Let’s Make a Deal

by William R. Keylor
Great Negotiations: Agreements that Changed the Modern World
By Fredrik Stanton
(Westholme Publishing, 304 pages, $26)
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France also figures prominently in Great Negotiations. Three of Stanton’s eight case studies involve Franco-American diplomatic exchanges: Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane’s successful negotiation with the Bourbon monarchy that produced the Franco-American Treaty of Alliance (1778); Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon I (1803); and Woodrow Wilson’s wrangling with Premier Georges Clemenceau of the Third French Republic over the drafting of the peace treaty with defeated Germany at the Paris Peace Conference (1919).

Stanton is right to assert that each of the agreements reached in these three negotiations had important long-term repercussions. The shrewd combination of inducements and threats that enabled Franklin and Deane in Paris to secure the Franco-American Treaty of Alliance on February 6, 1778, for example, provided the Continental army with weapons, ammunition, and supplies, as well as naval and military support at a critical stage of the war. Stanton reminds us that while France proceeded to deal its global rival a serious blow by depriving it of its American colonies, the costs of the war — three times France’s national budget — eventually forced the hapless Louis XVI to seek approval for new taxes from the long-defunct Estates-General, which in turn led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the advent of the French republican tradition.

No less consequential was the Paris Peace Conference of 1919: Stanton paints a vivid portrait of this gathering of the victors of World War I to redraw the map of Europe and forge a new world order. But Stanton’s excessive attention to trivial details — the chandelier hanging on the ceiling, the tapestries on the walls — crowds out many of the substantive issues with which the delegates grappled, such as concerns about borders, security, German disarmament, and reparations. When he does turn his attention to these issues, Stanton hews closely to the orthodox historical interpretation of the Versailles settlement offered by John Maynard Keynes, Harold Nicolson, and other disillusioned participants: the sordid story of a vindictive France imposing on defeated Germany a “Carthaginian peace” in violation of lofty Wilsonian ideals. Stanton’s assertion that “Clemenceau was quite open about his desire to dismember Germany, and candidly admitted that the more separate and independent republics that were established in Germany the better” is a crude caricature of the French premier’s nuanced diplomacy at the peace conference. The old Tiger was reviled by French president Raymond Poincaré, Generalissimo Ferdinand Foch, and the right-wing Parisian press for his unwillingness to smash Germany into its pre-Bismarckian pieces and make it pay the full cost of France’s war effort. Stanton quotes liberally from Margaret Macmillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, but seems to have missed the underlying theme of that book (and of much recent scholarship on the subject): The peace settlement of 1919 was not nearly as harsh or as impossible of fulfillment as its early critics claimed.

All of the negotiating sessions featured in this book have been subjected to exhaustive investigation by several eminent specialists. Stanton neither uncovers new historical facts nor offers novel interpretive insights about his eight case studies of diplomacy. But his lucid, cogent assessments of the daily give-and-take and lively character sketches of the dramatis personae make this book a pleasure to read.

William R. Keylor ’71GSAS, ’71SIPA is professor of history and international relations and director of the International History Institute at Boston University. The sixth edition of his The Twentieth Century World and Beyond: An International History since 1900 will appear at the end of this year.

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