Geneva Conferences

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GENEVA CONFERENCES. In the twentieth century the United States participated in several diplomatic conferences held at Geneva, Switzerland. The first major one was a naval disarmament conference called by President Calvin Coolidge in 1927. It was an unsuccessful effort to extend restrictions on the construction of naval vessels to cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, none of which had been covered by the five-power treaty signed at Washington, D. C., five years earlier.

Between 1932 and 1934 the United States participated in a general disarmament conference of fifty-nine nations called by the League of Nations at Geneva. The conference concentrated on land armaments. The United States proposed the abolition of all offensive armaments, and when this did not win approval, proposed a 30 percent reduction in all armaments. Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union welcomed this plan, but France—concerned about Germany's increasing power—rejected it. With the withdrawal of Germany from the League of Nations in October 1933, the failure of the disarmament conference became clear. It adjourned in June 1934.

In 1947 the United States participated in an international tariff conference at Geneva. This conference prepared a draft charter for a proposed international trade organization and produced a General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. An international conference attended by the United States; the Soviet Union; Great Britain; France; the People's Republic of China; the Associated States of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia; the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, North Korea, and South Korea was held in Geneva in the summer of 1954. It was an effort to reach a settlement on the problems of Korea and Indochina. Talks on Korean unification became deadlocked, but the participants agreed on a cease-fire in Korea; independence for Laos and Cambodia; and a temporary partition of Indochina, pending elections there. In July 1955 the first major East-West summit conference was held at Geneva. The principal participants were President Dwight D. Eisenhower (United States), Prime Minister Anthony Eden (Great Britain), Premier Edgar Faure (France), and Premier Nikolai Bulgan in along with Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev (Soviet Union). The term "spirit of Geneva" expressed a public expectation that the conference would lessen international tension. However, neither Eisenhower's proposal for an "open skies" inspection plan permitting Americans and Soviets to conduct aerial reconnaissance over one another's territory, nor the Soviet proposal for a mutual withdrawal of forces from Europe, made any headway.

In May 1961 a fourteen-nation conference, including the United States, convened at Geneva in an attempt to resolve the conflict in Laos between the central government and the forces of the pro-communist Pathet Lao. After prolonged discussions the conferees agreed in July 1962 to the establishment of a neutral coalition government in that country.

In December 1973 United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim convened the first ever Arab-Israeli peace conference at Geneva with foreign ministers from the United States, the Soviet Union, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel attending. Syria refused to attend, and the PLO was not invited. The initial talks were subsequently pursued through other channels, ultimately leading to the Camp David Accords in 1978.

The United States has also participated in a series of conferences on the international control of nuclear weapons that have been held at Geneva intermittently since 1958. These negotiations helped to prepare the way for the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963), the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (1968), and the Treaty on the Limitations of Strategic Armaments (1972). In November 1985 President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met at Geneva and declared their intention to seek a 50 percent reduction in strategic nuclear arms.


Bischof, Günter, and Saki Dockrill, eds. Cold War Respite: The Geneva Summit of 1955. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000.

Cable, James. The Geneva Conference of 1954 on Indochina. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986.

Garthoff, Raymond L. The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War. Washington, D. C. : Brookings Institution, 1994.

Max PaulFriedman

John LewisGaddis

See alsoGeneva Accords of 1954 ; Geneva Conventions ; Nuclear Test Ban Treaty ; Summit Conferences, U. S. and Russian .

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Geneva Conferences

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