Geneva Summit (1955)

Geneva Summit (1955)

The Geneva Summit was first held on July 18th, 1955 in Geneva, Switzerland. This was a meeting of "The Big Four": President Dwight D. Eisenhower of the United States, Prime Minister Anthony Eden of the United Kingdom, Premier Nikolai A. Bulganin of the Soviet Union, and Prime Minister Edgar Faure of France. [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.] 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 mission

The stated mission of the 1955 summit was to reduce international tensions. The Geneva Summit was seen as an important building block to better friendships and more open communication between the leaders of The Big Four. [Staff, ABC News] 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. [Hans J. Morgenthau, p. 559] Topics such as East-West trade agreements, tariffs, the arms race, international security and disarmament policy were all addressed to some extent. [Gunter Bischof, p.239.] The most significant proposal made by President Eisenhower was his ‘Open Skies’ plan, which called for an international aerial monitoring system. [Gunter Bischof, 215.] 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 advisors 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. [Jack F. Matlock, Jr., pp. 9,149]

The issue of East-West trade agreements was one that needed to be discussed very delicately. [Bischof, "Cold War Respite", p. 239] 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. [Bischof, "Cold War Respite", p. 3] The talks in Geneva helped break the ice and introduce nations to the benefits of 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. ["An Outline of American History: Cold War Aims", [15 February 2007] .]

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. Krushchev wanted the removal of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, to be replaced by a new system of collective security.Fact|date=July 2007 This conference marked an era of renewed optimism in cold war relationships, however this was disrupted later by the Suez Crisis. Fact|date=July 2007

1985: Reagan and Gorbachev

On November 21, 1985, U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time, in Geneva, to hold talks on international diplomatic relations and the arms race. Gorbachev later said, regarding the summit, “We viewed the Geneva meeting realistically, without grand expectations, yet we hoped to lay the foundations for a serious dialogue in the future.” [Matlock, "Reagan and Gorbachev," p.149.] Similar to former president Eisenhower in 1955, Reagan believed that a personal relationship among leaders was the necessary first step to breaking down the barriers of tension that existed between the two countries. Reagan’s goal was to convince Gorbachev that America desired peace above all else. [ [ "Geneva Summit - President Reagan to Hold Pre-summit Speech",] ABC News, (retrieved 24 January, 2007)]

The first day Mikhail Gorbachev argued that the United States didn't trust them and that our ruling class tries to keep the people uneasy. Ronald Reagan countered with the history of Soviet aggression and the fact that they refused to allow American planes use Soviet airfield post-WWII. They broke for lunch and Reagan promised Gorbachev he'd have a chance to rebut. They talked outside for about two hours on the Strategic Defense Initiative, they both stood firm. Gorbachev accepted Reagan's invite to the United States in a year, and Reagan was invited to do the same in '87. The second day Reagan went after Human Rights, he said he didn't want to tell Gorbachev how to run his country, but only if he'd ease up the emigration restrictions. Gorbachev claimed that the Soviets were comparable to the United States and quoted some feminist extremists. The next session started with arguments about the arms race, then went into SDI. Gorbachev was "belligerent" and Reagan "stood firm". They agreed to a joint statement. [The Reagan Diaries, 11/19/85-11/20/85, p. 369-371]


The purpose of both the 1955 and the 1985 Geneva Summit was to bring together the world's most powerful political leaders to begin discussions on peace. Although those discussions led down many different roads (arms negotiations, trade barriers, diplomacy, nuclear warfare, etc), all talks were influenced by the common goal for increased global security. [Bischof, "Cold War Respite", 3.]


* Bischof, Gunter. "Cold War Respite: The Geneva Summit of 1955", (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000)
* Morgenthau, Hans J. "Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace", (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1985)
* 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.
* Matlock, Jr., Jack F. "Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended", (New York: Random House Inc., 2004)
*Staff. " [ An Outline of American History: Cold War] ", department of Alfa-Informatica of the University of Groningen
* Staff. " [ Geneva Summit - President Reagan to Hold Pre-summit Speech] ", ABC News — retrieved 24 January 2007.


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