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A Case Study in Summitry: The Experience of Britain's Edward Heath, 1970-74

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While summits are well served in the literature on diplomacy, the focus tends to be on specific, high-profile occasions such as Munich and Yalta or on the broad experience of multilateral conferences. Such approaches may obscure the full range of summits that were taking place by the later twentieth century. By focusing on a four-year period in the experience of a particular leader, this article provides a case study of summitry, which might serve as the basis for comparisons with other countries and time periods. It draws out the frequency, type and geographical range of summits experienced by Edward Heath as British premier and, in doing so, also raises issues about how types of summits are defined, the relationship between bilateral and multilateral meetings and the way that summitry has evolved as a diplomatic practice. In particular it emerges that summits were frequent and ofen perfunctory affairs, sometimes held as a simple courtesy to leaders who were passing through London. In this sense the British experience may have been unusual, but it is also evident from the number of Heath's interlocutors and the multilateral conferences that he attended that summits had become an integral part of political life for world leaders in the jet age.


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