Summit Conferences - The brokered and economic summits

The summit conference as an instrument of U.S. diplomacy is marvelously exemplified by the Helsinki Conference in July 1975. There, President Gerald Ford and the leaders of some thirty other nations conferred in dignified surroundings and then signed a document that confirmed the political and territorial division of Europe that had occurred thirty years before. Convocation of a summit conference for such a blatantly propagandistic and shallow purpose appears to suggest, as Henry Kissinger wrote after the collapse of the Paris summit in 1960, that this technique, long put forward "as the magic solvent of all tensions," stood revealed as a "parody" of diplomacy. Nevertheless, summit conferences continued in favor, for they do offer political and propaganda benefits to participants. In November 1974, President Ford met with Leonid Brezhnev in Vladivostok to affirm their commitment to arms control, but SALT II was never implemented fully as a treaty. Ford's visit to China in the fall of 1975 was billed a summit conference in order to improve his "image" as a statesman, thus enhancing his chances of reelection. Even though nothing of substance resulted from the trip, the president and his advisers considered the China summit a great success. President Jimmy Carter's triumphal tour of England in the spring of 1977, capped by a friendly but diplomatically insignificant meeting with European leaders in London, was clearly in the same tradition.

The Ford and Carter presidencies did witness the emergence of two new variants of the summit conference: the "economic summit" and the "brokered summit." The economic summit is perhaps best exemplified by the inauguration of an annual meeting of the heads of the seven most powerful economic states (the G-7). These meetings have many of the hallmarks and various defects of bilateral summits, though they have proved useful in highlighting such global problems as drugs, the information society, and energy. Such regional summits as the annual meeting of European Union heads and the so-called "Summit of the Americas" mirror this approach.

The brokered summit may appropriately be considered as a manifestation since the mid-1970s of the uniquely powerful role of the United States in international affairs. Seeking a way out of the quagmire in which Israel and its Middle East neighbors had been trapped for thirty years, a bog that threatened to drag in major powers and cause a global conflict, President Jimmy Carter decided to offer his good offices as a broker-mediator-matchmaker. Following the remarkable visit of the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, to Jerusalem in November 1977, Carter invited Sadat and the Israeli prime minister, Menachim Begin, to Washington for separate discussions about finding a way out of the quagmire. Next, the president arranged a joint meeting with the Egyptian and Israeli leaders at the presidential retreat, Camp David, Maryland. Originally planned as a three-day "meet-and-greet," this brokered summit went on for thirteen days (5–17 September 1978). By shuttling between cabins, soothing wounded feelings, and pushing the two adversaries to keep talking, Carter brokered the Camp David Accords, a framework for peace that, while never completely implemented, remains the basic document in the ongoing process to find a fair and equitable peace in the Middle East.

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