Summits and Bilateral Relations

Jennifer Jeffs, Senior Vice President, Canadian International Council and CIGI Deputy Executive Director and Senior Fellow

Expectations of Obama are huge; can he change inter-American relations? Probably not. Can he change US relations with Latin America? Yes, but this can only happen on a country-by-country basis. Each country in the region has its own Latin American policy. Mexican relations with the US are different from Argentina’s; Brazil’s are different from Guyana’s… The bilateral meetings are fundamentally important, but their very importance opens the question of why we need to put together a summit to facilitate bilateral diplomacy. This question must be addressed in order for the Summit of the Americas process to continue into the future.


3 Responses to Summits and Bilateral Relations

  1. Francisco Wulff says:

    It is clear to me that the complexities of international relations in an ever more interrelated world require a multitude of channels for high level dialogue amongst national leaders. Some issues will clearly best be handled at the bilateral level, some at the sub-regional level. I believe that the hemispheric level of the Summit of the Americas is also important and necessary, even if at times its seems more like a circus than a gathering of statemen.

    I think that one way to make the Summit more effective and relevant is precisely by using its great media power to bring attention to bilateral and sub-regional issues (that may be advanced to bilateral and sub-regional meetings) that are then placed in the broader hemispheric context, in order to improve everyone´s ability to comprehend them and to establish the appropriate interrelationships.

    It is easy to fall in the temptation of unrealistic expectations about these meetings. Let´s not. Let´s follow the events humbly and prudently, with attention to the subtle developments that may, little by little, bring about relevant progress for the region.

    Francisco J. Wulff
    Corporación Andina de Fomento
    Caracas, Venezuela.

  2. Meg says:

    The fact that the Summit exists would normally imply to me that there must be some kind of common ground beyond bilateral relations within the region. Is there something that has changed since the origins of the summit that has eroded a common interests, thus leading to the necessity of primarily bilateral relations?

  3. Francisco, you make some very good points. I agree that hemispheric relations must include all channels – bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral. It depends on the issues, on the individual strategic interests, and on the geography. Regardless of whether you like your neighbours or not, you must deal with them – point full stop.

    Summits indeed are an occasion for many of us to connect, and that includes government officials, media, and all other sectors in society. It is with knowing one another, sharing a meal and a tired smile that we learn to have sympathy for each other’s predicament.

    I think that this line of thinking also provides some insights into Meg’s query. It is not that overall relations have eroded requiring bilateral relations as opposed to hemispheric. There were then, and there are now, issues of common strategic interests to different groups of countries. Overall, however, peace and prosperity in our hemisphere will remain in our common interest.

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