Saturday, September 19, 2015

Peter Jones's "Track Two Diplomacy"

Peter Jones is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, Canada.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Track Two Diplomacy in Theory and Practice, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test works reasonably well for this book, but is not completely representative of it. In a way, this is no fault of the test; the book is quite wide-ranging in its content and approach and there is probably no single page which meets the test entirely.

Track Two Diplomacy is a conflict resolution method which brings together influential people from different sides of a conflict, on an unofficial basis, to talk and try to jointly develop new ideas as to how the conflict may be better managed or resolved. Proponents of Track Two believe that it can help to break through the barriers that official diplomacy can sometimes place on talks. This often means entering the ‘grey area’ between what governments will talk about (and who they will talk to), and what they often know must be discussed if a problem is to be addressed. Many governments say publicly that they will not talk to this or that group but do so quietly. Track Two is one of the mechanisms used to do so.

The earliest contacts between influential Israelis and Palestinians were conducted in Track Two forums, when it was illegal under Israeli law for a citizen to meet anyone affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Similarly, the earliest contacts between people associated with the apartheid government of South Africa and those affiliated with the banned African National Congress took place in Track Two settings. In each case, by holding such discussions at arms’ length from government, and holding them quietly, it was possible to explore whether there was a potential partner, and to begin to identify and map the terrain of compromise, without publicly compromising on a position of principle.

There are many other examples. Throughout the Cold War, high-level unofficial discussions took place between Americans, Soviets and others. These discussions were often run by groups such as Pugwash and the Dartmouth Conferences and the ideas they generated made it into numerous arms control and other agreements. Indeed, Pugwash was awarded a share of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for its work. At present, such dialogues have been going for some time between Indians and Pakistanis, Americans and Iranians and amongst the various factions and groups in Afghanistan, to name but a few. While, by design, much of what happens in these discussions is confidential, their results seek to quietly transfer ideas and people between Track Two and official diplomacy. Often, the influence of Track Two is as much about demonstrating that new ways of approaching problems are possible, as it is any specific proposals.

Even though it has been a quiet fixture of international relations for decades, relatively little has been written about Track Two. There have been many articles about specific instances of quiet talks, but little about the field as a whole. This is perhaps not surprising, as most Track Two is done quietly, but it has led to a lot of confusion about the area. The purpose of this book is to ‘de-mystify’ Track Two and to explore what is known about it and where it fits into contemporary international affairs. The book is aimed at both officials, who must interact with Track Two, and students of International Relations. It mixes a review and analysis of the literature on Track Two, with my own insights derived from over 20 years as a practitioner of Track Two.

On page 99 of the book, the question of the role and characteristics of the so-called ‘third party’ is being discussed. The third party in Track Two is the individual or group of individuals who act as the convenor and facilitator of the discussions. This is a very specific role, the understanding of which has emerged through a process of trial and error over many years. Key to this role is that the third party in a Track Two setting does not act like a mediator in a traditional conflict resolution or bargaining situation. For example, it is not the third party’s role in Track Two to propose solutions, like a traditional mediator might, but rather to create a setting in which those in conflict begin to jointly assess the reasons for their conflict and develop together new ideas and proposals as to how it may be resolved. This calls for a very special set of capabilities and personality traits. On page 99, these are being discussed, with reference to what different people who have played this role over the years have said about it.

But the book is much broader than this one subject. It also tackles such issues as how these dialogues are run, how they are funded, who the typical participants are, how the results of these dialogues are ‘transferred’ to official diplomacy and many others. Page 99 does not address these issues. That said, page 99 is broadly reflective of the tone and objectives of the book as a whole in that it seeks to lay out the theory and practice of a particular area of Track Two.
Learn more about Track Two Diplomacy at the Stanford University Press website.

Peter Jones is also the author of Open Skies: Transparency, Confidence-Building, and the End of the Cold War.

The Page 99 Test: Open Skies.

--Marshal Zeringue