Churchill would rec­og­nize Trump’s sum­mit strat­egy

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Gre­gory Korte AP

WASH­ING­TON – Churchill, Roo­sevelt and Stalin. Kennedy and Khrushchev. Rea­gan and Gor­bachev.

And now: Trump and Kim. Dur­ing World War II and through the Cold War, the most im­por­tant global sum­mits were of­ten two- or three­day meet­ings be­tween su­per­pow­ers of equal stand­ing, the U.S. pres­i­dent and the Soviet premier, who met to lit­er­ally draw the map of the world

Tues­day’s sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore was shorter and more un­pre­dictable, and it brought to­gether the largest econ­omy in the world and one so small and iso­lated that the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund can’t mea­sure it. But the stakes were po­ten­tially just as high as the great sum­mits of the past cen­tury.

“That sense of dis­pro­por­tion adds to the sense of od­dity about this,” said his­to­rian David Reynolds, au­thor of “Sum­mits: Six Meet­ings That Shaped the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury.” “It’s a big guy and a lit­tle guy, and nei­ther of th­ese men are in ei­ther way pre­dictable.”

Sum­mits are of­ten care­fully chore­ographed, planned years in ad­vance and filled with “fam­ily pho­tos” and other mo­ments de­signed more for their visual ef­fect than sub­stance.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s sum­mit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un harks back to an era of high-risk sum­mits where the out­come was not pre­or­dained.

For Trump, a one-on-one sum­mit suits his ne­go­ti­at­ing style: Size up your ad­ver­sary, es­tab­lish a rap­port and make a deal. It’s an at­ti­tude Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill would have un­der­stood.

‘The Big Three’

High-level meet­ings of Al­lied pow­ers in World War II set the stage for sum­mits that would de­fine the world or­der in the 20th cen­tury.

Be­gin­ning with the At­lantic Con­fer­ence in New­found­land in 1941, Churchill — along with the U.S. pres­i­dent and later Soviet Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Josef Stalin — plot­ted strat­egy against Ger­many. The “Big Three” met three times. At the last meet­ing, in Pots­dam, Ger­many, Pres­i­dent Harry Tru­man and his Bri­tish and Soviet coun­ter­parts be­gan the process of ad­min­is­ter­ing the post­war peace. The de­ci­sions they made — di­vid­ing Ger­many and its cap­i­tal, Ber­lin, into four zones of oc­cu­pa­tion by Amer­i­can, French, Bri­tish and Soviet troops — would re­draw the map of Europe for the rest of the cen­tury.

It was when Churchill was out of of­fice in 1950 that he coined the idea of a “sum­mit,” which cap­i­tal­ized on a pub­lic fas­ci­na­tion with Mount Ever­est ex­pe­di­tions. Re­mem­ber­ing the war con­fer­ences, he said a face-to-face meet­ing with the Soviet lead­ers could dis­pel mis­un­der­stand­ings that could lead to nu­clear catas­tro­phe.

“The in­stinct of many lead­ers — of which Trump is an ex­am­ple — is that I can sort any­thing out if I can get oneon-one with the other guy,” Reynolds said. “They made it to the top of their own do­mes­tic pol­i­tics, they’re am­bi­tious men, and they want to play in the next league up.”

Two other in­gre­di­ents would com­bine to make sum­mits the hall­mark of 20th-cen­tury diplo­macy: the avail­abil­ity of air travel, which al­lowed world lead­ers to speak face-to-face in­stead of through am­bas­sadors, and weapons of mass de­struc­tion, which gave the talks new im­por­tance and ur­gency.

Cold War, hot sum­mits

Like Churchill, Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy was will­ing to talk to the So­vi­ets. “It is far bet­ter that we meet at the sum­mit than at the brink,” he said. He and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev met in Vienna for what Kennedy called “an in­for­mal ex­change of views.” In­for­mal and heated, as it turned out. Over two days in June 1961, Khrushchev be­rated Kennedy over Ber­lin and other is­sues, all but threat­en­ing nu­clear war. The sum­mit was largely viewed as a fail­ure, lead­ing to the Ber­lin Wall and the Cuban mis­sile cri­sis. The United States learned not to go into a sum­mit with­out a set agenda.

Richard Nixon re­sumed semi-reg­u­lar Soviet sum­mits, be­com­ing the first pres­i­dent to visit Mos­cow in 1972. Those meet­ings led to some mod­er­ately suc­cess­ful arms con­trol agree­ments.

Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan pro­vided some of the most dra­matic sum­mits in the his­tory of the Cold War, meet­ing with Soviet coun­ter­part Mikhail Gor­bachev five times in three years. Those talks led to break­throughs on nu­clear, chem­i­cal and conventional weapons.

The suc­cess or fail­ure of a sum­mit of­ten doesn’t be­come clear un­til days or weeks later. Said Reynolds: “There’s al­ways the prob­lem of com­ing down from the sum­mit, be­cause the sum­mit is a heady oc­ca­sion for th­ese lead­ers, and then con­fronting the re­al­ity at home.”

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill, Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt and Soviet Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Josef Stalin meet at the Yalta con­fer­ence in Fe­bru­ary 1945.


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump after their historic sum­mit on Sen­tosa is­land in Sin­ga­pore.

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