paris in 1996.

In 1995, the G8 appointed a Senior Experts Group to review and assess international agreements and mechanisms to fight organized crime. This G8 Senior Experts Group on Transnational Organized Crime drew up a catalogue of 40 operative recommendations, which were approved at the G8 summit in Lyon in 1996. The summit also gave the group of experts - known since then as the Lyon Group - an open-ended mandate to implement the 40 recommendations in the G8 states and where possible throughout the world. The Roma and Lyon Groups developed into a permanent multi-disciplinary bodies with numerous specialized sub-working groups, which are involved in preparing the G8 conferences for justice and interior ministers, reporting to the G8 summit from which they receive new tasks.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, senior representative of G8 Justice and Home Affairs Ministries met in Rome in October 2001 to discuss steps for the G8 to take to combat international terrorism and decided to combine the G8's Lyon Group (fighting international crime) and the G8's Roma Group (fighting international terrorism). In 2002, the Roma Group Counter-Terrorism Experts Group 25 Measures to address new terrorist threats as well as the 40 Recommendations of the Lyon Group were updated, with a view to paying more heed to links between organized crime and terrorism. The work of the RomaLyon Group has an impact beyond the G8 states. It works successfully to pass on its findings in the form of best practice guides and includes other countries in its work. The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its three supplementary protocols are the result of the Lyon Group's initiative.

The G8 Justice and Interior ministers' meeting in Canada in May 2002 discussed issues such as surveillance and other investigative techniques, and endorsed Recommendations on Transnational Crime and Terrorism. A major concern for the US was how to share intelligence relating to terrorism while at the same time protecting its sources. In many countries judicial authorisations are necessary in order to implement certain investigative techniques, and these were perceived as 'obstacles'. One contentious issue has been that of a questionnaire sent out first to G8 members under the US presidency of the group in January 2004. After all members had completed the questionnaire, a series of Recommendations followed with regard to special investigative techniques, one of which urged that even if a certain technique would not be available to the requesting state, this 'should not per se bar the use of evidence so acquired in the requesting State's courts'.

The G8 security recommendations are introduced through its EU member states at the EU level to harmonize the European security area. Consequently, the US has a remarkable weight on EU security policies in comparison to EU member states that are not part of the G8. At the EU level a similar structure - the G5 - has been set up to lead policy making on security issues. The G5 consists of the Interior Ministers of the five largest EU countries - France, Italy, Spain, Germany and UK - and was set up after the March 2003 bombings in Madrid. (3) The group intends to give impetus to EU work on illegal immigration, border security and counter-terrorism. G5 meetings are informal. The decisions taken by the forum are not legally binding but nonetheless serve as a yardstick for EU states in general. G5 is not subject to any form of accountability or public or democratic scrutiny and appears to be having a growing role in driving the EU Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) agenda.


The G8 presents its measures and policies as the answer to global security threats. However, there are alternative concepts that realign the focus of 'security' from enforcement, repression and national security towards an agenda that looks to root causes and social solutions and puts more emphasis on good governance, social and economic development and human rights. One viable alternative is the "human security" concept.

The 1994 Human Development Report began an exploration of the new concept of "human security". Definitions on what human security exactly means, differ. It certainly does not exclude law enforcement and international action against crime and terrorism. However, it pretends to take into account much more the root causes that foster crime and political terrorism, such as poverty, inequality and social exclusion. The power of the human security concept is most clearly evident when it is contrasted with the traditional concept of national security. In the human security approach, the welfare of human beings around the world is the object of concern rather than military and strategic interests of a particular state. The defence of human life is more important than the defence of land, and personal integrity is as important as territorial integrity.

Human security is, as the UN Development Program (UNDP) notes, an "integrative" as opposed to merely a "defensive" concept, and includes security of individuals and communities as well as territories and states. Criticasters of the concept, however, point to the fact that it denies long-established principles of state sovereignty, and may well encourage unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of other states, issuing "a blank cheque for virtually limitless UN interventionism". (4) Clearly, the concept needs to be elaborated better.

The Canadian government has become one of the champions of the human security concept. Canada, along with Norway, sought to foster wider interest and commitment to human security by creating the Human Security Network, which currently has thirteen member states (Austria, Canada, Chile, Greece, Ireland, Jordan, Mali, The Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Switzerland and Thailand). However, a change in Foreign Affairs Ministers, plus September 11 has served to revert the Canadian 'security' focus from 'human security' (with the responses appropriate to human security) to 'national security' (with the traditional national security responses).

The Canadian Government position shifted even while the words 'human security' are still being used. The major threats to human security had become terrorism, drug trafficking and the illicit trade in small arms. Human security priorities are now defined much the same as national security priorities. What is lost is the 'original' concern for root causes. In addition, there is little appreciation that a national security focus might actually be in direct contrast with human security interests.

At the UN level the concept of human security is promoted by the Advisory Board on Human Security (ABHS) that has succeeded the Commission on Human Security - a group of personalities that presented their Final Report, Human Security Now, to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in May 2003. The Commission was established in January 2001 through the initiative of Japan and in response to the UN Secretary-General's call at the 2000 Millennium Summit for a world "free of want" and "free of fear." The ABHS has no formal status within the UN system, but advises the UN Secretary General. (5)

It is clear that he proponents of the human security concept have much less leverage within the informal and formal international institutions that deal with security issues. Not only the concepts needs to be improved, but it needs to be embedded in the international security arena as well.


1. The concept of "policy laundering" was introduced by the civil liberty organisations Statewatch and Privacy International in the UK, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the US. See The Policy Laundering Project website at: www.policylaundering.org/
2. For information how the process of "policy laundering" is taking place, see: paper The Exceptional and Draconian Become the Norm. The Emerging Counter-terrorism Regime [PDF document], by Tony Bunyan of Statewatch.
3. Note that apart from Spain the other G5 members are the European members of the G8.
4. See: Walter Dorn, Human Security: An Overview, at www.rmc.ca/academic/ gradrech/dorn24_e.html
5. See the UN Human Security website at www.humansecurity-chs.org/