There is pageantry and expectation related to summits between the United States and other powers. However, summits have usually produced serious policy decisions agreed upon conceptually by the principal players, whose specifics are worked out prior, during or immediately after by deputies.
Therefore, presidential administrations should be extremely cautious in using the word summit and even more careful in engaging them.
Summits have not often gone well for the West and, in particular, the United States. This is especially true of the Second World War conferences, especially the agreement at Yalta in the winter of 1945.
Summits, like the one at Yalta, become entities in and of themselves. These summits create an atmosphere of national and worldwide expectations that can never deliver.
This momentum leads foreign policymakers, particularly American ones, to absorb a mindset that they must engage summits and produce something. President Ronald Reagan boldly held the line at Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1986, rather than give in to the evil empire.
The age of U.S. and Soviet summits, starting in 1955, became benchmarks for American foreign policy. Unfortunately, these rarely served the interests of the United States.
Examples here were the Nixon/Brezhnev summit of 1972 with the disastrous ABM treaty, hampering U.S. national security for decades or the morally bankrupt Helsinki Accords of 1975. The 1988 Moscow Summit, hailed by some as very tangible diplomacy, resulted in the finalization of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, which Russia continues to violate.
However, the summit created an environment that this flawed agreement was a sacred cow that could not be challenged. Finally, a host of Middle East-oriented summits resulted in declarations of peace and stability, primarily ignored once the pageantry was over.
As bad as many of these summits were, there was at least some attempt at producing results. This is why the Biden-Xi summit is so baffling. One would be hard-pressed to create a list of anything productive. As bad as many past summits have been, this one is a theatrical version of bad summits.
The news was so desperate for a takeaway that they focused on renewing journalistic visas and establishing so-called “guard rails.” What were these rails guarding?
The administration could have used this opportunity to make a clear defense of Taiwanese’s sovereignty and democracy. It could have ended the bluster-inducing policy of “strategic ambiguity.”
Instead, a November 23rd freedom of navigation operation by the USS Milius now passes for being strong on China. This is hardly a substitute for actual strategy, and if anything, emboldens the Chinese.
In other words, if this is the best we can come up with, how serious are we about security in the region? This could easily be compared to the days when America stood clearly against Chinese expansionism, as Eisenhower used nuclear weapon diplomacy in both 1954 and 1958.
There has been much discussion about the summit regarding the “one-China policy.” The United States has never accepted China’s definition of the so-called “one-China policy.”
The United States has consistently refused to recognize the PRC’s sovereignty over the Republic of China on Taiwan. The critical diplomatic word in the original language was “acknowledge.”
The U.S. position has been that we acknowledge the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of China. You and I can acknowledge that you believe you are the god-emperor of Dune, and that is where the conversation will end.
If one looks at this from a strategic lens, the U.S. can often do more harm to itself by participating in hollow summitry than in no summits. The word carries diplomatic baggage and creates expectations of serious results.
The nature of the discussion that was recently had may be the stuff of mid-level diplomats, and that is a stretch.
As long as American foreign policy is driven by false expectations and worships at the altar of deal-making at any cost, engaging in summits that are nonstarters from the beginning is exponentially dangerous when credibility is being questioned. Engaging in summits with a morally bankrupt tyranny that seeks both global and beyond earth domination is a prescription for disaster.
This piece originally ran on Newsmax on 29 November, 2021.