Famous Negotiations: Insights from History’s Most Influential Deals

Negotiation has played a crucial role in human civilization. From tribes bartering goods to modern businesses striking multi-million-dollar deals to governments avoiding starting world wars, good negotiators have been essential for survival, success, and progress.

Throughout history, some famous negotiations have changed the world and made headlines. These transactions have uncovered critical insights into different approaches to negotiation, conflict resolution, and communication.

In this blog post, we’ll dig deep into some of history’s most famous negotiations, the tactics used, and the lessons learned.

Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a critical point in the Cold War when American and Soviet Union superpowers engaged in a nuclear arms race. In 1962, the Soviet Union placed nuclear warheads in Cuba that could reach American soil. President Kennedy responded by blockading Cuba to stop further missile shipments.

Negotiations began between Kennedy and Soviet Secretary Nikita Khrushchev, which lasted for thirteen days. During the negotiations, the leaders exchanged several aggressive messages, including threats of nuclear war.

Kennedy offered a deal to Khrushchev whereby he would end the Cuba blockade, and the United States would also not attack Cuba, while the Soviet Union would dismantle its missile sites in Cuba.

The negotiations continued until an agreement was reached, and the U.S. government and the Soviet Union averted a nuclear war.

Lesson learned: It’s crucial to find common ground and de-escalate a situation rather than escalate it, even in the most challenging negotiations.

Treaty of Tordesillas (1494)

The Treaty of Tordesillas was the result of a negotiation between Portugal and Spain to settle territorial disputes. The negotiations were led by Pope Alexander VI because both countries were Catholic, and the Pope acted as the Earthly representative of God’s authority.

The Pope drew a line of demarcation (the Tordesillas line) that divided South America (except Brazil) between Portugal and Spain, giving Portugal the easternmost part of Brazil and Spain the rest of the continent.

The treaty opened a new route to the Orient for Portugal, who would monopolize the trade of Indian spices and other goods. Spain received the vast territories west of the line, which included today’s California, Texas, and many other states in the U.S.

Lesson learned: When emotions run high, and two parties confront each other, an impartial mediator or negotiation partner can make a significant difference in resolving the conflict.

Berlin Conference (1884-1885)

The Berlin Conference was held in 1884 under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck. The conference was a negotiation amongst 14 European countries, including Great Britain, France, and Portugal, over the colonization of Africa.

During the conference, European powers agreed on the ground rules for the exploitation of the African continent. They divided Africa into regions that each country could “develop” and “civilize.” The conference established colonial boundaries that would remain even after African countries gained independence.

Lesson learned: In any negotiation, there’s always a danger that one party will use its power to exploit the other. It’s crucial to ensure fairness and equality when negotiating.

Camp David Accords (1978)

The Camp David Accords was a negotiation that ended decades of hostility and conflict between Egypt and Israel. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter hosted the negotiations, which resulted in a historic peace treaty.

The negotiations were tough, but Carter managed to get Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to sit down and talk by making both parties understand that making a deal was their best option.

After 13 days of negotiations at Camp David, the duo signed the Accords, which established mutual recognition between the two nations and set the framework for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Lesson learned: Effective negotiation can break down barriers and bring about long-lasting peace.

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Negotiations (2010-2016)

The TPP negotiations were long and complex. The deal involved the United States and 12 other countries, aiming to establish a trade partnership between economies in the Pacific Rim. It was the largest trade deal in history.

Over the six years of negotiations, several rounds of discussions saw proposals, acceptance, and rejections of changes to the deal.

When the U.S. decided not to ratify the TPP in 2016, other nations like Australia took the lead and formed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which continues as a multilateral trade deal despite the U.S. withdrawal.

Lessons learned: The negotiation process can be a long and arduous one, and each party must be willing to compromise to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.

In addition, even if a party withdraws from negotiations, it is possible for the remaining parties to come together and agree on a solution.

Paris Climate Accord (2015)

The Paris Climate Accord was a negotiation among 196 countries to combat climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting global warming.

The negotiations were complex, as each country had to come to an agreement that would be acceptable to all countries involved.

After two weeks of intensive talks, the countries agreed on a groundbreaking deal that committed them all to tackle climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Lesson learned: Multilateral cooperation is key when dealing with global issues such as climate change. Achieving meaningful progress requires collaboration and compromise among different nations with varying interests and perspectives.

Treaty of Versailles (1919)

The Treaty of Versailles was a negotiation that officially ended World War I. The negotiations were held in Paris in 1919, led by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau.

The treaty imposed harsh reparations on Germany, forcing them to accept responsibility for causing the war and pay substantial amounts of money to other countries. The treaty also redrew borders and created new countries.

The repercussions of the Treaty of Versailles are still felt today. Many people believe that the treaty’s harsh terms contributed to the rise of the Nazi party and the start of World War II.

Lesson learned: Be mindful of the long-term consequences when negotiating and consider the impact your deal will have on future generations.

Salt I and II (1972, 1979)

Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) I and II were negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union to reduce the number of nuclear weapons each country possessed.

The negotiations were led by U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, along with Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. The resulting agreements limited ballistic missiles and submarine-launched missiles and established principles for arms control.

The two agreements led to significant reductions in nuclear arsenals, easing tensions between the two superpowers during the Cold War.

Lesson learned: Cooperation and negotiation can have a significant impact on stopping the arms race and avoiding catastrophic warfare.

Dayton Accords (1995)

The Dayton Accords were a negotiation that ended the Bosnian War in 1995. The negotiations were led by U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who brought together the leaders of Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia in Dayton, Ohio.

The peace agreement established a framework for political and economic stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the creation of a decentralized government made up of two entities – the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska.

The Dayton Accords brought an end to the brutal conflict that had claimed over 100,000 lives and displaced over 2 million people.

Lesson learned: Identifying and constructing a middle ground can be a powerful mechanism in resolving conflicts and establishing lasting peace.

Iran Nuclear Deal (2015)

The Iran Nuclear Deal was a negotiation between Iran and six other world powers, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia. The negotiations aimed to halt Iran’s ongoing nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.

The deal required Iran to limit its nuclear program, reduce the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium, and open facilities to international inspections.

While the deal was initially seen as a successful negotiation, it was later reversed by the United States under the Trump administration in 2018. While the Biden administration promised to reenter the agreement, they have yet to do so.

Lesson learned: Negotiations can be vulnerable to changes in leadership, and we must consider the sustainability of a deal under different administrations.


These famous negotiations have shown us the significance of skilled negotiation, the importance of communication, and the role of cooperation in resolving conflict.

Each negotiation was different, and each had different challenges, but they all have had an impact on the world we live in today.

By learning from the successes and failures of these negotiations, we can apply their insights to our own dealings to achieve constructive results.

You might not be working for the Biden administration or the United Nations, but learning how to negotiate and resolve conflicts while protecting your underlying interests is a valuable skill.

ADR Times offers an abundance of resources on mediation, conflict resolution, and negotiation; explore these courses and resources in greater detail to learn more.

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