All That’s Lost: The Hollowing of Summit Diplomacy in a Socially Distanced World

In: The Hague Journal of Diplomacy
Tristen Naylor London School of Economics London United Kingdom

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This essay considers the implications of virtual summits replacing in-person multilateral gatherings of political leaders. Focusing on the loss of physicality, it argues that two critical dimensions of summitry are eliminated in this shift: sublime governance and inter-moments. Drawing on illustrative examples from the Group of 20, it demonstrates that while moving online maintains the formal, procedural interactions around which summits are built, doing so loses these critical elements of summitry which render it a valuable and unique practice in within the overall institution of diplomacy. This move also undercuts the effects of these elements, in the immediate context of a particular summit and more broadly within the international system itself. The elimination of summitry’s performative and interpersonal dimensions fundamentally renders online meetings unable to achieve what in-person summits can. This has acute consequences in the immediate wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and also more generally as diplomacy moves online.

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