The Future of Track Two Diplomacy

The Future of Track Two Diplomacy
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The Iran nuclear deal was Track One. But its roots are Track Two. So whither Track Two in this new century?

Track Two diplomacy exists quietly – on the margins of international affairs. The term ‘Track Two Diplomacy’ was coined by US diplomat Joseph Montville in the early 1980s, even if it had been around much earlier under different names. Though much mystery surrounds it, Track Two is in reality simply a method of bringing together influential people from different sides of a given conflict, on an unofficial basis, to talk about the issues and to jointly develop new ideas about how that conflict may be better managed or resolved.

The field has not been without controversy – particularly on the part of some governments that have claimed that Track Two dialogues have overstepped their boundaries and intruded on official policy-making. Indeed, it may have been a mistake to include the word ‘diplomacy’ in the name, for this suggests that the process is somehow identical or tantamount to diplomatic activity. It is not. Diplomacy is reserved strictly for those who represent the state. People engaged in Track Two do not represent the state and should not try to.

Indeed, perhaps because some of its proponents and practitioners have tried to claim too much for its successes, or tried to intrude into official diplomacy, there are those who regard much of what happens under the aegis of Track Two with great suspicion. Images are conjured up of ‘meddlesome amateurs’ getting in the way of the important work of diplomacy, and perhaps even confusing a situation by leading the other side to believe that the possibility of a changed position is present when it is not. As former US Secretary of State George Shultz put it in the foreword to my recent book on the subject, “Track Two diplomacy is something I heard of frequently during my years as Secretary of State. To be honest, I was often somewhat leery of it. I did not question the motives or the integrity of most who were engaged in it. Rather, my concern was that it would get in the way of our official diplomatic efforts and confuse others as to where the United States stood on various matters. More than once, I gave instructions to State Department officials to inform a foreign government in no uncertain terms that the US Government had nothing to do with this or that Track Two initiative and did not endorse it.” While Shultz went on, after leaving office, to develop a new appreciation of the nuances and potential uses of Track Two, his views while in office were not unusual.

On the other hand, proponents of Track Two believe that it can help to break through the barriers that official diplomacy can sometimes place on talks. This sometimes means deliberately entering into a ‘grey area’ between what governments will talk about (and whom they will talk to), and what they often know must be discussed if a problem is to be addressed… Read the rest of this article at

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