Geneva, Genf, Genève. Photo/Foto: TES.

The Alabama, Putin, Biden and Geneva

Joe Biden (1942), President of the United States, and Vladimir Putin (1952), President of Russia, will meet in Geneva on 16 June 2021. The venue for the meeting is La Grange Park. The city has a long reputation for dispute resolution and meetings between leaders of the great powers. One of the first cases was between America and the United Kingdom in 1869.

America sought compensation from the United Kingdom for warships produced in British shipyards for the Confederacy in the American Civil War (1861-1865).
The case was named the CSS Alabama, after the most effective warship. It was launched at a shipyard in Birkenhead (near Liverpool) and delivered to the Confederacy in 1862.

The Arbitration Committee met in Geneva and wrote public international law, establishing Geneva’s name and fame as the capital of diplomacy and international law. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) seat was in this city in 1863.

After the First World War, the League of Nations was based in Geneva until it was dissolved in 1944. Today, the city houses the European headquarters of the UN and 600 other international NGOs.

Geneva (and Switzerland) has hosted many meetings between parties and countries. American presidents have chosen the city for a meeting five times.

Ten years after the Second World War, the four superpowers of Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and their heads of state met. President Jimmy Carter (1924) and Syrian President Hafez el-Assad (1930-2000) met there in 1977.

The beginning of the end of the Cold War was marked by the first meeting between Roland Reagan (1911-2004) and Michail Gorbatsjov (1931) in 1985. George Bush Sr. (1924-2018) met Syrian President Hafez el-Assad in 1990. Bill Clinton (1946) visited the city four times, including a meeting with the same Syrian president in 1994. His ‘anonymous’ cheese fondue is still legendary.

In normal times, the city hosts 10 000 large and small meetings and conferences a year., 150 years after the first international arbitration case.

The few meetings between the heads of state of the great powers pale into insignificance from this perspective. The prestige and the logistical operation are enormous and incomparable, however.