Track Two Diplomacy in Theory and Practice

Track Two Diplomacy in Theory and Practice

by Peter Jones

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Track Two diplomacy consists of informal dialogues among actors such as academics, religious leaders, retired senior officials, and NGO officials that can bring new ideas and new relationships to the official process of diplomacy.
Sadly, those involved in official diplomacy often have little understanding of and appreciation for the complex and nuanced role that Track Two can play, or for its limitations. And many Track Two practitioners are often unaware of the realities and pressures of the policy and diplomatic worlds, and not particularly adept at framing their efforts to make them accessible to hard-pressed officials. At the same time, those interested in the academic study of Track Two sometimes fail to understand the realities faced by either set of practitioners.
A need therefore exists for a work to bridge the divides between these constituencies and between the different types of Track Two practice—and this book crosses disciplines and traditions in order to do just that. It explores the various dimensions and guises of Track Two, the theory and practice of how they work, and how both practitioners and academics could more profitably assess Track Two. Overall, it provides a comprehensive picture of the range of activities pursued under this title, to provoke new thinking about how these activities relate to each other, to official diplomacy, and to academe.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804796248
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 09/02/2015
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Peter Jones is Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, and an Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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Track Two Diplomacy in Theory and Practice

By Peter Jones


Copyright © 2015 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8047-9632-3


What Is Track Two Diplomacy?

FOR A TERM WHICH IS WIDELY AND OFTEN USED IN THE field of international relations, "Track Two diplomacy" defies easy definition. This is, in some ways, a source of strength. A loosely defined concept is one which can be applicable in many situations and can evolve quickly to meet the needs of different parties in different circumstances. Those who look at Track Two through a primarily operational lens would urge us not to seek specificity at the expense of flexibility. One is after all dealing with a process which is profoundly about the interactions between people, and firm definitions which attempt to cover all aspects of such situations are likely to be constraining and therefore not useful in the real world. Others argue that the lack of a firm understanding of what Track Two is can be a potential source of weakness; absent a widely accepted definition and, more importantly, absent the rigorous empirical and intellectual standards which often accompany efforts to develop such a definition, one can struggle to understand and communicate the boundaries of accepted practice. This means that the field can be open to unrestricted experimentation and even amateurish and destructive practices. Critics and skeptics can lambaste Track Two, critiquing certain cases which may not be representative of the field in the eyes of its proponents. And it becomes difficult to further establish the credibility of the field through research and analysis when different people are studying different things.

Over the years many attempts have been made to define Track Two; the main ones will be explored in this chapter. Some attempts have focused on the specifics of the activity itself, developing from various case studies an outline of what happens in a "typical" Track Two event as a means of defining the field more generally. The problem is that no two Track Two processes are the same, and some are wildly different. Such definitions therefore may capture a specific case or two but rarely capture the array of activities which go on under this name.

Others have focused on defining who the actors in a Track Two process are as the key to defining what is happening in a larger sense. They have tried to define the roles of those who are in conflict and the roles of those who take on the task of the so-called third party which brings the protagonists together. They also study the types of people who do this. Once again, however, this approach does not yield a satisfactory, much less an all-encompassing definition of Track Two. Different Track Two processes can have very different kinds of actors. These can range from those who are entirely removed from official life, to those who are not officials but are very close to their governments, to officials themselves who are "acting in their private capacity." Moreover, the backgrounds of these individuals can vary widely in their approaches to international affairs and to world politics.

Still others have sought to define Track Two by reference to its place within the larger negotiation process, most often seeing Track Two as a form of "prenegotiation" — a set of informal talks which help the two sides get to the formal negotiating table. While useful in some ways, this definition can limit views as to when and how Track Two is useful in that it conceives of Track Two as necessarily a tool to help parties get to an official negotiating table. Often Track Two is precisely this, but sometimes it is not; sometimes Track Two projects can be underway in parallel with official negotiations. But they can also be undertaken not to complement official talks, or the prospect of them, but rather to develop alternatives to official negotiation, often at the so-called grassroots level. Finally, some have tried to define Track Two by breaking it into a variety of categories, depending on what is going on, and then speaking about each in specific terms. While satisfying to some, no typology can ever really capture the large multiplicity of cases.

With so many, often conflicting, dimensions in play, it is probably impossible to come up with a concrete explanation or definition of Track Two which will adequately cover all cases. Attempts to do so quickly degenerate into largely frustrating theoretical debates over the application of certain terms and concepts to circumstances they were never meant to cover. Moreover, the question of defining Track Two is, for some, part of broader debates over the evolution of the field of conflict resolution. What this chapter will attempt to do, therefore, is to give the reader a sense of the array of activities which go on under the rubric of "Track Two diplomacy," and also a sense of the attempts which have been made in the past to explain and define it. Such a baseline is critical for the chapters that follow, which delve into specific issues confronting the field.

The First Use of the Term

Many are surprised to learn that the term "Track Two diplomacy" was not coined until relatively recently. It is generally agreed that the term was first used by Joseph Montville, an American foreign service officer. In 1981 Montville used the term to denote unofficial conflict resolution dialogues. He defined Track Two as

unofficial, informal interaction between members of adversarial groups or nations with the goals of developing strategies, influencing public opinion, and organizing human and material resources in ways that might help resolve the conflict.

Montville was keen to persuade his diplomatic colleagues that such dialogues should be better understood by diplomatic "professionals." In looking at the growing field of conflict resolution, and the growing number of such initiatives that were going on outside the realm of official diplomacy, Montville was concerned that his fellow diplomats were in danger of missing an important development in the field of international relations. He was particularly concerned that a longstanding professional bias against nonofficial involvement in international affairs was leading his colleagues to dismiss something which was subtly changing the landscape of their profession, whether they liked it or not.

Indeed, official suspicion of individuals trying to insert themselves into "diplomacy" has a long history. One of the earliest attempts by a government to formally prevent individuals from inserting themselves into foreign relations was the Logan Act of 1799, passed by the US Congress after a private citizen, Dr. Logan, had traveled to Paris on his own to discuss US-French relations with the French government. The Logan Act reads, in part,

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

Almost two hundred years later, many of Montville's diplomatic colleagues still viewed unofficial dialogues as, at best, an irrelevance, while others actively viewed them as a nuisance and believed that such processes should stay out of the way of officials. This view had still not changed significantly almost twenty years after Montville's early work when Cynthia Chataway undertook a study of the attitudes of US officials towards Track Two. Montville wanted diplomats to recognize that government has no monopoly on creativity in the face of difficult international problems and that a relationship between officials and Track Two could generate positive outcomes if properly structured and utilized. But that message has been slow to find widespread acceptance.

Initially there was no magic about the term "Track Two diplomacy." Montville merely noted that if official diplomacy might be called "Track One," then unofficial attempts to resolve differences might be called "Track Two." There is an undeniably elegant simplicity to this term. But it also unfortunately implies that such discussions could be construed as a form of "diplomacy." With very rare exceptions they are not: practitioners of Track Two diplomacy are not diplomats. That title belongs only to those who officially represent their countries. While some Track Two processes may be closely related to, and even sponsored by, official diplomacy and while officials may take part in various Track Two processes in their "private capacities," such processes cannot substitute for official interactions between states and should not try to do so.

It is thus probably unfortunate that the word "diplomacy" found its way into the lexicon surrounding unofficial dialogue and peacemaking, as it has created the potential for misunderstandings as to what is going on here. As we shall see, many of those who have subsequently tried to refine the definition have deliberately dropped the word "diplomacy" from their formulations. While their efforts have found favor with specialists in the field, the broader term "Track Two diplomacy" has caught on in the popular mind and in official circles, and is most often used in the vernacular to describe these efforts. We are thus stuck with it; but we should try to better understand it.

The Conflict Resolution Field

While the bulk of this chapter is dedicated to an exploration of the evolution of the idea and practice of Track Two, it is necessary to situate the discussion within the development of the broader field of conflict resolution. Indeed, for some people, Track Two is best understood as a subfield of the broader area of conflict resolution. This is true for much of Track Two, but not all; there are variants of Track Two that are not dedicated to the resolution of conflict. These include Track Two processes aimed at promoting regional security in various parts of the world, and these need to be understood in their own terms. They will be discussed later in this chapter. Within the conflict resolution stream of Track Two, which is the bulk of the field, there are differing understandings as to what "conflict resolution" actually means in practice, as we shall see when we explore this question in greater detail in Chapter 3.

The field of conflict resolution, as we presently know it in terms of international conflicts, emerged in the middle of the twentieth century when a small group of social scientists, influenced by both interwar theorists of international affairs and the development of new theories of labor relations and other means of settling domestic disputes, began to wonder if these ideas might not be applicable to international relations as well. At the time, the emerging field of international relations theory was heavily influenced by "realist" ideas, and the pioneers of what would become conflict resolution were not generally well received by the mainstream in either academe or official circles.

Nevertheless, these pioneers carried on and began to develop sets of theories as to how conflicts originated, developed, and might be resolved. Over the years, the field has witnessed a significant evolution in its understandings and debates. The earliest days of the field, at its international level of analysis, tended to focus on state-to-state conflicts and the problem of peace between nations. Through the 1960s and the 1970s and onwards, and particularly after the end of the Cold War, new thinking emerged on the question of "intractable" disputes between ethnic and other groups which went on beyond the state-to-state level of analysis, although such conflicts were often exacerbated by events at the state level. Concepts such as social justice, gender and conflict, and the impact of good governance on conflict resolution became much more widely understood and debated. One of the key documents which launched new thinking about conflict resolution in the post–Cold War world was the Agenda for Peace released by UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Gali in 1992. At the same time, new approaches to negotiations, such as Harvard Law School's "principled negotiation" method, emerged. Much more work was done to understand the complexity and the impact of culture and history on conflicts, beyond Cold War models of international affairs. As will be discussed later in this chapter, much of what would become Track Two as we presently understand it emerged and was refined at this time and was influenced by these wider developments and understandings of what conflict is, how it arises, and how it can be resolved peacefully.

The end of the Cold War saw significant advances in the field through the late 1980s and into the 1990s. As many conflicts which had been (apparently) suppressed by the superpower rivalry burst forth, a host of "scholar-practitioners" and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the conflict resolution field emerged to tackle them at many levels. This brought with it calls for a more professional approach, including techniques to evaluate the impact of interventions. There were also criticisms that the field was too dominated by Western concepts and traditions, and a growing awareness that the wide array of issues that attend what came to be known as "fragile" states need to be understood and addressed. Also during this time, and since, debates have arisen in the field as to the proper relationship between conflict resolution efforts at the level of political and military elites, which seek to manage disputes, and efforts which focus on grassroots peacebuilding as the path to genuine reconciliation (this difference in objectives will be further discussed in Chapter 3).

It would be far too time consuming to detail the evolution of the field of conflict resolution, and several studies already exist for those interested (see notes 9 and 12). Moreover, we shall be exploring various aspects of the field as they relate to Track Two as the book goes along. What matters here is that Track Two has not developed in an intellectual vacuum; it is part of a larger field and has been influenced by (and has influenced) that field over many years.

Track Two Background

Though the term was not coined until 1981, what we would today call Track Two emerged well before that. It is difficult, however, to pinpoint exactly when Track Two began. General discussions of international affairs by interested public elites began at least before World War One in the form of various "peace societies," which often met in The Hague. In retrospect, much of this activity was naïve and would not be considered Track Two by those active in the field today. Immediately following World War Two, a private group called "Moral Rearmament" convened a number of retreats involving prominent German, French, and later, British citizens with the aim of promoting reconciliation between these societies. In the Asia-Pacific region an international NGO called the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR) was "a pioneering channel of unofficial diplomatic dialogue" from 1928 to 1961. The IPR disbanded following difficulties during the McCarthy era.

Intensive and ongoing Track Two took place between the superpowers during the Cold War. The unofficial Pugwash Conferences and the Dartmouth Conferences opened avenues for dialogue on matters of science, strategic stability, and security. Sometimes tacitly encouraged by the governments of the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and occasionally barely tolerated, these dialogues produced ideas which featured in later arms control agreements. These unofficial discussions also provided a mechanism whereby leading figures who were not officials but who often had the ear of their respective governments could meet to discuss issues of peace and security; these were sometimes the only venues where such discussions could take place during the darkest times of the Cold War.

What is now widely regarded as the first example of modern Track Two arose in the mid-1960s when John Burton, a former Australian diplomat, and some of his colleagues at University College London and elsewhere sought to apply some of their emerging theories as to how conflicts should be understood and could be ended. Burton had left official diplomacy after his meteoric rise in the Australian Foreign Service, when he became disenchanted with what he regarded as its excessive focus on such "realist" concepts as "balances of power" as the determining factor in maintaining peace. He developed a view that human factors such as dialogue and communication could be equally important in avoiding and resolving conflicts. Burton therefore decided to test his theories by convening a new sort of process to help resolve a boundary dispute between the newly independent Southeast Asian countries of Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Interestingly, Burton and his colleagues acted in response to a challenge laid down by their associates at the University of London and elsewhere. They had drawn academic fire for arguing that dialogue, values, and relationships were as important in international affairs as power — a view which ran counter to the prevailing international relations theory of the day: realism. Thus, from the beginning, Track Two, like conflict resolution more generally, has struggled to establish credibility in the eyes of hard-nosed, realist-oriented officials and academics.


Excerpted from Track Two Diplomacy in Theory and Practice by Peter Jones. Copyright © 2015 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

Contents and Abstracts

chapter abstract

This chapter summarizes the key aims of the book and its intended audiences. The aims include the "demystifying" of the field of Track Two, and the systematic review of the field and its place in international relations. The intended audiences are officials who must interact with Track Two, and scholars and practitioners who study it.

1What is Track Two Diplomacy
chapter abstract

This chapter reviews the many definitions which have been developed for the field of Track Two and analyzes the contribution each has made to the development of our understanding of it. The chapter explores the development of Track Two within the broader field of conflict resolution, and also outlines the history of the development of Track Two itself. Based upon this, the chapter outlines some recurring themes which are common to the various definitions and historical experiences of Track Two and then advances its own definition of the field. The chapter also notes that, while most Track Two has been intended for the resolution of conflicts, other models have arisen, such as Track Two in the service of regional security.

2Theoretical Foundations of Track Two
chapter abstract

This chapter looks at the major paradigms in the field of International Relations and asks where Track Two fits in terms of its relationship to them. It finds that none of the paradigms completely explains Track Two, and argues that an eclectic approach must be taken to understanding where and how Track Two fits into IR theory. The chapter then identifies and explores attempts which have been made by previous scholars and practitioners of Track Two to explain and define what they are doing in relation to adapted forms of IR and other social science theories.

3Where Theory Meets Practice
chapter abstract

This chapter explores the interplay between practice and attempts to develop theoretical explanations for Track Two. While much of Track Two theory is not well-received by mainstream theories of international affairs, this does not mean that it lacks theoretical foundation. Several practitioners and students of the field have developed theoretical frameworks. Other practitioners have developed or borrowed concepts from other constructs and applied them eclectically to their activities. In keeping with Track Two's action-oriented approach, much of this activity tries to help practitioners answer critical questions about how to make their efforts more effective. Four particularly important aspects of this are: the question of the 'theories of change' which practitioners take into their cases, the way they conceive the conflict, the question of when it is best to launch a Track Two process, and the ethical and cultural issues which arise when practicing Track Two.

4On People: The Characteristics and Role of the Third Party
chapter abstract

This chapter explores the role of the 'third party,' the individual who facilitates a Track Two process. It explores questions like: why do most Track Two dialogues have a third party? Who are these people and what do they do? How are they prepared for the role? There is no single, all-encompassing definition, nor are there agreed standards to prepare people for this role. Instead, the idea of the third party has evolved through trial and error, and most who undertake it are prepared through study and a long apprenticeship of assisting others. Moreover, there are differing perceptions of what the third party does, often based on different conceptions of the primary purpose of Track Two. Some embrace an eclectic approach which stresses personal skills and indefinable qualities, while others believe that the field needs standards and professionalization. Finally, the chapter explores what "power" the third party has.

5On Method: The Problem Solving Workshop
chapter abstract

This chapter examines what is arguably the main process used in Track Two dialogues, Problem Solving Workshops (PSW). It begins by identifying the evolution of the "problem solving" idea in the social sciences and its application to conflicts. It then looks at how PSWs are organized. The conditions PSWs aim to create are: equality among participants, regardless of asymmetries within the conflict; a sense of common purpose; cooperative interdependence; and a set of rules which are employed by a facilitator to guide the conversation towards cooperative and reflective analysis. As to objectives, PSW processes aim to create an environment within which people who have been involved in a conflict are able to step back from their long-held positions and examine its underlying causes. After this, the PSW participants ideally move on to developing possible ways forward. The chapter also looks at the question of how Track Two is funded.

6On Impact: Transfer and the Evaluation of Track Two
chapter abstract

Track Two dialogues are meant to influence events in some way. This chapter considers how the results of such discussions reach their intended target and what practitioners and participants in Track Two can do to make such a transfer of ideas more effective. The chapter traces the evolution of the idea of transfer. It then identifies and assesses some of the key considerations and practical questions which surround the field. The chapter then asks how Track Two processes are evaluated and measured. This is a particularly difficult area for the field. The chapter traces the evolution of thinking about to measure the results of Track Two and identifies the key issues.

chapter abstract

The Conclusion explores the issue of how theory and practice can come together to help the reader understand Track Two more fully. It rejects the notion that the two must be in opposition to each other, which is in vogue in some social science circles, and argues that each can inform the other. The Conclusions note that many social science academics have tended to be dismissive of Track Two, and the field of conflict resolution generally, as not being sufficiently 'theory-based,' and it takes issue with this assertion. However, ultimately, the Conclusion argues that Track Two is more about practice than it is about theory-building because it is ultimately about working with people, who are idiosyncratic. Finally, the Conclusion advances a set of propositions about Track Two which are presented as the main findings of the book.

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