The rhetoric of presidential summit diplomacy: Ronald Reagan and the U.S. Soviet summits, 1985-1988
MetadataShow full item record
President Ronald Reagan participated in more U.S.-Soviet summits than any previous U.S. president, as he met with his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, on four occasions between November 1985 and June 1988. Prior to, during, and following each meeting with Gorbachev, Reagan often engaged in the rhetoric of public diplomacy, including speeches, statements, and media interviews. The four Reagan- Gorbachev summits accompanied significant changes in U.S.-Soviet relations, in the Cold War, and also within the Soviet Union. Many scholars attribute improved U.S.- Soviet relations to a change in Reagan’s Soviet rhetoric and policies, arguing that he abandoned the confrontation of his first term for conciliation during his second term. Other scholars argue that Reagan failed to abandon confrontation and, consequently, missed opportunities to support the liberalization of the Soviet system. Based upon close analysis of Reagan’s summit rhetoric, this dissertation contends that he did not abandon his confrontational policy objectives, but he did modify his rhetoric about the Soviets. Reagan reformulated the conventional Cold War rhetoric of rapprochement that emphasized nuclear arms controls as the path to world peace by emphasizing increased U.S.-Soviet trust as prerequisite to new arms treaties. Reagan’s summit rhetoric emphasized the need for the Soviets to make changes in non-nuclear arms areas as a means of reducing international mistrust and increasing the likelihood of new U.S.- Soviet arms treaties. Reagan advocated that the Soviets participate in increased bilateral people-to-people exchanges, demonstrate respect for human rights, and disengage from various regional conflicts, especially Afghanistan. Reagan adopted a dualistic strategy that combined confrontation and conciliation as he sought to promote those changes in Soviet policies and practices. During his second term as president, Reagan made his confrontational rhetoric less strident and also used more conciliatory discourse. At the same time, he subsumed his anti-Soviet objectives within his conciliatory rhetoric. This rhetorical strategy allowed Reagan to continue to advocate anti-Soviet objectives while at the same time seeking to promote improved relations and world peace. The findings of this dissertation suggest that existing scholarly views of Reagan’s summit rhetoric and his role in promoting the liberalization of the Soviet system should be reconsidered.
Howell, Buddy Wayne (2006). The rhetoric of presidential summit diplomacy: Ronald Reagan and the U.S. Soviet summits, 1985-1988. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from