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Six giant diplomatic feats

Guest Blogger

For a world that favors negotiation over force, Fredrik Stanton has some advice: peer into the past, learn how the great diplomats pursued their craft and deploy those skills in today’s fragile world. In his book “Great Negotiations: Agreements that Changed the Modern World,” recently released by Westholme Publishing, Stanton tells the tales of great diplomatic triumphs. Here he sums up six of the biggest successes at the negotiating table.

By Fredrik Stanton

Politics and history are often shaped by the clash of forces and personalities at the bargaining table. In negotiating, great opportunity lies alongside the potential for disaster, and the rules are often written while the game is played. Major negotiations, which Churchill called “conversations of silk and steel,” are made of contradictions: confrontation and collaboration, conflict and seduction. The stakes are high, the margin for error is small, and the clock is ticking.

These unique moments, the highest stakes poker games in history, allow individuals, armed only with cunning and determination, to leave a lasting mark on the fates of nations. The past holds lessons for the present and the future, and we should learn from them as we confront today's crises in Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Here are some negotiations that have changed the course of history:

The Franco-American Alliance of 1778

When the American revolution hung by a thread with the Continental army short of money and gunpowder, Congress sent Benjamin Franklin on a mission to Paris to secure a French alliance against Britain. Using a combination of perseverance and bluff, Franklin convinced the French to join the American cause. France’s coming to America’s aid turned the tide against the British and paved the way for the colonists’ victory over what was then the greatest empire on earth.

The Louisiana Purchase

In 1803 the young American republic pulled off what has been described as the best real estate deal in history. By manipulating the strategic tension at the time between France and England, President Jefferson and James Monroe persuaded Napoleon to sell all eight hundred thousand square miles of the Louisiana Territories to the United States for fifteen million dollars. The transaction nearly doubled the size of the United States, making it one of the largest nations in the world.

The Congress of Vienna

In 1814, Napoleon’s adventures (partly financed by his sale of the Louisiana Territories) led to France’s defeat by the Great Powers. By establishing a carefully crafted balance of power, the Congress of Vienna restructured the continent of Europe and established a framework that kept the peace for a century.

The Treaty of Portsmouth

In brokering an end to the Russo-Japanese War, Theodore Roosevelt marked America’s emergence on the world diplomatic stage, helped save a quarter-million lives, and prevented a world war. The resulting peace irretrievably altered the balance of power in the Pacific, and as Roosevelt predicted, set the stage for an eventual showdown between Japan and the United States.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

In the depths of the Cold War, with the balance of power teetering between the two superpowers, American intelligence discovered a clandestine attempt by the Soviet Union to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. Over the course of thirteen days, Kennedy and Khrushchev successfully navigated a crisis that insiders had given a 50 percent chance of leading to nuclear holocaust.

Reagan and Gorbachev at the Reykjavik Summit

At the high water mark of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan met with the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in a dramatic summit in Iceland. Although initially viewed as a failure by both sides, it led to the first arms control agreement to reduce nuclear weapons and marked the turning point in the conflict between the two superpowers.

By Steven E. Levingston  |  June 15, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags: modern diplomacy; great historical negotiations;  
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Your statement that "the Congress of Vienna...established a framework that kept the peace for a century" really stretches the definition of peace. The individual wars of 19th century Europe pale in comparison to WWI or perhaps the campaigns of Napoleon, but many areas (especially around Prussia) seemed to be in a state of constant warfare. Here are just a few conflicts of note:

- Revolutions of 1848
- The Crimean War
- The Austro-Prussian War
- The Franco-Prussian War

In addition, I would hardly call Moltke and Bismarck "peacetime diplomats."

Posted by: gateway_joe | June 15, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

The Congress of Vienna was also where the European powers agreed among themselves on how to carve up Africa and the Middle East. We are still paying the price for that today.

Posted by: koppo55 | June 15, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

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