Tuesday, April 16, 2024
UncategorizedTrack Two diplomacy as an alternative to power politics

Track Two diplomacy as an alternative to power politics

Track Two diplomacy is a process designed to assist official leaders to resolve or in the first instance, to manage conflicts by exploring possible solutions out of public view and without the retirements to formally negotiate or bargain for advantage, writes Getachew Mekonnen.

Track Two diplomacy or conflict resolution is a new field of study and its proponents are attempting to elaborate a theoretical basis for their work and to clarify the necessary terms and concepts. It is not about improved negotiating skills so that “leverage” and power can be employed more effectively. It is not about shrewd diplomacy and taking a walk in the woods. It is about an altered set of hypotheses about world politics and human behavior. 

Second Track diplomatic conflict resolution seeks to deal with the underlying conditions that give rise to conflict. It is not an idealistic diplomacy that simply wishes well for all mankind. It is a practical process of conflict resolution that substitutes for courts, mediators, and peacekeeping forces, which are the tried techniques of facilitation of conflict resolution. It is a means the bringing of disputing parties together.

Track One diplomacy is government to government, formal, official, sometimes rigid, interaction between instructed representatives of sovereign states. It can be either bilateral in nature, involving Two governments, or multilateral in approach, involving many governments. Track Two, on the other hand is nongovernmental, citizen to citizen, informal, often risk-taking and unofficial. It is interaction between private citizens or groups of people within a country or from different countries who are outside the formal governmental power structure.

Track Two has its objective the reduction or resolution of conflict, within a country or between countries, by lowering the anger or tension or fear that exists, through improved communication and a better understanding of each other’s point of view. Track Two diplomacy is not a substitute for Track One, but rather is in support of, or parallel to, Track One goals. In fact, a successful Track Two effort may well lead into Track One, especially when specific agreements or treaties or other formal understandings are called for.

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This article elaborates a theory of conflict resolution – Track Two diplomacy – which could fit into the toolkit of statecraft and diplomacy. The activities involved are familiar, but political leaders have rarely recognized the potential of Track Two diplomacy which engages the individuals and organizations from outside the government in the complex task of conflict resolution. If and when governments do recognize this potential a new manner of thinking may well get underway.   

What is Track Two diplomacy?

As it is stated above, Track Two diplomacy is unofficial, informal interaction between members of adversary groups or nations which aims to develop strategies, influence public opinion, and organize human and material resources in ways that might help resolve their conflict. It must be understood that Track Two diplomacy is in no way a substitute for official, formal Track One government to government or leader to leader relationship.  Rather, Track Two activity is designed to assist official leaders by compensating for the constraints imposed on  them by the psychologically understandable need for leaders to be, or at least to be seen to be, strong, wary, and indomitable in the face of the enemy. If there is great tension in a political conflict, a leader who takes risks for peace without his constituents being prepared could lose his political base.

Track Two diplomacy is a process designed to assist official leaders to resolve or in the first instance, to manage conflicts by exploring possible solutions out of public view and without the retirements to formally negotiate or bargain for advantage. Track Two diplomacy seeks political formulas or scenarios which might satisfy the basic security and esteem needs of the parties to a particular dispute. On its more general level, it seeks to promote an environment in a political community, through the education of public   opinion that would make it safer for political leaders to take risks for peace.

Three distinct processes of Track Two diplomacy

Track Two diplomacy involves at least two and perhaps three interdependent processes. The first process consists of small, facilitated problem solving workshops or seminars which bring together the leader of conflicting groups or nations (or their representatives) to 1/ Develop workable personal relationships in microcosm            2/ Understand the dimensions of the conflict from the perspective of the adversary and 3/ At some point develop joint strategies for dealing with the conflict as a shared problem the solution of which requires reciprocal and co-operative efforts. The second process is to influence public opinion. Here the task is a psychological one which consists of reducing the sense of victimhood of the parties and rehumanizing the image of the adversary. If successful, this process will gradually bring about a climate of opinion within the nation which makes it safe for political leaders to take positive steps, perhaps those that were worked out in the small workshops, toward resolving the conflict.

In the problem-solving workshops it is quite possible, even common, for leaders to develop a vastly expanded understanding of a conflict and of the psychological tasks to be mastred before it can be solved. It is also possible for them to undergo a personal transformation in which their sense of and approach to the enemy becomes humanized. But these leaders are compelled to re-enter the political environment of their constituents, who have not had the opportunity to gain insights from the workshop experience. Unless the overall political environment comes to reflect to some extent the enhanced knowledge gained by leaders, the latter are very likely to confront strong resistance when they try to take action based on their new insights.

Co-operative economic development, the third process, may not be essential to conflict resolution, but it provides incentives, institutional support, and continuity to the political and psychological process. To groups and nations in conflict, cooperative economic activities offer the prospect of growth, enhancement of individual well being, and a measure of stability for families and communities that have often suffered significant personal loss and endured chronic instability. An agenda of psychological tasks in conflict resolution is implicit in the foregoing outline of processes in  Track Two diplomacy.  Explaining these is not within the purview of this essay, but it can be noted that the tasks include presentation of historic grievances by all parties, acceptance of responsibility for hurts inflicted, and mourning for losses sustained.  Following this, I would like to list the most straight forward way possible, the positive points and the hazards of Track Two diplomacy.


Informal contacts between countries are pervasive and diverse. One of the strengths of the informal approach is that informal contacts between people of one country and another are pervasive.

Officials may be helped to face unpleasant facts. Informal contacts can be a means of helping one side or the other or both to face awkward or unpleasant facts that are difficult to confront honestly in direct official negotiation.

Informal diplomacy creates the atmosphere for formal negotiation.


Amateurs can cause trouble. First among the limitations of the informal approach is the denser of amateurism. Informal diplomats of official have an imperfect understanding of official policies and foreign policy objectives. They may not really understand what their own government is doing and why. 


Track Two diplomats play an ambiguous role and can be manipulated. Another limitation is the sheer ambiguity of the role as seen by all interested parties. To what extent is a Track Two diplomat really carrying a serious message from one government to another? Informal diplomats are often vulnerable to manipulation sometimes gross manipulation for disinformation purposes.   


Track Two efforts often are merely stalling maneuvers. Another problem to be concerned about is whether Track Two is a waste of time. Some Track Two diplomacy efforts are probably stalling maneuvers.

Ed.’s Note: Getachew Mekonnen writes on political and foreign policy issues. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. The writer can be reached at [email protected].


Contributed by Getachew Mekonnen


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Video from Enat Bank Youtube Channel.


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