Do summits succeed?

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In the public imagination, a “summit” is a meeting between the political leaders of two states, with those between the United States and the Soviet Union seen as the most important. Yet one of the most interesting conclusions of David Reynolds’s compellingly written book is that these “personal” summits do not succeed. In a work of great originality, Reynolds sets out an analytical structure, considers six important summit meetings between 1938 and 1985, and concludes that only one of them had the desired result. The history of the political summit – truly a triumph of hope over experience – arises from the conviction of leaders that if only they can meet face to face with their opposite number, something can be worked out: charm will triumph. And time after time, the result was, at worst, disaster – as at Munich in 1938 – but more frequently the unravelling of hopes. Only one summit, that of Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in Geneva in 1985, is seen by Reynolds as a success, thanks to forward planning.

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