Summitry as intercultural communication

In one of his last essays before his premature death in 1972, Martin Wight described international conferences as ‘the set pieces punctuating the history of the European states-system, moments of maximum communication’.
Resource type
Author
Year
File
Academic papers
David Reynolds
2009

Here is one of those numerous epigrammatic phrases that give his writings their enduring power. Wight did not discuss summit conferences per se, but I want to take this phrase ‘moments of maximum communication’ as my text for the reflections that follow, because I think it takes us to the heart of summit diplomacy—both its opportunities and its dangers. The term ‘summit’ was coined by Winston Churchill, a wordsmith as well as a practitioner of international relations, who also popularized the terms ‘special relationship’ and ‘iron curtain’ which, like ‘summits’, have become features of modern diplomatic discourse. In February 1950, in the depths of the Cold War, Churchill suggested that nothing would be lost by what he called ‘a parley at the summit’ and in May 1953 he repeated his call for ‘a conference at the highest level’, appealing for a will to peace ‘at the summit of the nations’. The meeting of the leaders of the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France at Geneva in July 1955 was billed as a ‘summit’ by the media and thereafter the term became commonplace, applied to face-to-face encounters from Richard Nixon’s visits to Beijing and Moscow in 1972 to plenary meetings such as the November 2008 G20 conclave of world leaders to discuss the global economic crisis. Despite the importance of summit meetings in international relations, summitry as a diplomatic genre has received surprisingly little attention from diplomatic historians or political scientists. Even in studies of individual summits.

Related Resources

17 Aug, 2001

To joke or not to joke: A diplomatic dilemma in the age of internet

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): The first paper, presented by Prof. Peter Serracino-Inglott as the keynote address at the 2001 conference, examines the serious issue of diplomatic communication in a playful manner, through one of the most paradigmatic and creati... Read more...

04 Aug, 2001

Applying the pedagogy of positiveness to diplomatic communication

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Dr Francisco Gomes de Matos applies what he calls the "Pedagogy of Positiveness" to diplomatic communication. He proposes a checklist of tips for diplomats to make their communication more positive, emphasising respect and underst... Read more...

18 Aug, 2011

Trends in diplomatic communication

The aim of this research was to examine the communication trends in diplomacy with a focus on Uganda.... Read more...

16 Aug, 2002

Knowledge management and international development – the role of diplomacy

In this chapter, Walter Fust talks about the role of knowledge management, and knowledge for development, in diplomacy. He describes various methods to assess what knowledge should be stocked, and explains the need for managers who are assigned the task of deciding wha... Read more...

04 Aug, 2004

Communication barriers to negotiation: Encountering Chinese in cross-cultural business meetings

When two negotiating parties from different cultural backgrounds attempt to communicate, the potential for disagreement and misunderstanding is great. People from other cultural backgrounds, especially from the West, often find the behaviour of Chinese negotiators stra... Read more...