Summit Diplomacy

February 24, 2017 | Author: Nejra Hodžić | Category: N/A
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Advantages and disadvantages...


Advantages and disadvantages of summit diplomacy Nejra Hodžić Course: Diplomacy in Theory and Practice Instructor: Matilde Fruncillo 05 January 2015 Word count: 3050

Table of Contents I. Introduction...............................................................3 II. Advantages of summitry in diplomacy......................4 III. Disadvantages of summitry in diplomacy................7 IV. Conclusion.............................................................10 V. References...............................................................11




In many sciences, summit denotes a highest point that is placed above all the rest. 1 In political science, or more closely in diplomacy, it signifies a meeting of heads of states or heads of international organizations (the highest offices) that can be bilateral or multilateral. Nevertheless, such practice was named “summit” not long ago. In 1950s, at the start of the Cold War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill used it in a speech to describe meetings between global powers. He stated: “It is not easy to see how things could be worsened by a parley at the summit (Churchill, 1950)”, giving them positive connotations. However, the essential practice of summitry dates back to Bronze Age and spreads to late Middle Ages until it hits a recession due to growth of resident missions and lack of rulers’ volition to take over pejorative diplomatic tasks of that time (Berridge, 2010). Modern summitry is characterized by high media coverage, propaganda value, broader agenda, heavy preparations, information gathering and agreement upon time and venue.2 It is also practiced very often and according to many commentators it has reached its peak. The reasons for such developments most likely lie in the wholesome revolution in information gathering and transport acceleration. Yet, this increase in quantity has opened a very important question in the diplomacy-related studies and political science in general. The problem stems from the fact that summits are becoming increasingly unproductive, purposeless and unqualitative. On the other hand, they allow a forum for exchange of political views, negotiation and creation of personal ties. One of the scholars who analysed the issues of modern summitry is Jan Melissen – expert in Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs working for Clingendael.3 His article “Summit Diplomacy coming of age” offers a profound analysis of the issue arguing that summitry is a controversial but inevitable evolution in modern diplomatic practice. Based on this article, it is interesting to segregate advantages and disadvantages of summit diplomacy and offer an ultimate account of what its 1 For example - in Mathematics, summit is the maximum either in functions or in the coordinate system, whereas in Geography it stands for the highest altitude or apex. 2 Similar to negotiations, summits require consent from all parties on time and venue in order to be made. The usual obstacles that need to be taken into account are the potential risks and dangers for persons attending. 3 Netherlands Institute of International Relations. 3

value might be in the end. This paper will critically analyse positive and negative sides of summitry and conclude by evaluating both in order to set the idea of the worth summit carries for modern diplomacy.



Advantages of summitry in diplomacy

There are many different types and forms a summit may take. This makes it very difficult to create significant generalizations when evaluating high-level meetings. Some summits are better suited for negotiations while the others are more useful for generating policies. Nevertheless, Melissen attempts to create a broader framework under which advantages and disadvantages can be applicable to the essence of the issue. The first and most obvious benefit of a summit in modern diplomacy is its allencompassing nature. The global context, which has significantly changed since the Cold War, includes not only a multipolar world but an expanding array of common issues that call for common policy solutions. According to Melissen “a changing societal setting in which summitry takes place is no less important” because it would be extremely difficult to arrange policies that need to be implemented globally without a meeting including all relevant heads of states (2004). Summit offers a valuable instrument for generating broad-reaching ideas and agendas regarding environmental protection, international crime, disease combat, migration and poverty. For example, Clime Summit 2014 organized by the UN gathered more than 100 heads of state, business and civil society leaders for the first time in last five years in order to „catalyze ambitious climate action on the ground (CAN International, 2014).“ Similarly, Melissen marks another modern phenomenon that influenced summitry and is deeply connected to the nature of democratic societies worldwide. He calls it “polylateral international society” where both government actors and non-state actors play important roles and civil society gets closer to the foreign policy-making (2004). Often, NGOs such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch “have staged sophisticated international campaigns and are now widely recognized as political and diplomatic players in their own areas of competence (ibid).” Summits are some of the most useful mechanisms to combine the involvement of modern democratic societies and pressing global changes into the creation of foreign policies. Furthermore, summits carry importance for the negotiation process. They can be used for pre-negotiation function, to keep the momentum going or to accelerate specialists’ talks. For example, Camp David Summit of 2000 gathered USA President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat to negotiate the end to IsraeliPalestinian conflict (Shyovitz, n.d.). Morgenthau explains the relationship between summitry 5

and negotiation: “As instruments for the negotiated settlement of outstanding issues, summit meetings are a supplement to ordinary diplomatic procedures — they are functionally connected with those procedures. They follow ordinary diplomatic negotiations as they are followed by them, each laying the groundwork for the other (Melissen, 2004).” Some summits lead to important changes or an advance in the negotiation process, but this is not exclusively the case. Analytics usually do not criticize the institution of summitry for such developments, but rather the deeply confronted parties. Summits are merely useful instruments through which negotiations may be conducted and are advantageous in this sense. According to Melissen “The typical summit communique is a masterpiece in the art of compromise, with a degree of ambiguity so as to leave room for manoeuvre for follow-up talks or the leaders' post-summit confrontation with their domestic constituency (2004).” He further specifies that serial summits are mostly beneficial for negotiations since they drive the policy process forwards and allow for complicated package deals to be accepted on the multilateral level through broadening agenda and offering more time for preparation of the heads of states. In this regard, the serial summits enable state representatives to communicate constantly and reach a solution. Additionally, there is less public pressure since summits happen frequently and become a routine (Caramerli, 2012). When used wisely and under favourable circumstances, summits may create a great impetus for the negotiation process. Next, summits can be beneficial for other diplomatic relations and tasks. Melissen argues that it is exactly summitry’s flexibility and educational value that helps heads of states to learn about international issues, meet their peers or counterparts and use the occasion to make personal impact. Summit dialogue has “distinct diplomatic functions” in the sense that it joins first-hand sources and persons in need of it. Similarly, a response towards a certain idea or intention may be recorded instantly and further moves may be developed accordingly. The personal factor is no less important for diplomatic value of summits. “The men and women in the highest circles of international politics are people readers rather than paper readers, and therefore place more faith in their own direct personal impressions than in more traditional, written forms of diplomatic communication (2004).” For instance, USA President Reagan met in Geneva in 1983 with SU President Gorbachev in an attempt to end the Cold War and bipolar competition (ibid); after the summit had been successful, he wrote down how advantageous the personal contact between leaders can be. Melissen explains this through a phenomenon called “loneliness at the top” whereby leaders exchange their experiences gathered while working in the office that no other position might generate. In this manner, they create personal bond and ease the diplomatic atmosphere. Sometimes, summits may be 6

used as opportunities to “fly a kite” or offer an idea and see what the responses are (ibid). Also, high-level meetings are diplomatically valuable for private consultation and avoiding numerous bureaucratic procedures. When all of these factors are considered, the summits may offer qualitative forum for diplomatic tasks of information gathering, building personal relationships and testing the waters. Finally, summits have immense symbolic and propaganda value. They create a sentiment among the public that important matters are being settled down and that their leaders are performing a good job. With the onset of globalization and proliferation of mass media summits receive exceptional amounts of attention and coverage. This aura of extreme importance that surrounds summits can be used by leaders to advertise themselves (Melissen, 2004). People from other countries may embody the image of other countries through the leaders they hear or read about in the news from the summits. In this way, leaders become symbols of their countries and if they perform well, their country receives positive publicity. From this point of view, the summits are very important since it is hard to change the image of a group of people, particularly when each nation has its stereotypes about other nations (Caramerli, 2012). Overall, this symbolic and propaganda value was more obvious during the Cold War4 but it still has its share in the overall influence of summitry in diplomacy.

4 During the Cold War, summits were frequent attempts to reconcile the two superpowers and public increasingly saw them as expressions of dominance by one side or the other. This symbolism only reflected the competitive nature of the Cold War and carried a lot of propaganda value. 7


Disadvantages of summitry in diplomacy

Summits have also been criticized for several reasons. The first critique ever recorded dealt with the tendency of heads of states to rob the jobs of professional diplomats. In fifteenth century, French writer and diplomat Philippe de Commines recommended princes to “refrain from meeting their counterparts and leave the art of international negotiation to skilled and well-prepared envoys (Melissen, 2004).” Similarly, Francois de Callieres noted in eighteenth century that “it is an important task of diplomats to ensure that the passions of their political masters do not prevail over their interests (ibid).” Even from early times, the competence of heads of states for purely diplomatic tasks has been questioned. Usually, their involvement is justified through their egoistic need to be omnipresent and show off in the media. Their lack of skill may often lead to breakage of serious negotiations, lost of momentum or bad decisions. Melissen names summits “addictive drugs” that became an inseparable notion from a leader figure (ibid). The deeper problem lies in the fact that even though it is impossible to send a foreign minister or any other lower officer to a summit, everything is fully organized and prepared by foreign ministry and diplomatic envoys. “The visibility of the leaders at summits camouflages the extent to which they increasingly tend to rely on professional diplomats and other experts, and ergo the increasing influence of these professionals on summit outcomes (ibid).” Head of state is neither trained nor experienced in dealing with different diplomatic mechanisms – they can often make wrong choices, be illprepared for debates and compromise with big concessions (Weilemann, 2000). In the bottom line, it is not their field of expertise and without the knowledge of diplomats from behind the scene the summits would not be possible. Yet, they receive little if any attention in the whole process. Moreover, the heads of states may shift their attention from important domestic issues in order to satisfy a desire for summit advertisement. Today, summits are more or less a monthly practice and consume a fair share of leader’s political engagement. Domestic business is often a sacrifice made in front of more weighty international affairs. Melissen explains that “summitry breeds summitry” because the world has changed rapidly since the 1980s and many interconnected issues call for high-level meetings. This overwhelming of summitry influenced heads of states not to be willing to sacrifice their image and miss a summit. More specifically, it is only a huge domestic emergency that would justify the cancelation of the meeting. Consequently, domestic political scene is imminently impacted by such practices. 8

For example, Margaret Thatcher and Richard Nixon lost their critical political support due to their absence at home (ibid). Therefore, this negative aspect of summitry may prove decisive when presidents are seeking re-election at home if they shifted most of their attention to foreign affairs and little to control and influence the domestic arena. Another important disadvantage of summitry is the deceptive side of personal contact that often creates an illusion of intimacy and mutual apprehension. Particularly when the leaders come from largely different cultures, issues in several fields may occur and cause more damage than benefit. George Ball criticizes summits by stating: “When leaders have disparate backgrounds, customs and languages and, in many cases, ethical attitudes and ideologies, summitry' is more likely to produce mistaken and misleading impressions than a clear meeting of mind (1976).” For example, a democratic leader from Western Europe might meet with a totalitarian leader from Central Africa, which was historically colonized by the Europeans, and attempt to build diplomatic relationship while the other side feels vast resentment and injustice. Also, this discrepancy is often seen in the meetings of General Assembly of the United Nations where the leaders of developing world continue to ask for equality and the developed world keeps their interests as primary goals of the agenda. Melissen attributes the misunderstandings and misconceptions to differing negotiating styles or simply language differences. He uses the example of a meeting between French and British Prime Ministers, de Gaulle and Macmillan, where the latter relied on his own knowledge of French and caused de Gaulle to veto British application for the EEC membership (2004). When international organizations are included in the formula, the affairs get even more complicated because some IOs use summits only to raise their public profile and do not serve the purpose of negotiations (ibid). Such summits carry the risk of accentuating differences among members and reflect the actual tenuity of the organiser. Therefore, summitry may have a contrary effect to diplomatic purpose5 when the factors of personality and differences are taken into account. Last, but not any least significant disadvantage is the resource exhaustion. Rapid increase of summits and a financial recession created a huge problem for the foreign ministries and diplomats in charge of summit organization. Similar effect was observed for the international organizations also going through budgetary cuts. Melissen focuses on the human resources as 5 Diplomatic purpose can be understood as a peaceful solution of an issue. However, differences among leaders and their misunderstandings may often produce resentment or affecftionate decisions which influence the whole diplomatic relationship badly. 9

well. He explains how serial summitry is a demanding experience that “requires formidable backup from the Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister's office and, depending on the subject matter, also from sectoral government departments (Melissen, 2004).” Furthermore, some organizational procedures may be a part of routine and a matter of technicality but there is always a risk of an unpredicted change in the agenda or surprising developments in global scene. When resources are limited, it is with great difficulty that summits continue towards the end. Another aggravating circumstance is the multilateral summitry with hundreds of demands and interests to be considered in the preparation so that everything during the summit goes smoothly. Not rarely, diplomats and other experts need to fit all this in a dense schedule making it almost impossible for anything productive to be spawned. For example, the European Union enlargement of 2004 created vast troubles for the organizers of European summits to come since numerous new members had to be accurately represented and considered. On the other hand, there is a question of summits’ financial side. It is needless to say that skyrocketing prices of modern summitry generate not only a huge part of resource exhaustion but together constitute a serious disadvantage and inconvenience (particularly when the summit is unsuccessful). Public dissatisfaction due to these reasons is growing as their consciousness is rising. According to Berridge the cost of G8 summit in 2002 cost Canadian government at least £140 million and the same summit in 2008 was financed by £238 million from the Japanese government (2010). Ultimately, the price of the summitry may be too high for its actual benefits peculiarly when all the pressing world issues are gaping unresolved.




Jan Melissen believes that the disadvantages that are currently over poising the benefits may be resolved through greater cooperation between high-level and low-level politics as well as incorporation of civil society needs. He states that current developments do not account to crisis of summitry, but simply it’s maturing. Perhaps this is an inevitable step in the evolution of such diplomatic mechanism that needs to adapt to an increasingly globalized surrounding that is not always democratic. Through the analysis offered in this paper, advantages such as broadening agenda, negotiation, diplomatic, symbolic and propaganda value may constitute a valuable rival for the disadvantages of lack of professionalism, prevalence of foreign over the domestic, resources exhaustion and personal differences or biases. This is simply because the summitry remains partially effective on the international scene and although not yet completely shaped and equipped it is moving along the currents of maturing. If the global circumstances change in favour of more diplomatic and less interest-driven agendas, summitry will be an inherently important and increasingly effective tool for diplomacy.




Berridge, G., R., 2010. Diplomacy: Theory and Practice. Palgrave Macmillan: Hampshire. Caramerli, A., 2012. Summitry Diplomacy: Positive and Negative Aspects. Relationes Internationales. Vol 5, No. 1/2012 [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 05 January 2015]. George W. Ball, Diplomacy for a Crowded World, Bodley Head (London), 1976, p. 32. John W. Young, Winston Churchill's Last Campaign: Britain and the Cold War 1951-5, Clarendon Press (Oxford), 1996, pp. 1, 28-33 and 331. Melissen, J., 2004. Summit Diplomacy Coming of Age. Clingendael: Netherlands. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 05 January 2015]. September 2014: Climate Summit and Global Mobilisation | CAN International. 2015. September 2014: Climate Summit and Global Mobilisation | CAN International. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 05 January 2015]. Shoyowitz, D., n.d. Background & Overview of 2000 Camp David Summit | Jewish Virtual Library. 2015. Background & Overview of 2000 Camp David Summit | Jewish Virtual Library. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 05 January 2015]. Weilemann, P. R., 2000. The Summit Meeting: The Role and Agenda of Diplomacy at its Highest Level. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 05 January 2015].


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