Diplomacy on a New Track

February 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

Official diplomacy carries unique expectations and risks. If negotiation is to occur, one party must gain something and the other must lose something. If the relationship is tense (and certainly there exists no shortage of tense diplomatic relationships), failed diplomacy can result in bloodshed and war. For this reason, a RAND political scientist sees unofficial or “track two” diplomatic discussions on the rise.

In her new report, Talking to the Enemy: Track Two Diplomacy in the Middle East and South Asia, political scientist Dalia Dassa Kaye argues that some of the most important diplomatic discussions take place outside of official negotiations, and often between people who aren’t official diplomats. Rather, “track two” diplomacy is designed to give policy makers, professors, military personnel, and NGO workers the opportunity to discuss matters freely and openly without the pressure of having everything they say scrutinized or having to secure immediate results.

“In unofficial settings, people can get past boilerplate positions and explain the rationale behind various policies,” says Kaye “They can say ‘Look, this is really what is going on in my country, this is how the population feels, this is what the military thinks, etc.'”

Track-two diplomacy has existed since roughly the end of the Cold War, more than enough time to gauge the tactic’s effectiveness. According to Kaye, 750 U.S. elites participated in track-two activities during the 1990s, including some 200 military personnel. Today, she says, thousands of individuals have participated in such events.

Radical policy shifts or sudden breakthroughs aren’t likely to result from track-two talks, says Kaye. But such negotiations have played “a significant role in shaping the views, attitudes, and knowledge of elites, both civilian and military, and in some instances have begun to affect security policy.” Numerous tracktwo arms-control dialogues between the former Soviet Union and the United States were instrumental in popularizing the concept of mutual security and cooperative planning in arms control.

Track-two dialogues work best when they involve moderate and pragmatic voices. In other words, however much they may love to hear themselves talk, the hotheads should stay home. 

-Patrick Tucker

Originally published in THE FUTURIST, March-April 2008.

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