Geneva Summit (1955)
The Geneva Summit of 1955 was a Cold War-era meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. Held on July 18, 1955, it was a meeting of "The Big Four": President Dwight D. Eisenhower of the United States, Prime Minister Anthony Eden of Britain, Premier Nikolai A. Bulganin of the Soviet Union, and Prime Minister Edgar Faure of France. They were accompanied by the foreign ministers of the four powers (who were also members of the Council of Foreign Ministers): John Foster Dulles, Harold Macmillan, Vyacheslav Molotov, and Antoine Pinay. Also in attendance was Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union.
The purpose was to bring together world leaders to begin discussions on peace. Although those discussions led down many different roads (arms negotiations, trade barriers, diplomacy, nuclear warfare, etc.), the talks were influenced by the common goal for increased global security.
The stated mission of the 1955 summit was to reduce international tensions. The Geneva Summit was seen as an extremely important building block to better friendships and more open communication between the leaders of "The Big Four". The creation of an international community was introduced as a way to help relieve global tensions and mistrust. This community would form the critical foundation of a unified world in which minimal barriers to trade and common interests would serve to engender diplomacy.
Topics such as East-West trade agreements, tariffs, the arms race, international security and disarmament policy were all addressed to some extent. The most significant proposal made by President Eisenhower was his "Open Skies" plan, which called for an international aerial monitoring system. The intent of this policy was to prevent nations from stockpiling dangerous weapons, and eventually lead to the disarmament of all weapons of mass destruction. Surprisingly, one goal that American political advisers had for the conference was to not make any specific promises or guarantees to the Soviets. In the past, Soviet leaders have misinterpreted American suggestions as whole-hearted promises later on, which could serve to bring more division instead of unity. Since this meeting was the first of its kind, the seeds of unification needed to be planted, nothing else.
The issue of East-West trade agreements was one that needed to be discussed very delicately. All previous East-West trade agreement talks had been anything but diplomatic. In the past, trade agreements had always been an occasion for discourse and heated arguments. Neither the UK nor the U.S. was willing to share control of their trading spheres unless there were obvious strategic advantages of doing so. Nations were at a standstill because no one was willing to compromise for the good of the worldwide community. The problem with peace talks is that although each nation knows the importance and benefits of peace, there is never enough mutual trust to ensure the success of such talks. The talks in Geneva helped break the ice and introduce nations to the benefits of global free trade. Also, simply by meeting and talking, the leaders were able to develop relationships and have an optimistic outlook on a peaceful and cooperative future.
The Cold War and Geneva
The Cold War had a major impact on the topics debated during the Geneva Summit. International tensions were at its peak during the Cold War, as tensions were on the rise, the Cold War leaders thought it would be a good idea to unite under a common cause for peace in Geneva.
The world leaders discussed issues on security, armaments, German unification, and stronger east west relationships. Khrushchev was willing to allow a united Germany providing it was neutral, but West German entrance into NATO in May made the situation increasingly complicated. Khrushchev wanted the removal of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, to be replaced by a new system of collective security. This conference marked an era of renewed optimism in cold war relationships, however this was disrupted later by the Suez Crisis.
- Reston, James. Big Four Conference Opens Today; West’s Chiefs Complete Strategy on Germany, Disarming, Security, New York Times, July 18, 1955, pg.1; ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
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- Bischof, Cold War Respite, p. 3
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- Bischof, Gunter. Cold War Respite: The Geneva Summit of 1955, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000)
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- Reston, James. Big Four Conference Opens Today; West’s Chiefs Complete Strategy on Germany, Disarming, Security, The New York Times, July 18, 1955, pg.1; ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
- Staff. An Outline of American History: Cold War, department of Alfa-Informatica of the University of Groningen