Multi-Track Diplomacy: and the Sustainable Route to Conflict Resolution


The limitations of the rationalistic approach to peacemaking and conflict settlement has been associated with the relative failures of the post-Cold War era. Instead of stability, chaos and anarchy have been the dominant characteristics in the contemporary international system. This article examines the failings of traditional approaches to dispute resolution and outlines an alternative conceptual vision which deals with the realities of the present conflict arena. Finally, a practical mechanism for multi-track diplomacy is articulated which is able to address the underlying causes of modern conflict and illustrates the diversity of the human condition.

There have been many methodologies which have identified resource-based conflicts and highlighted the political tensions which have revolved around environmental issues. One such methodology which has been used by researchers involves the drawing up of a conflict typology. Four main types of conflict have been identified: Governance and Authority, Identity, Ideology and the Environment (Garcia, 1993). These methodologies have focused upon those conflicts which can have a profound effect on people, and work to undermine the basic constructs of human security. What these methodologies have suggested is that the erosion of human security and the deprivation of basic human needs can create conditions in which the potential for armed violence, in defense of fundamental rights, becomes increasingly likely. In such circumstances cultures diversity and ethnicity has become a rallying cry for confrontation. The number of ethnopolitical wars worldwide, from the Balkans to the Caucuses and all over Africa, is a testament to the power of identity as a re-ordering principle in the post-Cold war era.

The characteristics of modern internal conflict, under the guise of competing ethnicities, reflects a fundamental change in the nature of war and a paradigm shift in international relations. Increasingly, the international community has been drawn into more conflicts. The activities of the United nations Organization in international security have proliferated well beyond the limited peacekeeping tasks of the Cold War era. Concepts such as preventive diplomacy, peace-enforcement and peace-building have become common currency in professional diplomatic circles. And yet one wonders, on the evidence so far, whether the international community really understands the implications of the kinds of warfare which is so prevalent in today's society of states and the measures necessary to contain it. It is evident that to date, the state-centered system has failed to pursue appropriate conflict resolution policies compatible with the needs of the current conflict arena. I shall outline in this paper a new strategy which should be adopted in order to meet these challenges and which asserts a new, peacemaking paradigm for the 21st century.

The Rationalistic Discourse

The institutional formulae which have dominated contemporary peacemaking strategies have been based upon traditional Western methodologies and encompasses a linear approach to dispute mitigation. This approach generally presupposes a domain of "rationality," where all the parties share, more or less, central values based on rational argument. It is assumed that the problem is to get the parties to the table and that it will be possible through negotiations to find a "win-win" solution agreeable to both sides (Rupesinghe, 1994, p. 73). With this approach, the conceptual environment within which these conflicts occur is generally supposed to contain a strong ideological imperative of equality and recognition of the rule of law.

But the modern division of labor in different societies forces its members into multiple roles that are attached to a variety of interests which result in conflict. Recognizing this complexity, society develops institutions and mechanisms to resolve conflicts in a specified way. Gradually, a culture of negotiations emerges, and a complex network of arbitration and dispute resolution becomes increasingly professionalized. Naturally these conflicts take place amongst like-minded actors who, most often, speak a common language. But this heritage extends to include a shared universe of meaning. Normally disputes are defined within a fairly developed regime of law-mostly individuals' right-with its specific historical evolution in the West. Another defining factor is that in modern and politically stable states, conflicts are generally symmetric ones in which the state assumes the role of a mediator or sometimes plays the role of a third party. However, in many of the conflicts confronting the South, the successor states of the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe, the state is involved as a party to the conflict. It is a phenomenon which marks an era of disintegrating state authority and the collapse of cohesive societal structures.

The shift in emphasis from inter-state conflict to internal wars has forced the international community to question the validity of the rationalist discourse which history has established at the heart of the European system, as we shall see. The empirical evidence supports the view that such a discourse ought to be re-evaluated, in the light of the fact that only three of the 82 armed conflicts between 1989 and 1992 were between states (United Nations Development Report, 1994, p. 47). In response to this shift in the status quo, the international community has been forced to undertake new measures, and such has been the change from inter-state conflict to internal violence that the UN's peace-keeping emphasis has been totally re-orientated. In 1988 only 20% of its operations were related to intra-state conflicts, yet 82% of the operations established since January 1992 have been concerned with internal wars (Boutros-Ghali, 1995). Moreover, the potential for more internal conflicts seems to be restricted, only by the speed and consistent nature of the flow of arms and weapons throughout the international system. As I have explained, the rationalist discourse derived from notions of a state-centered system and such a system is becoming less absolute in the modern world.

Significance of the Contemporary Conflict Arena

The nature of warfare in the late 20th century has challenged the structure which hitherto determined precepts of state-centered peacemaking. In today's realm of international instability, the state is rarely the only actor in the conflict arena, and conflict resolution is no longer a matter of managing state-to-state relations. The fact is the rationalist discourse is unable to address dilemmas associated with the decline of human security and the root causes of modern protracted social conflict (Azar, 1990).

With the demise of the strong, bipolar power configuration which dominated international affairs between 1946-1989, the international community has been forced to confront the challenges of turbulent multipolarity. This has encompassed the fragmentation of conflicts and the disintegration of states. In this context the leading Israeli military strategist and historian, Martin Van Creveld, suggests that the wars of the future might be between sub-state organizations. He believes that the state in its traditional mold is beginning to lose relevance, and global society will become more and more fragmented as first sovereignty, and then governments become less important. In this situation, wars will not be fought between states using heavy weapons and regular armies but between warlords and narrowly defined interest factions which use light weaponry and irregular forces. This warlordism is already de-stabilizing societies and states. (Newsweek, April 17, 1995).

Van Creveld's thesis outlines the symptoms of the contemporary conflict arena, which in many respects reflects the systemic changes in the global order. The causes, however, represent problems and dilemmas which have been evident for many decades in those parts of the world where governance has been weak, politics has been corrupt, and notions of nation-building have been undermined by internal divisions and external pressures. All too often these failures, associated with a new, emerging sovereignty regime among "Third World" states (Jackson, 1990) after the period of de-colonization, have been exacerbated by ethnic divisions and the struggle to capture the benefits of finite resources.

The exploitive and inequitable management of natural resources has been a pervasive feature of the degenerative trends of the eco-system and environment. Within this context the potential for conflict over non-renewable resources is immense. Thomas Homer-Dixon describes these conflicts in three ways: simple scarcity conflicts which arise over the use of rive water, fish and agriculturally productive land; group identity conflicts which can arise from the large-scale movement of populations brought about by environmental change; and relative deprivation conflicts whereby developing societies produce less wealth because of environmental problems and, as a result, their citizens become increasingly discontented by the widening gap between the actual level of economic achievement and the level they feel they deserve (Homer-Dixon, 1991).

In all of these cases ethnic divisions can be a pervasive feature of the conflict-formation phase. In modern africa, for example, the legacy of colonialism and subsequent state structures have reflected the administrative domination of selected elites, often dividing post-colonial societies along ethnic lines. The "divide and rule" policies pursued by the European powers nurtured a politics of clientism (Davidson, 1992) which has continued to the modern era. This has created fastened correlations between ethnicity, class and social mobility, eventually leading, as in Liberia, to civil conflict (Ofuatey-Kodjoe, 1993, p.265). In another example of where the use of finite resources are fueling ethnic-social divisions, the monopoly over water resources from the West Bank aquifers by Israeli settlers is posing major problems for the Palestinian population and threatens to heighten the stakes in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Asia's fragile ecological system has often been at the root of cross-communal conflict. In 1983 Tamils from Sri Lanka settled in India and, particularly, the State of Tamil Nadu. While they were initially welcomed politically, great resentment was shown by the local poor population as the Sri Lankans were given some allowances by the government. In Guatemala, political and economic power is concentrated in the hands of an elite, the mestizo, which are of Spanish origin. The majority of the indigenous population are of Mayan stock, and have few benefits in a country where the mestizo class has repressed them for over forty years.

The Human Dimension

The wars which Van Creveld describes and which have been highlighted by other commentators, including Dr. Rupesinghe (Culture of Violence, 1995), are more than fanciful projections of some future anarchy; they are real phenomena of today's political world. In places like Somalia, Liberia, and Bosnia, war has led to societal fragmentation; the breakdown of communications between segments of society; the militarization of conflict; brutalization and widespread bloodletting, increased refugee flows and large-scale movements of the internally displaced; the creation of active diasporas; the stereotyping and/or demonization of others; internaitonalization of the conflict (but rarely of attempts at mitigation or resolution); and massive violations of human rights and severe breaches of humanitarian law, particularly against civilians, including women, children and the elderly.

What is even more significant is that internal conflict tens to render civilian populations passive to the violence surrounding them, allowing violent parties to operate unhindered by civil restraints. Concomitantly, fragile institutions of governance in states in formation are undermined further by internal violence, leading, in some cases, to the complete breakdown of law and order and any semblance of protection of civilians. One result of civilian passivity can be the inability of warring communities to communicate at any level meaningful to develop accommodation. In cases where the mass media perpetuates and embellishes old stereotypes and traumas, the intractability of internal conflicts is reinforced by the demonization and dehumanization of the "other," which so often is translated into a self-fulfilling prophesy as violence and barbarity escalate.

Limitations of the Western Mission

The international community's mainstream response to the conflict arena, described in the rationalist discourse, has shown itself to have been less than effective. In spite of the extraordinary expansion of UN activities in the past five years, the Organization's ability to bring peace to war-torn societies is far from certain. Not only are the limited resources of international organizations an obstacle to effective action, but a critique of the approach, which these organizations bring to the conflict arena, exposes their inability to truly endorse a sustainable peacemaking process.

On the whole the approach has embodied notions adopted from the traditional state-centered peacemaking experience. One of the clearest examples of this emerged through the publication in 1992 of the UN Secretary-General's "An Agenda for Peace." While the document highlighted some novel concepts, adopted from the peace research tradition such as peace-building, its main focus was upon the state-centered approach to conflict prevention and conflict resolution using the UN mechanism. It was linear in design and emphasized the military aspects of preventive diplomacy. It included recommendations such as the creation of peace enforcement units, the preventions such as the creation of peace enforcement units, the preventive deployment of troops, the establishment of demilitarized zones, expansion of peace-keeping and the utilization of Chapter VII provisions, such as the earmarking of troops. It has become clear since 1992 that, while such a mechanism could operate when sufficient political will was applied to deal with inter-state disputes (such as the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in August 1990), it is doubtful that it can effectively manage the far more complicated conflicts where there is no predictable state relations to manage, and traditional norms of international law do not apply.

In essence, the UN and its conflict management mechanism, like other state-centered for a, represents an approach to conflict resolution which seeks to promote negative peace, or in other words, the absence of war. Negative peace is aimed at engendering a static state, a status quo, which has become associated with the premise that the larger and stronger parties gain the most benefit. It is based, however, upon rationalist assumptions, in which violent conflict is seen as an "inherent, unchangeable aspect of human existence. Conflicts are caused by competition for scarce resources (economic, political and social), and it is assumed that these conflicts will produce winners and losers" (Featherston, 1994, p.8). In the past, policies based upon this approach have ushered in partial settlements, reflecting compromises between parties - mainly states - over territorial issues. However, when the issues involve "the protection of societal values or cultures, and are caused by the underlying deprivation of basic human needs" (Featherston, 1994, p.8), such traditional approaches fail. The long-term deprivation of basic human needs and the erosion of human security creates conditions of protracted social conflict (Azar, 1990). According to this argument, "Traditional conflict management approaches cannot effectively manage these conflicts because they miss the essential causes by focusing on substantive or objective issues. In cases where a settlement may be reached it will not provide a long-term, sustainable resolution to the conflict, which will inevitably boil over again at some point in the future" (Featherston, 1994, p.9).

The historical evidence supports the charge that the linear approach to conflict management lacks the requirements to bring lasting peace. For example, according to Bercovitch, mediation by leaders of international organizations has a 4% success rate (Bercovitch, 1982, p. 15). The international community's record in resolving conflicts within states resembles a catalogue of failure and missed chances. The UN's Bosnian operation (UNPROFOR) has been drawn into a humanitarian quagmire. There have been well over 70 cease-fire agreements, signed and broken in the former Yugoslavia. In March 1995 the UN finally withdrew from Somalia and, despite an expenditure of $1.3 billion, no comprehensive peace had been achieved at the end of the international community's two-year venture. In 1994 the UN spent a total of $3.7 billion on peace-keeping around the world, most of which went towards missions dealing with intra-state conflicts, operations which essentially "held the ring" in the conflict management agenda.

Positive Peace and Multi-Track Diplomacy

The limitations of linear diplomacy and the rationalist discourse has prompted the peace research community to develop alternative methods for conflict resolution. The key to this approach is the creation of conditions of "positive peace." This promotes a series of strategies which go beyond the state-centered dynamics of negative peace; it is a much broader concept which seeks to deal with the structural problems and inequalities which are often the sources of tensions that can escalate into destructive conflict. In this context, positive peace has been defined as "a pattern of co-operation and integration between major human groups" and embracing "a pro-active process" (Featherston, 1994, p. 9). Unlike the traditional linear perspective, where success is assessed on the basis of a compromising settlement and a state of negative peace, the conflict resolver evaluates success at the point when an agreement is reached which promotes elements likely to promote a positively peaceful peaceful society. It bases peacemaking strategies on notions of civil and sustainable societal norms.

Since the contemporary conflict arena is diffuse and multi-centered, the path towards positive peace must be designed along a number of multiple tracks. Different types of action must be used to address these different dimensions. We can identify five layers: the personal, the local, the national, the regional and the international. What is clear is that different actors, intervening at appropriate intervals and using relevant tools, are required to construct a cohesive network for preventive action and conflict resolution. Throughout this multi-layered paradism, which includes the UN and its agencies, regional organizations and NGOs, the ethos of conflict prevention should remain the dominant feature.

The approach must be based on the notion of complementarity and should feature well-founded development programs which ensure good governance and the development of institutions and mechanisms designed to prevent conflicts. This multiple approach to conflict transformation emphasizes a carefully designed process which is able to furnish sustainable capacity-building at the national level. This mean that governments, political parties, NGOs and other agencies representing various interests can build peace constituencies around the idea of prevention. There are a number of steps which are required for designing this process.

Understanding Root Causes: Understanding and conceptualizing the root causes of a given conflict.

Ownership of the peace process: Empowerment of local actors so that they are the primary architects, owners and long-term stakeholders in the peace process.

Identifying all the actors: Accurate identification is necessary of all significant actors - the visible and articulate elites, as well as the less visible, less articulate, but still influential, opinion shapers and leaders within a given society.

Identifying facilitators: Accurate identification of appropriate people for designing the peace process; in other words, who has the background knowledge, analytic and mediation skills to make a positive contribution to the design process.

Sustaining the effort: Adequate investment of financial resources, patience, and a sustained Evaluating success and failure: An evaluation and assessment of the process, looking for areas of success and re-examination of failures.

Strategic constituencies: Identification of strategic constituencies to sustain peace processes over time and which include both the like-minded and the unlike-minded. Such a cross-sectorial coalition of forces could form strategic alliances focused on particular conflicts.

At the heart of this design is the notion of conflict prevention. Preventing conflicts must be seen as a priority, while building structures of positive peace is, by nature, a pro-active process. The answer to complexity in the conflict arena is the multi-track design, which firstly reflects the different levels of conflict which need to be addressed and secondly, the overall construction of complementarity. In this context eleven types of diplomacy can be identified: 1) inter-governmental diplomacy such as the United Nations; 2) governmental peacemaking through official diplomacy (such as the bilateral negotiations between the parties in the Middle East); 3) second track diplomacy using unofficial fora (such as the secret Norwegian track negotiations which eventually led to the 1993 peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO); 4) citizen diplomacy through private means; this can come in many forms but one of the most successful illustration of this is in Someliland where tribal elders have used traditional kinship networks to resolve conflicts; 5) economic diplomacy through various donor organization; 6) peace diplomacy through religious organizations; this not only encompasses the work of local churches and religious leaders but also projects established by international religious establishments (such as the Quakers or the Italian-based Catholic lay community of Sant' Egidio); 7) diplomacy through women's movements, which both at a local and international level, has helped mobilize women in the pursuit of conflict resolution; 8) communications diplomacy through the media has proved to be a particularly powerful tool in mobilizing public opinion and molding the perceptions of policymakers; 9) peace diplomacy through social movements is a broader form of the citizen diplomacy described above and examples of this may include the "peace zones" and "peace corridors" created by communities (in places like Colombia and the Philippines, or the work of the Community Relations Council (CRC) in Northern Ireland); 10) peace education through education and training is seen as addressing some of the root causes of conflicts (projects such as the Untied Nations Education Scientific Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) "Program to Promote a Culture of Peace," and International Alter's training seminars and workshops in the Near East, Africa and Latin America are examples of this form of diplomacy); 11) creative diplomacy through artists and personalities from the world of entertainment such as "Live Aid," "Band Aid," and "Comic Relief."

A Structured Response to Early Warning

The requirements of a multi-dimensional design to conflict resolution demand a structured response mechanism. The failure of conflict management in recent years has been due, in part, to the relative lateness of the action employed. Studies have illustrated that protracted social conflicts reflect a determinable cycle and each phase of the cycle offers an opportunity for a particular kind of intervention: 1 Conflict formation Early warning 2 Conflict escalation Crisis intervention 3 Conflict endurance Empowerment and mediation 4 Conflict improvement Negotiation/problem solving 5 Conflict transformation New institutions and projects

In most cases, however, intervention comes during the conflict escalation stage, in which the parties have entered a phase of attrition and a spiral of violence and counter-violence (Rupesinghe, forthcoming). Most notable of the interventions are actions taken by humanitarian agencies, and the focus within the conflict arena is upon humanitarian assistance while attempting to limit human suffering. Conflict resolution is marginalized as survival becomes the prominent feature.

A structured approach is designed to prevent the conflict cycle from unraveling. It is an attempt to shift resources to addressing the conflict formation phase. This constitutes a multi-centered approach on a truly global level. The mechanics of this effort is to create a network of agencies which will both collect information on potential conflicts and act upon the information at the same time. A "Clearing House" of agencies will own, analyze and provide a structured response which develops a contigency for early action. Agencies will act as a forum where the early warning information can be analyzed. Such a network would bring together regional experts able to provide the most credible scenarios of future developments based on their field experience and knowledge; respected experts on regional conflict indicators and those operating databases on civil wars; senior officials of relevant UN bodies (such as an Office for Preventive Diplomacy and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees); relevant inter-governmental and non-governmental agencies involved in preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution.

The consortium will be able to respond in a structured way on the principle of a division of labor, where different agencies with different comparative strengths could avail themselves to early action. For example, while one group of agencies could monitor the human rights situation, another group could mobilize global pressure and lobby governments and another could build a peace constituency. It is also important that this approach is complimented within the local, national and regional areas so that the early action is truly global. The structured response is therefore multi-centered in nature and designed to promote complementarity and substanability within a given division of labor.

The whole point of the structured response is to take advantage of different, relative strengths which can be offered by different agencies and ensure that there is no duplication of effort. It represents a cross-sectoral, multi-layered design which brings together expertise from different disciplines which have a role in developing civil society.

What I am proposing is that a clearing house of agencies in each country in the developed world, focused upon a lead agency, be responsible for preventing and resolving specifically designated conflict situations. For example, in the UK, a coalition of agencies has already started the work of establishing an action plan for prevention in Burundi. Other agencies are also working on the situation in Kenya. Consequently, a situation should develop whereby each country should specialize in certain conflict regions, using the multi - sectoral approach. Each coalition will be global in character, while its secretariat is located in a specific country. One of the responsibilities of each coalition will be to promote national capacity-building, so that the consortium is duplicated in those affected by the conflict.

Cultural Empowerment

As the above discussion has demonstrated, conflict transformation attempts to empower all the parties to a conflict. This approach recognizes that social conflicts need to be transformed to a less violent level, not because violence cannot achieve limited objectives, but because contemporary violence and its manifestations maim and injure all sides, including large numbers of civilians.

I would now like to reflect on some approaches we may consider within the comparative experience of violent conflict and suggest that each specific culture has enough resources within itself to resolve its own conflicts. The task is to identify those resources meaningfully.

In the transformation of violence, every effort must be made to recover civilian space and democracy from the armed combatants by insisting on accountability to civilian rule. This is not easy and, in some cases, may be impossible for those living in such conditions. But there is a growing body of international norms on human rights and monitoring which is significant, and the international community may play a role in ensuring protection. Ultimately, however, accountability must be ensured and sustained from within the society.

Paths to Peacemaking

The measure of the multi-track approach is to design comprehensive resolution to conflict. This means devising strategies which address conflict and grievances at all levels of society and societal interaction. The different sectors which have been identified for this design reflect this holistic approach to strengthening civil society. In particular the empowerment of civil society and citizen-based peacemaking reflect the paramount importance of ensuring all sectors of society have a say in the use and distribution of essential resources. Recent years have reflected the value of those initiatives which have played a role in conflict transformation process worldwide.

Examples of this have already been demonstrated in places such as the Philippines, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mozambique and South Africa, where the linear approach has either been complemented or replaced by non-traditional approaches to conflict resolution. In practical terms the two sides of this approach have been represented by so called "insider partials" and "outsider neutrals" (Wher & Lederach, 1991, pp.86-87). The "outsider neutral" is the classic third-party mediator who is able to come from outside the conflict arena and act with an element of impartiality and neutrality. Such a role may be played by any or, ideally, by all the participants identified in the multi-track design under the umbrella of the structured response to early warning. The "insider partial," on the other comes from within the conflict arena and, knowing the situation intimately, is able to complement the work of the "outsider neutral."

The combination of these roles has been very prominent in the peace processes of Central America and southern Africa over the past few years. Civil society has played an especially crucial role in Central America. In both El Salvador and Guatemala civil society fora have been established as part of the peace processes in those countries. This has been to ensure that any agreements made at the respective negotiating tables had the wide consensus of the country-in particular, issues relating to land reform. In an another example, civil society, represented by the Churches, played an important role in bringing peace to Mozambique. The "outsider neutrals" involved with this process included the Italian religious community of Sant' Egidio, the international community and business interests in the region.

In the final phase, two negotiating processes were taking place simultaneously. While the Mozambican government talked with Renamo in Rome, the Bishop of Maputo conducted negotiations with the government in Africa, supported by intensive diplomatic efforts by the West. Finally, one can see the value of civil society fora, which represent cross-sectoral interests, working to resolve local disputes in places as far apart as Northern Ireland and Somaliland. In Northern Ireland the Community Relations Council (CRC) turned its attention to public bodies in order to facilitate the equitable distribution of services and social resources between the Catholic-Protestant communities and, as a result, help improve relations between the two groups. In an African example, the tribal elders of Somaliland have used traditional forms of local diplomacy to resolve resource-based conflicts in the north of their country.


What are the implications of the multi-track approach to resolving the fissures and divisions in human society? In the first place it illustrates that the position of the state is changing. The examples illustrated in this paper show how conflict within heterogeneous societies can be managed and, eventually, resolved by establishing more representative fora which include state-society relationship and, thus, encourage compromise and agreement over the finite resources available. This approach encompasses the ethic of global governance and the mechanism of civil society. It captures the ideal of pluralism and overcomes the "zero-sum" game so often associated with resource-based conflict.

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