The 1989 Malta Summit

The 1989 Malta Summit

Produced By Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs, Date: Nov 10, 2021
Following the end of World War II, between 1946 and 1991, the United States (US), the Soviet Union (USSR), and their respective allies were locked in a long, tense conflict, known as the Cold War. Although the parties were technically at peace, the period was characterized by an aggressive arms race, proxy wars, and ideological bids for world dominance.

A positive development, which was without precedent in world history, was the flourishing of multilateral institutions following the end of the war, such as the United Nations, the Bretton Woods Institutions, and the Council of Europe. These resulted in a cautious approach based on taking decisions only with the support of majorities, although and in the case of the United Nations Permanent Members of the Security Council were also given the right to veto such decisions.

Gradually, the spirit of cooperation and trust in the 1970s led to the formation of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation​ in Europe (OSCE), which adopts all decisions by consensus among all participating states. Such an approach is a clear definition of the prevalent trust of that era, in the ability of different parties to put aside unilateral agendas and to address common security issues through multilateral approaches.

The Soviet Union exploded its first atomic warhead in 1949, thus ending the American monopoly on the atomic bomb, a development which would shape international relations for decades to come. This resulted in complete dominance of global politics by the two nuclear powers and gave rise to a bi-polar world order whereby most of the other countries formed strategic alliances with either of the powers, better known as North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact respectively.

The possession of nuclear weapons ensured that a large-scale war between the two parties was not likely to break out due to the self-explanatory concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). However, this period was characterized by repetitive instances of confrontation through foreign intervention by the nuclear powers in fragile states as they sought to install governments which sympathized with their ideology.

While some hailed the possession of nuclear arms as a guarantor of peace and a stabilizer of the balance of power, nonetheless, the Cold-War era posed a serious threat to humanity. Even if direct confrontation was avoided, geo-strategic concerns meant that hostilities could easily escalate to a point of no return. A mistake could be disastrous on an immense scale. The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the highest and most dangerous point of tension between the two sides, portrayed the fragility of the situation. It showed how provocation, miscalculations and miscommunication could easily lead to nuclear war.

The 1989 Malta Summit

By the late 1980s, the situation had started to change due to a multitude of Factors. The transfer of Soviet power to Mikhail Gorbachev was significant as he opted for a policy of détente (the relaxation of strained relations) with the United States. He sought to reform Communism and introduced the concepts of "glasnost" (openness) and "perestroika" (change). The aims of such manoeuvres remain debated to this day. Simultaneously, Communist governments in Eastern Europe were collapsing, Hungary had just opened its border with the West, and the infamous Berlin Wall collapsed in November 1989.

Between 2-3 December 1989, United States’ President, George Bush, and the Soviet Union Leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, had scheduled the Malta Summit which is now considered by some historians as the most important meeting between the USA and USSR since the Yalta Conference of 1945, when  Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin met to divide spheres of influence after the end of World War Two.

Despite the fact that during the Cold War, the limelight was focused on the two main blocs led by US and the USSR, it is crucial not to overlook the input of neutral countries towards the creation of a more peaceful world. The 1989 Malta Summit is a testament of Malta’s resolute determination through the years to strive for peace, security and multilateralism.

The 1989 Malta Summit heralded a new era of international relations and significantly reduced the immediate nuclear threat posed by the Cold-War on mankind. The US and USSR leaders declared a planned reduction in troops within Europe and that a reduction in weaponry would be discussed at a meeting scheduled for June 1990. The desire to sign an agreement on strategic nuclear arms reduction and to move towards a chemical weapons treaty were signalled by the two parties.

The two sides had also come to realize that a new multipolar world was evolving, with an integrated Europe, a strong Japan and China, while India too was becoming more dynamic. In this regard, patterns of cooperation would be necessary in order to take account of new realities. It was time for the USSR and the US to abandon the image of enemies.

However, although the end of the Cold War brought about an era of globalisation together with a renewed hope in peaceful and joint progress, regrettably the positive spirit which characterised the post-Cold War era did not have a long-lasting effect.  Nowadays, we once again find ourselves in an environment characterised by division and lack of trust. This is evident in the unilateral actions adopted by states and in the lack of trust in finding joint solutions through multilateral organisations. Despite the continued prevalence of globalisation, it is clear that states have still not fully grasped the notion that in a globalised world, transnational issues can only be solved through joint multilateral action. The 1989 Malta Summit is a timely reminder about the ability of states to rise to the occasion and to find the necessary will power to stive for a better world.

The Choice of Malta

The choice of venue was highly symbolic. The Maltese Islands are strategically located at the geographic centre of the Mediterranean Sea, where East meets West and North meets South. This was significant in the context of political and ideological divisions between the capitalist West and the Communist East.

Furthermore, the choice of Malta was ideal due to the country’s Neutrality stance. Malta declared its neutrality from the two super-powers in 1980, following the departure of British forces from the islands. At the time, Neutrality was entrenched in the Constitution of Malta, which provided as follows, "Malta is a neutral state actively pursuing peace, security and social progress among all nations by adhering to a policy of non-alignment and refusing to participate in any military alliance.

The endeavour was also in line with Malta’s views about the world, as the islands adopted a policy openly advocating against the possession of nuclear weapons. Only one year before the Summit, Malta had refused entry to a Royal Navy ship which was paying the islands a visit, citing that it would violate Malta’s neutrality clause and non-nuclear policy as it could not be confirmed, or otherwise, whether the vessel contained nuclear weapons.

Gregory Pototsky

Gregory Pototsky 

Gregory Pototsky (1954) is an international contemporary prolific Russian sculptor.  His work combines masterfully the traditions of Russian academic art with classical French Impressionism and XX Century Modernism.  His artistic character is determined by his admiration for expressive modelling and texture intensification to the point of quasi abstractionist vision.   
Pototsky graduated from the State Institute of the Arts in Odessa (Faculty of Sculpture) in 1977 and from the Kishinev State University (Historical Faculty) in 1986.  He is an Honorary Academician of the Academy of Arts of Russia, Associate Member of the International Academy of Culture and Art, and Member of the International Union of Artists of UNESCO. 
Pototsky is also known for his bronze busts and reliefs which range from important literary personalities like Aleksander Pushkin, to inspiring personalities like Blessed Mother Theresa as well as designers and actors like Pierre Cardin, Charlie Chaplin and Stephen Baldwin.
The sculpture Pototsky donated to Malta was concepted to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the meeting in 1989 in Malta of the then US President George H. W.  Bush and the President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev when the Cold War was declared officially over.
The globe depicts the reliefs of the two Presidents separated by tracks which represent the trail of armored tanks, but which, however, evolve into leaves of the laurel shrub, the symbol of the triumph of humanity.  A representation of razor wire runs all over the globe.  This represents the Iron Curtain which once divided Europe and the World.  A crack in the bronze also runs through the globe.  This symbolizes the fragility of peace and that what was achieved can easily be lost.
The symbolism of the sculpture represents sentiments very close to the heart of Pototsky who maintains that ‘A human being is only human when he is kind’.  This concept of human kindness is in fact his life mission which he seeks to promote with his bronze monument known as Dandelion of Kindness and which he has planted all over the world.​​