June 07, 2018

Unofficial Communication, Citizen Diplomacy, and Multi-track Diplomacy

In situations in which official, diplomatic communications between countries or between a government and an insurgent group have broken down, unofficial channels can often operate effectively. The terms "track two" or "citizen" diplomacy refer to unofficial contacts between people–usually ordinary citizens– which can later pave the way for official "first track" or "track one" diplomacy.

As originally conceived by Joe Montville, the term "track two diplomacy" refers to private citizens negotiating topics that are usually reserved for official negotiations–the formal resolution of an ongoing conflict or arms reductions, for example. Over time, however, the term has come to be used more broadly: to encompass processes such as problem-solving workshops, dialogues, cultural and scientific exchanges, traveling artists, sports teams, or any other contacts between people whose groups are currently engaged in an intractable conflict. John McDonald and Louise Diamond invented the term "multi-track diplomacy" to convey the sense that there are many ways to bring people together in addition to official negotiations.

They list nine tracks:

1) official (track one) diplomacy;
2) unofficial, yet professional conflict resolution processes,
3) international business negotiations and exchanges,
4) citizen exchanges (such as teacher exchanges),
5) international research, education, and training efforts,
6) activism,
7) contacts and exchanges between religious leaders and followers,
8) international funding efforts, and
9) public opinions and communication programs.

The value of such unofficial contacts between opposing sides is that they can often de-escalate a conflict before any official negotiations can do so. These contacts can build bridges between people, increase trust, and foster mutual understanding. They can serve to correct misperceptions and unfounded fears, and can reverse the trend toward dehumanization and the entrenchment of enemy images that often occurs in escalated conflicts. Often the de-escalation that results from such contacts is necessary, before official negotiations will be considered politically possible

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