When Summits Used to Matter
By historical standards, Copenhagen's a bore.


Conrad Black

From the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to the Conference at Yalta 130 years later, multilateral meetings of more than two people who could be fairly described as at the summit of anything worthwhile were limited to not more than the six or seven countries that projected any influence more than 100 miles from their shores or borders, and were not convened more often than every 20 or 30 years, until the outbreak of World War II. They were serious meetings of serious people who did serious things.

Now they are a blur of transitory lookalikes, rapping and dialoguing. Talleyrand would have been as appalled at the thought of going to Davos as Bismarck would have been to go to Cancun (Biarritz and Carlsbad were as relaxed as he could abide); Disraeli to discuss racism (a subject of which he had some experience) at Durban; or the Roosevelts to attend a climate conference in Denmark (though they were more accomplished conservationists than anyone who will be in Copenhagen this week).

Copenhagen is the epitome of modern summitting: a long session, a huge cast earnestly discussing what there is no chance of agreeing on, to reach compromises everyone will then ignore, promising to avoid doing what all decry and will continue to do, suspecting that it is not really damaging anyway. It is an immense, almost grotesque, sitcom, played out against the backdrop of the melancholy Danes languidly sipping Tuborg in the Tivoli Gardens and reflecting, perhaps, on Danish lore, from Hamlet to Victor Borge, and not on the farce unfolding around them.

The conference will be an utter fiasco, since there is no real evidence that carbon emissions have anything to do with global warming, which is not, in fact, occurring at all. The mad ambitions to spend trillions of dollars reducing carbon emissions will be scaled back drastically. Fortunately, the Chinese and the Indians can be relied upon to rub the noses of voluminous Western eco-poseurs in their own hyperbole.

There is just a chance that this conference will be such a burlesque that the world’s leaders will slow down, stay home, stop calling pleasure trips to interpreters’ conventions and elocution competitions summits, and leave such discussions to policy specialists, who won’t excite nonsensical expectations or distract the media.

Like so much else, summitry is a concept or brand that has been abused and trivialized, as Cadillac was for many years. If Copenhagen deters the world’s publicity-seeking official conferenciers from trying to squeeze any more juice out of the summit lemon, it will be a howling success. Only the countries that mistakenly expect to receive compensation for their impoverished inability to generate carbon emissions, or for the falsely pledged reduction of them, will pay any attention to the pious frauds that the posturing busybodies of Copenhagen may claim to agree to implement.

– Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. He can be reached at [email protected]. He wrote this article for NRO and the National Post of Canada. 


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