Date of Award
Fr. William Greytak
President Ronald Reagan, when confronted with the age gap between himself and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, commented with regard to the November, 1985, Geneva Summit: It'l1 be the first time we've ever had someone on our side of the table who's older than the fellow on the other side of the table. So maybe I can help this young man with some fatherly advice.1 Apart from the President's attempted humor, Reagan's statement on the summit offers insight into his view of the Soviets and the Geneva meeting. He seems to be searching, in fact, for American advantages which will cause the Soviets to accept international agreements consistent with U.S. goals. While the age gap may not be the key to such consensus, it is one effort among many designed to promote such an accord. In addition to Reagan's hopes of influencing Soviet actions, statements like this one were intended to preview American positions to other audiences, like the U.S. citizenry and Western Europeans. It should be noted, however, that Reagan was not the only party prone to such "summit jockeying." Gorbachev not only played the media supremacy game during the months preceeding Geneva, but some claimed he was more persuasive 2 than the "Great Communicator" himself.
Those who study summits have often noted the public nature of these meetings and the months that preceed them. For example, Gordon R. Weihmiller and Dusko Dodor included in their study of summits from 1955 to 1985 the pressures presidents experience that tend to push them toward summit meetings, the influence of public expectations and domestic political concerns, the role of the media and public relations, and the international context. . . .3 Additionally, a review of newspapers and periodical literature during the pre-summit period reveals numerous references to propaganda advantages, media ploys and, as one author noted, the tendency for leaders to smile when in doubt (about public opinion).4 The fundamental assumption in studies of both summitry and pre-summitry is that face-to-face meetings between heads of state are of some value, to the respective nations involved or simply to scholars of communication or diplomacy. This assumption is widely shared by academics. The second report of the Harvard Nuclear Study group observed that summits "can contribute greatly to mutual understanding of how each side sees its own interests, the other's and the risks."5 If the value in studying summits is to develop an understanding of each side's interests, then studies of pre-summit periods are equally worthwhile. As noted earlier, pre-summit rhetoric illuminates the tactics used to "influence the international atmosphere" prior to the actual negotiations.6 Based upon this justification, then, the following study will analyze the rhetorical strategies used by the two leaders in 1985 to influence domestic and global audiences.
Traywick, Kimberly, "Once S.T.A.R.T. Stopped and Geneva Started: U.S. And Soviet Rhetoric Prior To The 1985 Meeting" (1987). Communication Studies Undergraduate Theses. 36.