Building Stronger Track-Two Networks – OpEd


The continuing armed conflict in Ukraine and the likelihood that the conflict will drag on through the winter–as well as armed conflicts in other parts of the world–forces us to ask if more can be done on the part of non-governmental organizations to encourage negotiations in good faith.  Lengthy armed conflict severely weakens the social fabric of a country by destroying communities, engendering a culture of violence, and creating a sense of mistrust that makes collaboration within the society difficult to achieve.

There have been efforts through the United Nations and individual governments to encourage ceasefires and negotiations.  It must be hoped that such governmental efforts will continue.  These governmental efforts can be called Track-One. Track-One diplomacy is official government negotiations with their backup resources of research and intelligence agencies.  Track-One can make formal proposals within the United Nations or in public declarations to other governments.  There can also be Track-One “back channels” of informal or unofficial contacts.

Track-Two diplomacy is citizen-based efforts through research, policy proposals, mediation, and the creation of collaborative relations. Track-Two is a non-official effort, usually carried out by a  non-governmental organization often in cooperation with academic institutions or at least with individuals in the peace research field.   No non-governmental  organization has the resources of a government.  Thus Track-Two efforts must often work cooperatively in trans-frontier alliances.

Track-Two efforts are becoming increasingly important in world politics.  Increasingly armed conflicts exist between a government and one or more non-governmental armed movements as we see in Yemen, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kurds in Syria, the ethnic minorities in Myanmar.  Governments are often reluctant to negotiate openly with such armed groups fearing to give them legitimacy or fearing to encourage action by other such armed movements.  Yet peace negotiations require discussions with such groups.  Track-Two efforts can be carried on in unofficial ways which governments can deny later if needs be.

The armed conflicts in former Yugoslavia highlighted the difficulties of non-governmental efforts at peacebuilding although the European Parliament had adopted a resolution in which it encouraged grassroots activities against the wars.  These efforts were led by churches, educational institutions, and cultural centers.  However, they had relatively little impact in stopping the violence.  They may, however, have a more long-term role in building bridges across the resulting national and religious divides.

Preparing the ground among non-governmental representatives, peace researchers, and media personnel is an important task.  Leadership rarely arises spontaneously.  There is a need for preparation and training.  There is also a need for continuity.  There are rarely sudden victories in Track-Two efforts.   One must be ready to try again the next day.  There is also a need to keep doors open to government representatives. As the Quaker economist and peace worker Kenneth Boulding 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.”


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

John Davies and Eddy Kaufman.  Second Track/Citizen’s Diplomacy: Concepts and Techniques for Conflict (Lanham. MD: Rowman and Litlefield, 2002)

W.E.De Mars.  NGOs and Transnational Networks (London: Pluto Press, 2005)

P. Willets (Ed.) The Conscience of the World: The Influence of NGOs in the UN System (London: Hurst, 1996)

René Wadlow is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation and problem-solving in economic and social issues, and editor of Transnational Perspectives.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS)

René Wadlow

Rene Wadlow is President and a Representative to the United Nations, Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

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