History is traditionally told either through the lens of war or biography, says Fredrik Stanton, author of the new book “Great Negotiations: Agreements that Changed the Modern World.” Stanton believes that his book fills in a missing piece of the puzzle of history. He recounts the critical role that negotiations and diplomacy play in shaping international relations.
In a recent interview with Carol Castiel, host of VOA’s newsmaker interview program “Press Conference USA,” Stanton says that efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks remind him of negotiations between Israel and Egypt in 1949, in which a UN mediator helped both sides reach a landmark armistice agreement. That mediator, Nobel Laureate Ralph Bunche, made sure the leaders of Israel and Egypt got down to the “nuts and bolts” of the issue by overlooking their prejudices.
George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s special envoy for Middle East Peace, has been employing tactics similar to those used by Bunche to foster a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Stanton says. Despite the obstacles, Stanton is optimistic that with diplomatic assistance, Israelis and Palestinians can reach an agreement. He says “the better we understand the successful negotiations in the past, the more effective we can be in our negotiations and less often we will have to use force to overcome our differences.”
There is, however, also a need to understand and learn from failed negotiations. “Negotiation, it’s a very powerful thing, but it can be misused and it can lead to great problems if it’s not done correctly,” says Stanton. He cites the Munich Agreement, in which Britain and France allowed Nazi Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia. According to Stanton, this failed negotiation that rewarded bad behavior, prolonged and exacerbated World War II.
“It is important to not lose sense of the fact that interests are, at the end of the day, really the benchmark by which a lot of this [negotiation] is measured,” Stanton asserts. To solve a problem, the interests of both sides have to be discussed and reconciled.
Diplomacy is essential to living in a peaceful world, says Stanton. And diplomats who understand the value of history and know what has been successful or unsuccessful in the past can make “nonviolent” differences in the world. Stanton gives US President Barack Obama high marks thus far for his conduct of foreign policy. He cites the recent arms reduction pact between the United States and Russia as well as the Nuclear Security Summit as evidence of President Obama’s commitment to the power of diplomacy and negotiation to avert conflict and reduce tensions.