Diplomacy is defined as the skill for dealing with people who have different opinions, goals, and objectives in a way that avoids or resolves conflicts. Diplomacy is accomplished by negotiation or bargaining. Usually each party in a negotiation wishes to ensure that their priorities are dominate, and they concede as little as possible. Effective diplomacy allows both parties to achieve important priorities, maintain their self-respect, and avoid grudges or sanctions which engender future disagreements. Successful negotiations create a resolution that enables nations to collaborate and cooperate with one another, whereas diplomatic failures can result in war, economic instability, hegemony and lack of alliance.

Diplomacy dates to ancient times. Treaties between different cities in Mesopotamia, now Iraq, date back to 2850 B.C. Egyptian and Canaanite leaders exchanged diplomatic letters in the 14th century B.C. Writings on the walls of ancient Mayan buildings in Mexico indicate native Americans in Mayan cities exchanged diplomats.

National diplomacy occurs when a government uses the components of national power to assure its own priorities. These may include political connections and influence, geographic dominance, economic give and take, industrial dominance, and even military might. Thus, diplomacy pursues its objectives by persuasion, compromise, and threat of force.

Such arm-twisting must be done with finesse and the realization that overt bullying and force may result in such resentment and bitterness, that even if short-term goals are accomplished, future peace could be jeopardized.

Sometimes, one side in a negotiation refuses to compromise. When this happens, others involved may impose sanctions. This may work, but such strategies may also only sustain, amplify or extend conflict.  When emotions are intense, such that one side deems the other evil, irrational, or unethical on principle, instead of writing off all possibilities of a negotiation, it will be very important for the negotiators to examine the costs and benefits of failure to reach a compromise. Hans Morgenthau argued that one must apply political realism to international negotiations between states. He noted that it may be appropriate for an individual to sacrifice him/herself on a point of ethical or moral principle, but it is not appropriate to sacrifice an entire nation in such a manner. It is the job of successful Diplomats to make things HAPPEN. Even partial agreements may lay the groundwork for future communication, negotiations, and compromise.

Can one identify examples of successful International Diplomacy? First, let’s admit that agreements, treaties, and other negotiations are often time limited in that the conditions for such can change with time. This may not mean that the Diplomatic effort was a failure, just that it is a continuing process. Listed below are examples of what might be deemed successful diplomatic achievements:

  • The agreements between Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin to cooperate during WWII to fight Nazism and the regime of Adolph Hitler.
    • This included the Anglo-Soviet Treaty of 1942, the Percentage Agreement in 1944, the Yalta Agreement in 1945.
    • Post-World War II politics eventually demanded inclusion of the interests of the U.S., New Zealand, India, and China, as well as France and governments in exile.
  • During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis negotiations between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev it was agreed that Russia would remove existing medium range missiles and bombers in Cuba and the United States would remove similar missiles at the border of Russia in Turkey, end the quarantine of Cuba, and promise not to invade Cuba. The agreement also resulted in establishing a “hot line” communication between Russia and the United States.
    • The medium-range ballistic Russian missiles in Cuba would have reached all territories in the United States, permitting a first strike Nuclear engagement.
    • Similarly, the U.S. missiles along the Turkish/Russian border could strike anywhere in the Soviet Union.
    • The United States agreed to cancel Operation Mongoose, a planned invasion of Cuba scheduled for October 1962.
    • The canceled U.S. “quarantine” against Cuba was very close to an actual blockage, which under international law would have been considered an act of war.
  • The Reykajavik Summit meeting between President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 resulted in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
    • The summit meeting itself did not accomplish its stated goals, but it facilitated the 1987 Nuclear Forces Treaty.
    • These negotiations can be argued to have maintained “The Long Peace” that persisted after World War II until today during which there has been no major direct confrontation between major powers.


Bob Meroney is an Emeritus Professor of Fluid Mechanics and Wind Engineering with a long career at Colorado State University. He has been an active member of the Fort Collins Rotary Club and regularly researches a range of topics on modern life, issues and politics that serve to spark deeper conversations among friends and colleagues. If you have questions or ideas, you can contact Bob: Robert.Meroney@ColoState.EDU.

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