Multi-Track Diplomacy in the 21st Century

February 11, 2011 // 1:00pm4:00pm

In celebration of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy’s (IMTD) 20th anniversary, the Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity co-hosted an event titled, “Multi-Track Diplomacy in the 21st Century” on Friday, February 11, 2011. The event included two panels that focused on the theoretical evolution and operationalization of multi-track diplomacy in the last twenty years.

Ambassador John McDonald, founder of IMTD, shared his experiences of the organization’s development and the growth of multi-track diplomacy, including the expansion of the Track II model to include components such as private sector engagement, citizen-to-citizen exchange program, and media relations. McDonald discussed a few notable achievements throughout his own career, such as his involvement in the development of the US Institute for Peace and his appointment as the first president of the Iowa Peace Institute, both of which preceded the inception of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy. In closing, McDonald reflected on his accomplishments and told the audience, “We only go where we are invited to go by the people involved in the conflict, not by the governments…we listen and ask people what their needs are...and we say we don’t have any money but we have skills, and we want to help you if we can.”

In the mid 1980s, much of the Track I and Track II work was geared toward achieving a peace agreement through formal negotiations. In discussing the development of the IMTD systems approach to peace-building, co-founder Louise Diamond stated, “From a systems view, it’s not so much about getting an agreement, as it is about sustaining a viable peace system.” She said this would include everything from education to information dissemination by the media and from business relations to reconciling past grievances. Diamond explained that with a systems approach, “There is a primary shift between a transactional and a transformational perspective.” By incorporating every aspect of life, Diamond believes that sustainable peace is possible.

Andrea Bartoli, Director of the International Conflict Analysis and Resolution graduate program at George Mason University, also discussed the growth and success of the multi-track approach by speaking about his involvement in the Mozambique peace process. Bartoli highlighted the need for inclusion of all groups of people and levels of society when negotiating a peace agreement and argued, “Dissonance is good. It’s is what we need. It is when we want to get rid of the dissonance that we get in trouble. It is when we want to get rid of the diversity that we get the genocide. So we’ve heard before that we need to divide and conquer, but what we hear from John and Louise is ‘unite and govern.’”

To begin the second panel, Mohamed Abu-Nimer, Director of the Salam Institute at American University, spoke of both internal and external challenges that multi-track diplomacy initiatives face. He listed the failure to integrate media and new technology into peace-building efforts, and the lack of coordination among local and international agencies. He also criticized the inadequate communication with military and security forces, as well as the frequent inability to measure the success of peacebuilding efforts. However, Abu-Nimer recognized the difficulties related to transferring individual change to a larger level and has been working towards achieving this goal throughout his career.

Emmanuelle Bernard, Conflict Prevention Specialist with the UNDP Bureau on Crisis Prevention and Recovery , gave an overview of where UNDP fits into the multi-track approach to peace-building and diplomacy. She explained that the UNDP helps countries develop internal capacities to address problems related to prevention of conflict themselves. “One concept we try to use is ‘infrastructures for peace’ and we help countries develop at the national level, at the community level, with government mechanisms, with civil society, to really deal with tensions before they explode.” Bernard stated that the UNDP attempts to base it’s operations on a clear understanding of the local and national conflict dynamics, and focus attention on countries that don’t have a UN mission or a great deal of international attention. Bernard echoed the other panelist’s concerns over the challenge of working in locations when the government is resistant to assistance.

Yair Hirschfeld, Director General of the Economic Cooperation Foundation and faculty member of Haifa University, began by discussing his three rules of multi-track diplomacy: 1) a strategic understanding of the historical context of the conflict; 2) the necessity of access to decision-makers; and 3) humility, which requires working with individuals of various opinions. Hirschfeld then outlined various connected working levels for multi-track diplomacy practitioners, namely concept-building, coalition-building, and capacity-building. He explained, “Concept-building is built on listening to the different stakeholders in the conflict. You listen to the other side carefully, as well as to your own people, to know what the conflict is and where there can be common ground.” Hirschfeld emphasized the importance of working with Track I diplomacy efforts, first by fact-finding and establishing common ground, next by obtaining partial authorization, thirdly, by building the legitimacy of your work, and finally, by what Hirschfeld refers to as the “breakthrough” or the point at which Track II understanding becomes the basis for Track I actions.

“My work in the area of conflict transformation and multi-track diplomacy emerged out of my frustrations as first a policy-maker in Congress over many years and then as a diplomat working on the Burundi and Congo wars,” began Howard Wolpe, former Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa. He continued by elaborating on the international community’s approach, which sees the signing of a peace agreement as the primary focus. Wolpe argued, however, that this approach did not address the root causes of the conflict nor did it serve to rebuild trust among the various leading parties to a conflict. He said, instead, that post-conflict peace-building must work with the leaders themselves and their mindsets. He outlined four challenges for sustainable peace in any society: 1) changing the conflict paradigm away from politics as a zero-sum game; 2) restore trust and rebuild relationships; 3) build consensus on power-sharing; and 4) strengthen communication skills of key leaders. Wolpe utilized his own experiences in Burundi as an example of how he successfully implemented multi-track diplomacy efforts through leadership workshops that contributed building cohesion and professionalism in the Burundian army and lessened the divisive ethnic rhetoric.

Event Speakers List: 
  • Steve McDonald // Public Policy Scholar
    Former Director, Africa Program, Woodrow Wilson Center.
  • Founder and Director, Salam Institute and Professor, School for International Service, American University
  • Dean, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution George Mason University
  • Conflict Prevention Specialist, Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, UNDP
  • Founder and Director, Global Systems Initiatives
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