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When There Are No Governmental Negotiations: Build Stronger Track Two Networks

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, NGOs, Nonviolence, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, UKRAINE, United Nations, World Law on May 8, 2023 at 6:00 PM

By René Wadlow

The continuing armed conflict in Ukraine and the lack of any formal governmental negotiations forces us to ask if more can be done on the part of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to encourage negotiations in good faith. The same lack of formal governmental negotiations exists in the tension-filled relations between China and Taiwan.

On the Ukraine conflict, there have been efforts at mediation through the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General and leaders of individual States to encourage ceasefires and the start of negotiations, but without visible results for the moment.

These governmental efforts can be called Track One. Track One diplomacy is official government negotiations with backup resources of government research and intelligence agencies. There can also be Track One “back channels” of informal or unofficial contacts.

Track Two diplomacy is a non-official effort, usually by an NGO, academic institutions, sometimes business corporations. The use of non-official mediators is increasing as the recognition grows that there is a tragic disjuncture between the UN’s mandates to keep peace and its ability to intervene in internal conflicts within a State – often confrontations between armed groups and government forces and sometimes among different armed groups.

Track Two talks are discussions held by non-officials of conflicting parties in an attempt to clarify outstanding disputes and to explore the options for resolving them in settings that are less sensitive than those associated with formal negotiations. The participants usually include scholars, senior journalists, former government officials, and former military officers. They must be in close contact with national leaders and the secretariat of international organizations such as the UN who may be able to help in the peace process.

(C) SIWI/Shared Waters Partnership

As a study of Track Two efforts points out “Track Two talks can be defined by what they are not: neither academic conferences nor secret diplomacy conducted by government representatives… Track Two talks are convened specifically to foster informal interaction among participants regarding the political issues dividing their nations and to find ways of reducing the conflict between them… The purposes of Track Two talks vary, but they are all related to reducing tensions and facilitating the resolution of a conflict. At a minimum, Track Two talks are aimed at an exchange of views, perceptions, and information between the parties to improve each side’s understanding of the other’s positions and policies.” (1)

By informing contacts within government of the insights they have gained, participants may indirectly contribute to the formation of new national political priorities and policies. Much depends on the caliber and dedication of the participants and their relations with governmental leadership.

As Kenneth Boulding, the Quaker economist who often participated in Track Two efforts, wrote,

“When Track One will not do,
We have to travel on Track Two.
But for results to be abiding,
The Tracks must meet upon some siding.” (2)


(1) Hussein Agha, Shai Feldman, Ahmad Khalidi, Zeev Schiff, Track II Diplomacy: Lessons from the Middle East (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003, 225 pp.)

(2) Quoted in John W. McDonald with Noa Zanolli, The Shifting Grounds of Conflict and Peacebuilding: Stories and Lessons (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008, 341 pp.)

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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