NATO Summits

  • Bill Park
Part of the Studies in Diplomacy book series (STD)


In the conduct of diplomatic relations between states, the concept of a ‘summit’ is normally taken to refer to meetings between heads of state and government. Beyond that basic observation, ‘summits’ as diplomatic and political phenomena can take a variety of forms. There may be few participating states, or many. Summits might be held between adversaries or between allies. They might be held relatively regularly, or on an ad hoc or even one-off basis. Summit agendas might leave heads of state and government with a creative role, free to explore the scope for and content of political agreement, or they might be so pre-prepared as to leave heads of state and government with little more than symbolic roles to play. With these differing possibilities in mind, there are a number of introductory observations we can make about summits of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Participants are relatively numerous — sixteen — but vary enormously in size and significance, from the United States to Luxembourg or Iceland. Furthermore, NATO summits take place at the apex of a permanent bureaucracy composed of national and international civil servants provided by allied states keen to display unity. Excessive disarray could appear to undermine the very nature and purpose of the alliance. It might also be added that, although issues of defence and security can have extremely high salience, NATO summit agendas have relatively rarely engaged the passions of the wider public except during those periods when the alliance’s nuclear debate has been at its most intense. As a rule, then, NATO summits produce little drama and few surprises.


Nuclear Weapon Foreign Minister North Atlantic Treaty Organization Council Meeting Summit Meeting 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    NATO Handbook (Brussels, NATO Office of Information, 1992), pp. 23–4. These early passages are otherwise gleaned from The North Atlantic Treaty Organization: Facts and Figures (NATO Information Service, 1989).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See ibid., pp. 384–401 for the text of the Report.Google Scholar
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    Sir Clive Rose, ‘Political Consultation in the Alliance’, NATO Review, vol. 31, no. 1 (April, 1993), p. 1.Google Scholar
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    For the text of the Report, formally known as the ‘Report of the Council on the Future Tasks of the Alliance’, see The North Atlantic Treaty Organization: Facts and Figures (1989), pp. 402–4.Google Scholar
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    For the text, see ibid., pp. 405–7.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Fredo Dannenberg, ‘Consultations: the political lifeblood of the Alliance’, NATO Review, vol. 33, no. 6 (December, 1985), p. 8.Google Scholar
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    According to Sir Clive Rose, ‘The 1982 Summit and After: a personal view’, NATO Review, vol. 30, no. 4 (September, 1982), pp. 8–9.Google Scholar
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    See Michael Legge, ‘The Making of NATO’s New Strategy’, NATO Review, vol. 39, no. 6 (December, 1991) for detail on this.Google Scholar
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    In his ‘Shaping the Alliance for the Future’, NATO Review, vol. 42, no. 1 (February, 1994), p. 4.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in S. McLean, How Nuclear Weapons Decisions Are Made (London, Macmillan, 1986), p. 209; and requoted in Dan Smith, Pressure: How America Runs NATO (London, Bloomsbury Press, 1989), p. 16.Google Scholar
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  22. 22.
    These points were strongly made by Sir Michael Alexander in an interview with the present author on 1 February 1994.Google Scholar
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  24. 24.
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  29. 29.
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    According to his Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. See his ‘Towards a NATO Summit’, NATO Review, vol. 41, no. 4 (August, 1993), p. 1.Google Scholar
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    Interview conducted with UK Ministry of Defence official, 3 February 1994.Google Scholar
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    A US Ambassador to NATO during the 1980s, David Abshire, apparently counted 435 committees! Smith, Pressure: How America Runs NATO, p. 10.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Ambassador Prosper Thuysbaert, ‘The Changing Face of Political Consultation’, NATO Review, vol. 41, no. 5 (October, 1993), p. 27.Google Scholar
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    These points were reinforced by interviews conducted with NATO officials in Brussels, 21–24 February 1994; with a UK MoD official, 3 February 1994; and with Sir Michael Alexander, 16 February 1994.Google Scholar
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    van der Beugal, ‘The Atlantic Family’, p. 17.Google Scholar
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    Thuysbaert, ‘The Changing Face of Political Consultation’, p. 25. Sir Michael Alexander, himself a British PermRep at the May 1989 summit, confirmed in an interview on 16 February 1994 the intensity of the pressure to come up with a solution to ensure that the summit did not end in disarray.Google Scholar
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    Thatcher, The Downing Street Years, pp. 774–5.Google Scholar
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    See Michael R. Beschloss and Strobe Talbott, At the Highest Levels: The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War (Boston and London, Little, Brown and Company, 1993), pp. 74–8.Google Scholar
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    Rose, ‘Political Consultation in the Alliance’, p. 4.Google Scholar
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    Robert S. Jordan, Political Leadership in NATO: A Study in Multilateral Diplomacy (Boulder, Colorado, Westview, 1979), p. 69.Google Scholar
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    Smith, Pressure: How America Runs NATO, pp. 14–16.Google Scholar
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    Legge, ‘The Making of NATO’s New Strategy’, p. 11.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bill Park

There are no affiliations available

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