Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
A: I think many people now recognize, that every institution has its agendas. Even small institutions have their agendas, and sometimes the motivation of small actors can be as suspect as the motivation of big actors. I think warring parties have come to realize that sometimes too. Why are there so many of these people getting off these airplanes and coming to talk to me? What's in it for them and what's in it for me? It may be that there is, as I say, this presumption that people who work for governments are basically either biased or they're carrying out agendas that are not consistent with the parties' own interests.
That's, frankly, a view that I have great difficulty with, but I can understand, if people aren't talking to each other, why they might have that notion. The reality is that a world at peace is a world in which most government's interests will be advanced. To put it another way, a world that is at peace is one in which a commercial superpower like the United States will have more exports, and exports means jobs.
Q: In this country?
A: In this country? Sure.
Q: So there's the agenda.
A: Yeah, I mean, peace is good. Peace is good for Americans, and I think that message is not all that complicated to understand. I don't really have the difficulty, the hang-up with the motivations of Track I that maybe some of my friends in the Track II universe have. The real issue here, and it's been one that's studied a lot-I'm sure you've read countless articles about it-is the issue of whether bias is good for you or bad for you, whether interest is good for you or bad for you. On that point, my take is very simple: if you don't have interest you won't mediate anyway. I'm looking for interested mediators, especially amongst governments, because I want them to really care. I don't want to see our country or other governments go into this business just to play pretend games. I want them to care enough to see it through and to get a result.
Q: That reminds me more of the Latin American model of an insider partial, where the two parties might have confidence in the third party because they have a vested interest in seeing a good outcome, because they live in the environment.
A: Exactly, and I think you can have outsider partials as well as insider partials. Good outsiders need to know who the insider partials are because they may have to work with them, and in fact if they don't work with them they're missing something.
Q: Talk a little more, if you would, about your work as a Track I diplomat and how you engaged the Track II part of the conflict resolution field, and especially in seeking insider partials.
A: We didn't think of it as Track two at the time, but I spent, as I said, over eight years working to try and get South African troops out of neighboring countries, to get Cubans out of Africa, where they had no business being, and in effect to end the Cold War on the regional level in South Africa. We were often groping for channels and insider partials. It's really all about channels.
We found it very easy as a government of a superpower to get received officially, of course. People don't say no to the United States when you ask for a meeting. That official meeting didn't necessarily mean much, and what you really want to do is to get to the people who really make decisions. You're trying to figure out how to read what are quite often very darkened rooms where there's very little transparency. You're trying to figure out who in the Cuban government makes decisions, who in the South African government, who in the Angolan government, who within SWAPO, or some other such movements really make the decisions. The way you find that out is quite often by talking to their friends, their ideological allies and bedfellows, just the veterans who've been around the story for a long, long time, where there's lots of fraternal conflicts that go back a long time. We wound up spending a lot of our time, doing that nearly-decade-long experience talking to people who didn't have official jobs at all, but who know the parties much better than we did. Sometimes we'd learn interesting things and that's as far as it'd go. Sometimes we actually got hot information that we would never have gotten through official channels.
Q: People like that will actually talk to American Track I diplomats?
A: Sure they will, but only if there's an effort made to build the connections, you know. Part of the Track I job is to make your self the center, the pivot, and to make yourself indispensable to progress. That sounds aggressive, and to some degree it is aggressive. What you're doing is killing alternative approaches, or co-opting them. On the other hand, part of what you're doing is trying to build the strongest-possible intervention, so that it's irresistible and it's attractive. By the end of the story everybody was on our side of the table: the Russians, the U.N., and the Cubans. I mean, this agreement that I'm referring to almost went off the table, went off the Tracks after an unexpected military adventure by SWAPO's leadership, just before the implementation of the peace agreement was about to begin. We got on the telephone before that was common practice and called the Russians by open-line telephone calls, which never used to happen, got in touch with the Cubans on the open line to consult them as to what we were going to do to get this thing back on the Track.
The reaction of the Cubans was startling, these people are threatening our agreement. In other words they saw it as their agreement.
Q: Which is a success?
A: Absolutely. That's what you've got to do ultimately, but that takes a lot of time, to make this everybody's agreement and to isolate those who would be spoilers or feel threatened by it.
Q: So if I understand you, the parties to this agreement were Cuba, South Africa
A: Angola, and indirectly SWAPO, the liberation movement in Namibia.
Q: The players included were Russia, the United States, and several others I'm sure, in Southern Africa.
A: All the frontline states. The British were very central players in this. We had a contact group of Western allies who involved in it as well, but the Brits were the key players for many reasons. They had good judgment, they knew the region well, and they had excellent channels of their own to some of the key players.
Q: When you get that kind of support from Cuba, in a situation like that, which would be an outlier, possibly a spoiler, how do you use that then to deal with someone like SWAPO? Can you say, look, the Cubans are upset that you're doing this, back off, or do the Cubans then take direct action and intervene to save the agreement, as in that particular case?
A: In that particular case, what we did was to summon an emergency meeting of a joint commission that we'd established just a few months earlier to work out the problem. We let these, shall we call it the liberation alliance or the socialize alliance or whatever you want to call it, we let them sort it out amongst themselves. In the meantime what had happened is that the only way to stop this military adventure was for the UN to authorize the South Africans to go after SWAPO, which is what they did. There was a military response as well as a political response. That sorted things out, and within months SWAPO was behaving itself and was back inside the country in a non-military fashion, and working effectively within the terms of the agreement. Of course that led to the constitutional process. Then came their first election, which, not surprising to anybody, SWAPO won and they're now the government of Namibia. That wasn't a surprise either, but they did not come in through the barrel of a gun, which was the key optical point.
Q: Is that an example of not allowing too much slack for the parties?
A: I think it is an example, yeah.
One of the things we designed, intentionally, but it was sort of by learning on the job, was that as soon as there was a settlement there should be a joint commission set up amongst the signatory parties with the observer parties participating. That would meet every month for the duration of the agreement, and the agreement had about a 30-month calendar for implementation.
I think that's something that has wide applicability in other cases. I think it should be systematically used so that the signing parties have a forum.