by Elie-Joe Dergham

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a summit is a meeting of government leaders from two or more countries. Historically summits between heads of states of leading countries are usually important historic milestones during their time. Prime examples of important summits are the summit of Tehran. During that summit, the allies made up of United States, USSR, and the United Kingdom discussed the plan of action after the Second World War. Another important summit during the twentieth century was the Vienna summit between US president John Kennedy and the USSR Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1961. During the Vienna summit, the two leaders discussed numerous subjects including the Berlin Crisis. Another important summit occurred in 1972. Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 marked a turning point in US-China relationship. The Nixon and Mao meeting is still considered today as an important historical event that changed US foreign policy towards China. Furthermore, the Permanent 5 members of the security council (China, UK, US, France, Russia, and China), Germany, and Iran held a summit in Vienna in order to discuss and decide the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Nowadays, G8 summits are important annual summit that groups world leader to discuss important issue of their time like climate change, economic issues, international crises, and much more. Historically summits have been considered as important milestones. These summits have been considered important turning points in history because they reached landmark agreement between the parties of the summit. 

During Donald Trump presidency, the president has held or participated in several high-level summits. One of the most important summits that Donald Trump held was this one-on-one summit with North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un. The summit was held in Singapore on 12 June 2018. At the beginning of the year, tensions between the United States and North Korea reached an all-time high. The two leaders exchanged fierce words against each other. However, as months passed, the tone changed between the two leaders and the announcement of the summit surprised the world. As the proposed summit loomed, experts started to analyse the possible outcomes of the summit. With all the possible outcomes discussed on national television, the world watched the summit unfold in Singapore between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Both leaders declared the summit as a great success and a huge step forward.1 Furthermore, they signed a historic agreement. However, after the summit many experts said the US president had failed in the summit. Former Treasury official and former CIA deputy director David Cohen explained that the president had jumped prematurely into the summit. Cohen pointed out the President’s action had weakened international resolve to apply pressure on North Korea2. In many experts ‘view, Donald Trump had given the North Korean leader big concession. The US president promised to continue talks with North Korea. This gave the North Korean regime greater legitimacy. Furthermore, the US promised to halt all military exercises with South Korea. On the other hand, North Korea only promised to dismantle a missile factory and continue talks with the US. Additionally, the summit had improved Kim Jung Un’s image. Experts say the US had conceded greatly to the rogue regime. 

Another important summit the US president held was with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on 16 July 2018. The buildup to the summit was intense. 12 Russian intelligence officers were indicted for hacking Democratic National Committee’s email server3. The US President was under great pressure to hold Russia accountable for its alleged involvement in the 2016 US election. The leaders discussed several topics such as Crimea, Syria, and the countries economic relations.  However, as the summit ended, the US president gave the world more cause for concern. During a joint press conference, Trump refused to criticise or even question Putin’s response regarding their involvement in US election4. He even went further that he criticised the FBI and praised Russia.5 All the US press including news outlets such as Fox News labeled the summit as a US failure.  

Summits are important foreign policy tools for any head of state, especially coming from a US president. However, President Trump does not quite understand the ramifications of his ill-fated summits. By holding summits with autocratic strongmen like Vladimir Putin or a Dictator like Kim Jung Un, he is providing these men with more legitimacy. Both Putin and Kim were portrayed as the stronger and more composed leader compared to Donald Trump. Furthermore, US gave concessions to both Russia and North Korea. This weaken the international community belief in US power. The summits show the importance of this foreign policy tool. However, questions are raised whether leaders in Washington understand the magnitude of their actions.  

18 December 2018
This text was published in Bullseye issue 74