Cold War Summitry: Transcending the Division of Europe, 1970-90

22 September 2014, 12:30 - 23 September 2014, 18:00

History Faculty

This conference is not open to the public. 


David Reynolds (History Faculty, University of Cambridge)
Kristina Spohr (International History Department, LSE)


In the early 1970s it seemed that Europe’s Cold War order had set firmly in place. Détente agreements stabilized dangerous flashpoints, especially Berlin, and established a framework for the two blocs to coexist. Division made the Continent safe for détente. By 1990, however, that apparently stable order had fallen apart. The Communist regimes in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania were toppled and the historic ‘German question’ had been resolved through reunification. A year later the Soviet Union itself disintegrated.

The aim of this conference is to analyse the contribution of summitry to the peaceful ending of the Cold War, compared with other more structural factors such as military pressure, economic change and social transformations. Specifically, we look at the period 1970 to 1990 through the eyes of policymakers who, while having to handle as current politics the effects of long-term systemic economic and political failures in the Soviet bloc or massive socio-economic and technological transformations in the West, used personal summitry to first manage Cold War crises and then to move beyond the whole structure of bipolar confrontation. The overarching questions are: (1) How far did decisions at the summit affect international outcomes? (2) Where did that process of summitry fit within the larger story of the Cold War’s dénouement.

The main task of the conference will be to discuss and critique draft chapters of a book, for which we have a contract from Oxford University Press. These run from the Erfurt meeting of 1970 between Willy Brandt and Willi Stoph – the two German leaders – right up to the Caucasus summit of 1990 between Mikhail Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl, which concluded the deal for German unification. Along the way we shall examine the détente summits of the 1970s and the dramatic series of Reagan-Gorbachev meetings that broke the ice of the New Cold War. 



Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), the British Academy and the Knowledge Exchange and Impact Strategy Group.

Administrative assistance: