Summit Conferences - Richard nixon

All the elements of the modern-day summit conference were present in Nixon's personal diplomacy: the secret preparations; the dramatic announcement of the intended journey to Peking, Moscow, and Guam; the elaborate ceremonies and effusions of mutual regard; and the vague final communiqué. Whether Nixon's assorted trips abroad were "true" summit conferences or merely formal state visits, one leader journeying to another country to exclaim over scenic wonders, consume regional delicacies, acquire souvenirs, and proclaim admiration for the host nation's achievements, is open to question. The significant initiatives pursued by Nixon and his national security adviser Henry A. Kissinger to readjust U.S. foreign policy to the political and economic implications of a multipolar world owed little to Nixon's engagement with summitry. It may be that Nixon desired to use these affairs to achieve real breakthroughs. He certainly prepared for "conferences" rather than for ceremonial visits to the Great Wall of China and the Bolshoi Ballet. If that was the case, Nixon was disappointed, for his interventions in diplomacy followed the pattern established two decades earlier, and their effects were decidedly greater at home than abroad. Nixon, of course, emphasized the domestic political effects of a summit conference. Talking with Kissinger about his 1972 summit with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, Nixon urged that no "final agreements be entered into" prior to his arrival in Moscow, for otherwise his critics "will try to make it appear that all of this could have been achieved without any summitry whatever."

Perhaps these frantic efforts proved unsuccessful because the usefulness of summit conferences now had been exhausted. Keith Eubank wrote: "Summit conferences ought not to be used as an antibiotic, believing that frequent doses will cure the patient. The summit conference can never be a quick cheap cure for international ills whose treatment requires time, labor, and thought." At some point, publicity stunts and presidential globe-trotting must give way to deliberate, serious analysis and negotiation. But diverting the public's attention may have been the point. Was it accidental that President Nixon visited ten countries and spent twenty-two days abroad during the eight months prior to his resignation on 9 August 1974?

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