What makes for a successful Summit?

Bob Johnstone, Senior Advisor, Canadian International Council

A recent meeting in Uruguay brought together representatives of the International Councils from nine countries of the Western Hemisphere – Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile Paraguay, Peru , the United States and Uruguay. (I attended as the representative of the Canadian International Council.) At this seventh annual meeting of the group the discussion was as usual wide ranging, touching on many of the opportunities and challenges facing these countries, and was not driven towards agreed conclusions or recommendations. Not surprisingly there was a good deal of discussion of the current financial economic crisis – we were meeting just a week before the G20 meeting in London and there was a shared hope that it would be a success.

Beyond this some clear points of emphasis did emerge. I would pick out three that I think are relevant for the Summit of the Americas. Firstly, there are of course very great differences among the countries of the Hemisphere. It is a mistake to cast ones thinking about issues in terms of all them, or even of those in one or other of its regions, whether the Caribbean or South America. And yet those of us from the north of the Hemisphere do persist in talking about our “Latin American policies”. There was a second point of emphasis that is related to that distinctiveness of the countries. As we had in previous meetings we discussed, and lamented, the limited degree of economic cooperation/integration among the countries of Latin America, with emphasis on the energy sector. Action in this area would be of enormous benefit. Finally the scourge of violence, much of it related to drug wars, that undermines political stability in some countries and endangers public safety in many.

Successful Summits are not about making binding decisions on a host of matters, or about a plethora of fine-sounding undertakings. Their value, beyond personal interaction among the participants, lies in establishing a limited number of clear priorities for future action, whether by all or some of the countries, and doing all possible to ensure commitment to action. Such commitments, to collaboration on energy and to confronting the security issue, would be important pieces of a successful outcome of this Summit of the Americas.

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3 Responses to What makes for a successful Summit?

  1. Tom says:

    This is an interesting post and has lead me to a few thoughts/questions. First, as you rightly point out, the distinctiveness of the individual states does seem to get lost in our policies towards ‘Latin America’. But is there an inherent difficulty that comes with a summit with as many attending members as the SOA? The ease of the G8 is in its relative uniformity in values and affluence, as well as its small size. This makes unanimous agreement relatively easier than a summit involving the large number of states attending the SOA, with their diverse range of population sizes and economic strengths (and/or weaknesses). With this in mind, can any agreement coming from the Summit be more than paying lip service to their longing for greater cooperation? Perhaps the greatest benefit of these summits, as well as other large summits like the G20, is the clarity it brings regarding the uniqueness of each attending state and how each has its own laundry list of issues and priorities.

  2. […] promote economic growth and reduce inequalities. To do so, however, it will need leadership. Bob Johnstone has succinctly summarized above that the value in summitry lies in “establishing a limited number […]

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