Track I Diplomacy

 

By
Susan Allen Nan

June 2003
 

What is Track-one Diplomacy?[1]

The term "track-one diplomacy" refers to official governmental diplomacy, or "a technique of state action, [which] is essentially a process whereby communications from one government go directly to the decision-making apparatus of another".[2] Thus, track-one diplomacy is conducted by official representatives of a state or state-like authority and involves interaction with other state or state-like authorities: heads of state, state department or ministry of foreign affairs officials, and other governmental departments and ministries. Track-one diplomacy may also be referred to as "first track" or "first tier" diplomacy. These official diplomatic efforts can be distinguished from unofficial interactions, which may involve conflict resolution specialists, private citizens, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or businesses. Such unofficial interactions are referred to as "track-two diplomacy." In the metaphor of track one and track-two diplomacy, each type of diplomatic effort proceeds along a different track, just as separate trains might follow different tracks.

Additional insights into track I diplomacy are offered by Beyond Intractability project participants.

Along the official track, track-one diplomacy may take place bilaterally between two states, or multilaterally when several states interact together, and even regionally or globally through inter-governmental organizations (IGOs). For example, when Estonia and Russia negotiated over issues related to the Russian-speaking people living in Estonia, these negotiations were examples of bilateral track-one diplomacy. When the OSCE and its High Commissioner on National Minorities held consultations with Estonia, Russia, and other Baltic states, that was an example of regional track-one diplomacy. Much of the work of the United Nations could be classified as global track-one diplomacy.

The purpose and intentions of track-one diplomatic efforts may vary greatly: track-one diplomacy may be used coercively and may involve sanctions, ultimatums, and psychological intimidation; it may be used persuasively and involve argumentation and/or compromise; it may be used as a means of adjusting states' relationship to and views of one another; and it may be a tool for reaching mutual agreements---which may themselves reflect elements of persuasion or coercion.[3] Track-one diplomacy may be used by a third-party state to help bring about an agreement between other states. As further detailed in the section below entitled "Track-one diplomacy in Conflict Resolution," states may engage in track-one diplomacy as direct participants in negotiations, as supporters of one or another party to the negotiations, or as third party mediators.

Track-one diplomacy varies not only according to the different roles states play, but also according to the manner in which these track-one roles are carried out. Official interactions may be at the senior head-of-state level, ministerial level, or involve lower- level officials. In negotiations, states may shift the levels of officials sent to negotiations as a signal of the level of commitment to the negotiation. When a state shifts from a lower-level official to a higher-level official, this may usefully signal a growing confidence in the negotiation process. At each level of interaction, the types of track-one diplomacy interactions range from written communication, to formal meetings, to casual conversations. Many official negotiations involve a combination of forms of interaction. Written documents relating to an agreement may be exchanged, diplomats may meet to discuss draft agreements formally, and informal side conversations during breaks may bring an additional component to the negotiations. For example, when U.S. President Jimmy Carter negotiated the Camp David Accords with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1978, a written document resulted from a combination of formal meetings and significant informal personal discussions that Carter held with Begin and with Sadat.

Various texts offer somewhat varied categories of track-one diplomacy. The Institute of World Affairs[4] outlines the following types of track one diplomatic activities:

War, peacekeeping, and other military and development initiatives are often not included in traditional definitions of official diplomacy, although, like track-one diplomacy, such initiatives are led by official representatives of states or state-like authorities.

Track-one diplomacy takes place as part of the regular interactions of states and also throughout the life cycle of conflicts. Track-one diplomacy may escalate or de-escalate a conflict. Governments may try to prevent conflicts, resolve them, and support reconstruction and reconciliation activities.

Though many examples of successful conflict resolution through track-one diplomacy exist, there are also historical examples of its failure to prevent wars or to achieve the desired ends for the states in question. The Conflict Resolution Consortium of the University of Colorado offers a critique of conventional track-one diplomacy on the basis that it emerges from a win-lose view of diplomatic success, thereby encouraging competitiveness and positional bargaining (1999)[5]. In addition, track one diplomats are committed to representing their state's interests, which may not always include a strong interest in quickly resolving a conflict. Track-one diplomacy is not always easily applied for successful conflict resolution.

Track-one Diplomacy in Conflict Resolution

Track-one diplomacy's application to conflict resolution is shaped by the interwoven web of international relationships that form the context for international conflicts. In this context, track- one diplomats take on many roles and utilize diverse techniques. Track-one diplomats can act as the primary parties to negotiations, support one or more of the primary parties, or act as third parties. These multiple roles, and issues of official recognition, complicate track-one diplomacy's application to conflict resolution.

Negotiating Parties

Diplomats engaged in negotiations as direct parties seek to further their own country's interests by influencing other direct participants in negotiations, by influencing mediators, and by influencing the international community. For example, in the conflict between Russia and Chechnya, Russia can be seen as a direct party to the conflict. Track-one negotiators (and mediators, as described below in the section on Third Parties) may bring considerable influence, concrete incentives, and other resources to the negotiations. In contrast to track-two diplomacy, track-one diplomacy may include substantial positive incentives ("carrots") such as humanitarian aid, weapons sales, and trade relations. Likewise, track-one diplomacy can also include significant negative incentives such as sanctions, expulsion from international organizations, and even military force.

Supportive Parties

States may involve their diplomats in a conflict in order to support one or more of the direct parties to the conflict. For example, at different points in time, Russia has been seen as supportive of one or the other side in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. States can offer influence and prestige and shift the power structure of the conflict, thus shaping the negotiations. Depending on the existing power structures, this might involve providing additional support to one of the two equally powerful sides, thereby creating asymmetry between the parties in the negotiations. Conversely, a supportive state can also provide power to an otherwise weaker party thereby creating symmetry in the negotiations. States will unite or unilaterally act to provide international support for a group or party in the conflict in the form of political, military or financial support. During the peacemaking process this additional support provides power to the opposing sides through:

  • Offering additional military support to a party in the conflict thereby providing further inducements to the opposing sides and the mediator to reach a resolution.
  • Providing political support to a party in the conflict thereby demonstrating an international backing of one of the warring parties.
  • Offering financial support through positive or negative incentives thereby intending to sway one party in the negotiation process.

Additionally supporters act as the go-between for the conflicting sides. Track-one diplomats offer legitimacy to the contending parties without the parties themselves losing face or becoming involved in the negotiation process before each party is ready to commit to an agreement.

Third Parties

States may intervene in conflicts as third parties to help seek a resolution. For example, Russia serves as one of the official mediators intervening in the Moldovan-Transdniestrian conflict. Like track-one negotiation roles, track-one third party roles take on various forms depending on the context, the goals with which the state becomes involved in a negotiation, and the resources that a state is willing to commit to a negotiation process. Some track-one mediators represent states that have a strong vested interest in a conflict settlement, and others have less vested interest. Particularly when their state's interests are high, track-one mediators may seek to control the negotiations through using strong incentives and significant resources. Other track-one mediators may bring to bear only weaker influences, such as prestige and convening authority. For example, former South African President Nelson Mandela served as a third-party mediator for conflict resolution in Burundi, and relied primarily on his significant prestige and personal influence to shape the peace process.

Track-one diplomats in third-party roles can also explicitly seek to support victims. Track- one diplomats have influence in the international community and can provide a voice for victims in an internal conflict. Track-one diplomats may support the establishment of ceasefires and related accountability, as well as argue against human rights abuses, genocide, rape, and other forms of violence. Track-one diplomats often have the power to bring issues to light through commissions or tribunals that may formally designate responsibility and ensure justice is served. For example, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is a track-one diplomacy initiative to bring to justice those who committed war crimes in former Yugoslavia.

Often, the track-one third party's role is to aid in the resolution of a stalemate and the attainment of a peace settlement. This can be done in the capacity of mediator or arbitrator in the peacemaking process. Third-party involvement often helps diffuse tensions and creates a common language through which the parties can negotiate and settle differences. Third-party Track One diplomats intervene as mediators when they:

  • Possess a clear mandate to intervene
  • Have interests and stakes in the conflict, such as political or military stability.
  • Are invited by both parties to intervene
  • Want to preserve a structure to which they belong.
  • Seek to extend their own or their party's influence and believe that participation in the mediation process will do so.

Terrance Hopmann writes that the third-party track one mediators are "individuals of high regard in the international community. Usually these individuals are selected because both the actor they represent has some relevant power, authority or legitimacy in the eyes of the parties to the dispute and because of their own personal skills as go-betweens"[6]. As noted above, other times a third party is involved because of interests in the region, conflict and/or its outcome.

Whether an official diplomat is involved as a direct negotiator, supporter of one or more parties, or as a third party, issues of official recognition often enter into track-one diplomacy. In particular, issues related to official recognition place some restrictions on track-one diplomacy in the many conflicts in which one or more parties refuses to recognize another party or parties to the conflict. States may not wish to recognize others' legitimacy or claims by entering into formal negotiations. Nevertheless, in the many intra-state conflicts of today, where one party is an internationally recognized state and another party is not, negotiations take the form of track-one diplomacy even if one party is not recognized as a state, or even when several parties do not recognize each other's formal legitimacy. For example, in conflicts that are secessionist or self-determination conflicts, one party seeks to secede from, or exercise self-determination in the context of, an internationally recognized state. The conflicts over Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniestria are examples of this sort of conflict. As in these three examples, often IGOs and other states will sometimes serve as mediators.

Track-one diplomacy as Part of Peace Processes

Track-one diplomacy brings both strengths and weaknesses to conflict resolution. Official diplomatic efforts are often better funded than unofficial efforts, and are supported by informational, security, and logistical resources unavailable to unofficial efforts. However, official diplomatic efforts are tied to the official policies of states (or state-like authorities) and thus may be constrained in their flexibility. For example, it may be difficult for official diplomats to explore new ideas unofficially unless these new ideas have some official backing, but such official support might not be forthcoming until after preliminary exploratory discussions. These strengths and weaknesses of official diplomacy can complement unofficial approaches to diplomacy. Track-one and track-two diplomacy can work in complementarity to build stronger peace processes.

The distinction between track-one diplomacy and track-two diplomacy was clarified by Davidson and Montville [7]. They labeled unofficial, non-structured interaction as track-two diplomacy, and described track-two diplomacy as a supplement to track-one endeavors. They were quick to point out that track two is only a supplement to, and not a replacement for, track-one diplomacy. They wrote, "reasonable and altruistic interaction with foreign countries cannot be an alternative to traditional track-one diplomacy, with its official posturing and its underlying threat of the use of force"[8]. Thus, track-one diplomacy has come to be understood in distinction from track-two diplomacy, and as a major, but not the only, set of tools states can use to interact with each other.

If track-one diplomacy is the official interactions of representatives of states, and if track-two diplomacy is unofficial interaction of unofficial people, in which category do the unofficial interactions of the official representatives of states belong? Track one-and-a-half diplomacy refers to unofficial interactions between official representatives of states[9]. When an NGO serves as a mediator between two state or state-like actors, the NGO facilitates a track one-and-a-half process. Track one-and-a-half diplomacy occurred when St. Egidio, an Italian Catholic NGO, mediated talks between the two warring parties in Mozambique. The NGO was given authority by each party to negotiate on their behalf and successfully mediated a peace agreement. In addition, problem solving workshop processes that involve officials from both sides of a conflict are track one-and-a-half diplomacy when those officials act in their personal capacity in unofficial workshop settings. Track one-and-a-half diplomacy draws on the strengths of track-one diplomacy (the authority and resources) and the strengths of track-two diplomacy (the creativity of unofficial discussions).

These issues are further explored in related essays in this knowledge base. The essay on track-two diplomacy further describes the strengths and weaknesses of track-two diplomacy, including the various forms of multi-track diplomacy. The essays on Intervention Coordination and Track One- Track Two Cooperation describe how separate approaches can work together to build stronger overall peace processes, and specifically how track-one diplomacy and track-two diplomacy can work together with complementarity. In discussing coordination between official diplomacy and other approaches, it should also be noted that because track-one diplomacy is so multifaceted, and is conducted by so many different parts of governments, various actors involved in track-one diplomacy find it useful, if sometimes difficult, to coordinate with each other.

This vision of track-one diplomacy serving an important and central, but not the only, role in peace processes fits within the logic of the track-one and track-two metaphor, though the metaphor is problematic in other ways. The metaphor of official and unofficial diplomatic initiatives as different trains traveling on different tracks represents the separate nature of official and unofficial initiatives. Even while going in the same direction, these locomotives travel on separate tracks. However, productive official and unofficial diplomacy may interact more often and at times be more mutually supportive than the train track metaphor implies. Perhaps the various forms of diplomacy represent different building blocks for peace. Or perhaps a new metaphor can better capture the dynamic interrelationships of the many forms of official and unofficial diplomacy. Connecting the various components of official diplomacy with the various components of unofficial diplomacy is a promising area of current work in addressing intractable conflicts world-wide.

[1] Supplemental material in this essay was drawn from the essay on Track I diplomacy in the SAIS Conflict Management Toolkit, written by un-named students in the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Conflict Management Program. Thanks to William Zartman for his granting permission for its use. Thanks to Danielle Brand-LeMond for invaluable research assistance supporting this essay.

[2] Said, A.S., Lerche, Jr., C.O. & Lerche III, C.O. (1995). Concepts of international politics in global perspective. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. p. 69.

[3] Said, A.S., Lerche, Jr., C.O. & Lerche III, C.O. (1995). Concepts of international politics in global perspective . Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

[4] Approaches to International Conflict Resolution. (2001). Institute of World Affairs. Retrieved March 25, 2004, from http://www.iwa.org/index.html

[5] Official (Track One) Diplomacy. (1999). University of Colorado Conflict Research Consortium. Retrieved March 25, 2004, from: http://www.colorado.edu/conflict/peace/treatment/track1.htm

[6] Hopmann, Terrance, The Negotiation Process and Resolution of International Conflicts. (1996) Columbia, NY: University of South Carolina Press.

[7] Davidson, W. D. and Montville, J. D. (1981-82), "Foreign policy according to Freud," Foreign Policy , No. 45, Winter, pp. 145-157.

[8] Davidson, W. D. and Montville, J. D. (1981-82), "Foreign policy according to Freud," Foreign Policy , No. 45, Winter, p. 155.

[9] Nan, Susan Allen. "Coordination and Complementarity of Conflict Resolution Efforts in the Conflicts Over Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniestria." Doctoral Dissertation. George Mason University: Fairfax, VA, 1999.


Use the following to cite this article:
Nan, Susan Allen. "Track I Diplomacy." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: June 2003 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/track1-diplomacy>.


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