A Bewildering Debate

A Bewildering Debate

Inevitably the world is heading toward another “summit” conference. Working feverishly to redefine positions which they had assumed for propaganda purposes, diplomats prepare formulas to end the cold war which they know the other side will reject. Trying to place on the agenda items which most embarrass the opponent, each refuses to discuss the other’s demands. In contrast to any business meeting, where the parties anticipate the limits of agreement, this Summit Conference has no meeting ground, no terms of reference and hardly any negotiable objects.

Why, then, does it take place? One reason, patently, is that the Russians demanded it immediately after launching their sputnik and scuttling the UN Disarmament Committee. Confident that under the circumstances the State Department would furnish a perplexed world a new proof of its reputed inflexibility, they asked for a conference which was to listen to their terms of surrender. This led to the second, and seemingly very democratic, boost for the idea of a Conference —the frightened peoples of Western Europe and Asia, naturally yearning for safety and disregarding their governments’ pleas for watchful calmness, agreed to listen with more enthusiasm than anybody had expected.

The prospect appalled even the most inveterate critics of Foster Dulles. Joseph Harsch, heretofore an advocate of “negotiations in good faith,” called the conference craze “the clearest example of Moscow’s capacity to manipulate Western opinion against the wishes of Western governments so long as these governments remain less competent in [propaganda] than the Kremlin … This meeting is to be held because the Russians wanted it to be held. They get credit for what appears popularly to be a peaceful exercise.” Even George Kennan, who was soon to become the hero of the Summit myth, warned the Western powers not to participate in any conference that had not been thoroughly prepared through diplomatic channels.

Meanwhile the peoples all the world over hopefully responded to the beckoning banns and to the summons for a ritual of “peaceful exercises.” They expect to be given some visible proof of “negotiations in good faith,” for sad experiences have not disproved the adage that “they don’t shoot while they are talking.” Men of good faith —pacifists, socialists and other leftists who ordinarily would not allow their dog to take a bone from Eisenhower or Khrushchev—naively believe that a get-together of these two chums might transform a power contest into a human relationship. An almost archetypal myth depicts Napoleon and Alexander peacefully meeting on a raft to divide the world—though what followed was not “peaceful co-existence” but the abominable Peace of Tilsit and the invasion of Russia. No “Summit Conference” was required to liquidate the Berlin blockade, the Korean war...

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