Fredrik Stanton is the author of Great Negotiations: Agreements That Changed the Modern World. Stanton is no newcomer to international relations and foreign policy. He is the former president of the Columbia Daily Spectator and has written for both the Boston Herald and the United Nations publication A Global Agenda. Stanton was also an election monitor in Armenia, the Republic of Georgia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Azerbaijan.
Fredrik is currently promoting his book and has kindly taken time out of his hectic touring schedule to speak to us.
Can you tell us a little about Great Negotiations?
Great Negotiations: Agreements that Changed the Modern World tells the stories of the highest stakes poker games in history, moments when the strategic forces were so finely balanced that individuals were able to leave their mark on the course of events. It explores how great leaders make choices under pressure, and introduces a new way of seeing history. History is traditionally viewed through the lens of war or biography, and this fills in a missing piece of the puzzle.
Can you tell us how you came up with the idea for the book?
The book began as a question: what examples were there of people changing history with language and wits alone?
What made you choose this specific set of negotiations? Were there any that might have been included but didn’t quite fit your criteria?
The negotiations I picked met three criteria. They had to have had a large footprint and lead to changes that still affect our lives today. They couldn’t be a dictation of terms or a natural unfolding of events. The individuals at the table had to have the ability to affect the outcome. Finally, there had to be enough material available to recreate the give and take of the discussions, to give the reader a seat at the table as the drama unfolded. There are any number of other good examples of important, successful negotiations, and others I considered included Yalta, Camp David, and the Alaska Purchase. In the end I felt that the ones I included presented an array of different situations and personalities that give a sense of the possibilities and the pitfalls of these turning points in history.
These were all fine examples of negotiation and the diplomatic process even if the result was not always a success. Can you think of any examples of negotiations that were clear examples of disasters or failures?
The Munich agreement in September 1938 is obviously an example of a disastrous failure, and serves as an enduring reminder that appeasement which rewards aggression does not buy peace for long. The Paris Peace Conference, which I cover in my book, is an example of a flawed agreement that led to wars on several continents.
The world has changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War which is where your book concludes. Can you think of any outstanding negotiations in that period?
Absolutely. Nelson Mandela’s negotiations from within his prison cell to peacefully overturn Apartheid in South Africa comes to mind.
The research in the book was meticulous and you did a fine example of bringing to life the personalities of some of the greatest leaders of the modern era. What materials and sources did you use in your research?
With the older negotiations, I used a great deal of archival research. With some of the more recent ones, recently declassified material from both sides gave invaluable insights, and I was fortunate to be able to interview many of the participants. One of the benefits of hindsight is the ability to allow the reader to see through the eyes of each side, and pull back the veil of uncertainly to show the cards they actually held.
How long did it take you to research and write the book?
It took much longer than I expected. Over five years.
The book tackled what could have been a dry subject matter and yet it read like a novel and I raced to the end of each vignette. Was that intentional? Who would you say your target market was in writing this book?
It was definitely intentional. I was fortunate in that there is an inherent tension and drama to the stories, as the stakes are high, the clock is ticking, and the characters don’t know how it will turn out until the end. The target audience is broad. The stories at the end of the day are about people, some remarkable, others normal people put in remarkable situations, and how their choices affected history.
I was a bit sad to reach the end of the book – have you planned a sequel?
I haven’t yet decided.
What will your next project be, if not a sequel?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the writing process, it’s that you invest so much of yourself in it you must have an unshakable conviction in the idea. I’d like to find a subject that seizes me the way Great Negotiations: Agreements that Changed the Modern World did, but I think my next stop is a vacation.
What work have you done to promote the book? Are you touring at the moment?
I’m currently giving talks, and so far it’s been a very encouraging experience. It’s rewarding to see people so excited about the idea, and it’s very satisfying to see how much people are enjoying the book.
Now for a little bit about you. Can you tell us anything about your writing process?
The writing process flowed fairly naturally out of the research. They say that writing is mostly editing, which was certainly true in this case. Once I’d laid out the structure, much of my effort was spent crafting the language and making sure that the stories flowed naturally.
All writers have strange habits and things they do when they are writing. What are yours?
I did much of the writing in longhand on legal paper. Once I’d written most of it out, then I’d transfer it to the computer for editing and reworking.
You’ve had a fascinating career to date, can you tell us a bit more about that?
After college I worked for several years doing strategy consulting for technology companies for a firm in Boston. I’ve also worked for an internet start-up and in private equity, but I’ve always been fascinated by foreign policy and history.
Can you tell us a bit more about your time as an election monitor in countries like Armenia, Republic of Georgia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Azerbaijan?
It’s a remarkable experience. Each country is fascinating in its own way, and the people involved in the monitoring process are first-class professionals. Both the Balkans and the Caucuses have a rich history and a tumultuous past, and whatever the political situation, I’ve always been impressed by the warmth of their people. These are places where democracy is putting down fragile roots, and it’s wonderful to see how much it means to people who are experiencing it for the first time. It’s often imperfect, but it reminds me how precious things are that we often take for granted.
Do you think you would do such work in the future or will you focus on your writing now?
For now, I’m focused on the book tour.
How can people contact you or keep up with your activities in the future?
The best way to reach me is by contacting my publisher at Westholme Publishing. Their website is www.westholmepublishing.com.
Thank you for taking part in the interview Fredrick.
You can find the review of Fredrik Stanton's book by following this link:
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