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Summit Diplomacy: High-Level Meeting or Courtesy Call? A Response to John Young

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This essay is written in response to John Young's article in issue 1:3 of this journal, 'A Case Study in Summitry: The Experience of Britain's Edward Heath, 1979-1974', which chronicles the period's face-to-face meetings between heads of government. In his analysis, Young uses the definition of summitry that I set out in my 1996 book Diplomacy at the Highest Level: The Evolution of International Summitry. And yet in applying this definition of summitry as he does, he demonstrates the limitations of both this definition and indeed this approach to the study of diplomatic history in general.

This article presents a critique of Young's use of summitry as a tool for understanding the diplomacy of the Heath administration in particular and diplomatic studies in general. It argues that the use of summitry in this way is a distorting lens through which to approach such an analysis. The article argues that Young's approach both overprivileges actual meetings as opposed to other executive involvement in diplomacy and downplays more significant activities, which fall outside this definition. If casual courtesy visits are to be included as summits, there is clearly something wrong with the definition being used. If this definition were to stand, then the term 'summit' and the use of summitry as a device for understanding diplomatic activity would be rendered meaningless. The article ends by suggesting new ways of defining summitry and pointing to the need for new research in this area.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Political Science, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT, United Kingdom


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