September 25, 2007

Track Two Diplomacy in the Middle East and South Asia


Talking to the Enemy

Track Two Diplomacy in the Middle East and South Asia

By: Dalia Dassa Kaye

This monograph examines regional, multilateral track two dialogues in the Middle East and South Asia that are focused on arms control and other cooperative security measures. Unofficial policy discourse, or track two diplomacy, is an increasingly important part of the changing international security landscape, with the potential to raise new ideas and solutions to conflicts that, over time, may influence official policy. Talking to the Enemy considers how track two efforts in South Asia and the Middle East have socialized participants into thinking about security in more cooperative terms, and whether the ideas generated in track two forums have been acknowledged at the societal level or influenced official policy. Comparing the two regions, Kaye finds that South Asian dialogues, on Kashmir and other regional issues, have been more somewhat more effective than track two efforts in the Middle East, where lack of progress on official Arab-Israeli peace talks has also hindered unofficial regional dialogues. The author concludes with assessments of regional security trajectories in both regions, particularly proliferation dynamics, as well as suggestions on how to improve future track two efforts.


Key South Asia Findings

As in the Middle East, South Asia experienced a growth in track two dialogues in the 1990s, and many of these efforts continue today. While unofficial dialogues initially focused more on regional economic and development issues, they have become increasingly political, with several focusing explicitly on core political and security issues such as nuclear proliferation and the status of Kashmir. The direct impact of South Asian dialogues on official policy has been limited, although not entirely absent. For example, one track two group promoted the idea of a joint pipeline to pump natural gas from Iran to India and Pakistan—addressing the growing energy needs of the two countries while also serving as a peace-building exercise. With the renewal of the Indian-Pakistani peace process, the pipeline idea moved to the official track. In another instance, a prominent Pakistani general who was involved in a variety of track two dialogues and published a book supportive of cooperative security concepts is now serving as the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, improving the prospects for track two ideas to filter into official thinking.

A number of confidence-building measures (CBMs) initially discussed in track two forums are now being officially implemented between India and Pakistan, such as the ballistic missile flight test notification agreement, military exercise notifications and constraint measures along international borders, and Kashmir-related CBMs. Similarly, ideas based on track two workshops promoting nuclear risk reduction measures have now surfaced as part of the official Indian- Pakistani dialogue. South Asian dialogues have also succeeded in changing mindsets among participants toward more cooperative postures and have had some success in building a constituency supportive of South Asian cooperation, including in challenging areas such as nuclear confidence building and new approaches to Kashmir. In one case, Indian policymakers who had attended track two workshops repackaged ideas proposed by extraregionals into their own initiative calling for an organization to monitor the implementation of Indian-Pakistani CBMs.

Filtering is also apparent from the emergence of a variety of regional policy centers focused on issues that are being discussed in track two venues. The growth of indigenous institutions, centers, and dialogues has fostered a sense of regional ownership and identity and has provided legitimacy to track two groups. Local and regional policy centers also broaden the scope and nature of track two participants to involve wider segments of society, including women and youth.

Despite such progress, South Asian dialogues also face challenges. Some elites involved in track two dialogues are still attached to national positions and resist change. More open-minded participants may have difficulty penetrating well-established thinking in official government circles. Government officials are often suspicious of track two processes, and there are no established mechanisms for transferring track two ideas to officials beyond informal and ad hoc contacts.

The continued mistrust of the adversary also makes cooperative security ideas a difficult sell. India has traditionally preferred to deal with its neighbors bilaterally (where its dominance is assured) rather than multilaterally. The prevailing strategic mind-set fosters zero-sum thinking and creates an aversion to CBMs. Indeed, there is regionwide suspicion of CBMs as a foreign import.

Domestic institutions in both India and Pakistan, particularly their intelligence services, are similarly hostile to CBMs that require more transparency in military budgets and defense doctrines. Until security and foreign policy institutions within India, particularly the military, view cooperative security as a benefit rather than a costly imposition, it will be difficult for track two forums to make progress. Finally, the asymmetric relationship between India and its neighbors and the regional conflicts along India’s borders, particularly the ongoing dispute with Pakistan over control of Kashmir, create a violent regional environment that is not conducive to regional cooperation.

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