A vertex is literally the highest point of the mountain. Diplomatically, summits like the NATO meeting, held July 11-12, 2023 in Vilnius, Lithuania, mark important gatherings of world leaders.
The issue of Sweden and Ukraine joining NATO, which is a political and military alliance of 31 countries in Europe and North America, was a central topic ahead of this year’s summit. While Sweden is now fixed join the covenant, there is no firm timetable to find out when countries will determine if Ukraine is admitted.
Having worked and participated in summits as a diplomat in the Clinton and Obama administrations, i know how much energy is invested in planning the public and private diplomatic moments of these events.
NATO convenes this meeting as part of its regular work on the main military and political concerns of its member countries. But make no mistake, the United States sees itself as a pivot of this summit.
For President Joe Biden, the meeting is a test of his personal commitment to helping Ukraine win the battle against Russia. THE The United States is in the lead a coalition of countries helping Ukraine to military and humanitarian aid. Biden promised that the United States would help Ukraine”as long as it takes.”
History of the summits
Political leaders perfected the art of modern diplomacy in routine face-to-face summits during the darkest days of the Cold War.
Winston Churchill, then British Prime Minister, helped form the concept of a political “summit” in 1950, when he suggested a “parley at the top.” This meant that the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union should sit and find out who had what sphere of influence after the end of World War II.
But the history of the summits goes back further in time.
Another British politician, Lloyd George, first lobbied for in-person political meetings in the early 1900s, indicating, “If you want to settle a case, you see your adversary and you talk about it with him. The last thing to do is write him a letter.
And it was the Greeks who first raised the idea of speaking rulers to leaders and debate issues as a form of confidence building.
Since the Cold War, the summits have taken many different forms and sizes, ranging from regional to international meetings.
While some of these meetings yield few tangible results, others have helped pave the way for key policy changes, including reductions in nuclear weapons in the 1980s and a treaty to limit global temperature rise in 2015.
From an American perspective, summits are key moments when leadership is displayed.
But there is a particular level of pressure and anticipation around this meeting, with a active war in Europe caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Behind the scenes details
These mega-events require massive planning. Member countries can volunteer to host summits, and offers are evaluated and decided by the political arm of NATO.
From advanced logistics teams preparing the ground for presidential travel to protocol officers ensuring handshakes or hugs are timed for photography, every detail matters both publicly and privately in this kind of business. .
Fashion is also a choice – from the selection of ties to trouser suits or dresses. Not a hair can be moved. Women’s fashion choices tend to receive inordinate scrutiny and attention – such as when first lady Jill Biden wore sneakersa type of shoe popular in Spain, at the NATO meeting in Madrid in 2022.
Hundreds of US government officials work in multiple agencies behind the scenes at political summits, both on-site and at home, to generate pages and pages of briefing materials for every minute of every hour of the meeting. Depending on the timing and importance of the summit, a secretary of state could accompany the president on the trip.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is with Biden in Lithuania, as a delicate diplomatic dance unfolds with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The Ukrainian leader tweeted about how his country is discussed without his presence at the meeting.
There are secure documents to write and read and private sessions to inform Biden.
Setting the table for a summit means the host country must make literal and figurative decisions about when meals are served and who attends the dinners. The host country of a summit can present its local cuisine, considered as a form of culinary diplomacy.
Ambassadors from other participating countries also send guidelines on people’s menus or special dietary needs.
expect the unexpected
Despite all the planning and agenda setting, there is an unpredictability at a political summit as people interact in real time.
Real-world events can also interfere even in a perfectly well-orchestrated summit. A terrorist incident or natural disaster, for example, can turn a grassroots summit into an emergency meeting.
There are also human dynamics at the summits.
It’s one thing to read a briefing note. It’s quite another, as a leader, to look directly at people and see their expressions and body language.
This lends weight to closed-door meetings with just a few other people, as leaders often break away from large group discussions to compare notes and map out strategies.
Throughout the summit, aides will pass notes to Biden, and there will be hallway huddles with diplomats and aides. Journalists will get snippets of what’s going on until the final press conference on July 12, during which leaders will answer questions about decisions made, next steps and the general question of whether the summit was a success or a failure.
Enhance the event
This meeting takes place in the middle of the summer. Many Europeans flocked to the beaches, as is their summer custom. The Americans have gone to the national parks. Keeping the world’s attention on the NATO summit could be difficult. And, in the absence of any major announcements, the highs can be a monotonous affair.
But in this case, so much depends on the outcome of the NATO summit.
Ukraine is at the center of this summit as countries debate a political invitation for Ukraine to join the alliance. Not only does NATO need to plan its military response to an ongoing war, but the United States and its allies need to plan for a future Ukraine once it emerges from the rubble. There is currently a division among NATO members if they have to admit Ukraine.
The stakes are enormous: letting Ukraine join NATO would force military alliance to defend its new member against Russia, which could then turn into a larger war across Europe. The future of Russian President Vladimir Putin hangs in the balance, whose aggression against Ukraine is actually a desire to stop NATO’s growth and power.