Last night (Aug 17) on BBC’s Newsnight, Professor Kiron Skinner (assistant professor of political science at Carnegie Mellon University and research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University), talked of US commitment to liberal interventionsim continuing, but, with Somalia as an example, noted that the non-military dimension – development, capacity building etc – would be proportionately more pronounced. She claimed much discussion around this, especially from the NGO world, was rife in Washington, and this included ‘on the Track Two side’.
CB3 initially took note because of the little hint of Somalia, in what was an Afghanistan package -elections, are we achieving anything, does liberal interventionism work? The oft-quoted reasons for the UK, US, NATO and the rest being in Afghanistan become a little hard to swallow when Somalia is brought into focus – if we’re in Helmand for those reasons then logically we have even more reason to be in Mogadishu, right now, in force. Explain that one, Mr Spokesperson. Of course, Somalia hardly registers on the general public knowledge radar, so the questions are hardly raised.
However, it was the casual reference to Track Two that also caught CB3’s ear. The presenter, Kirsty Wark, didn’t bat an eyelid, nor did her other scholarly guests (including Rory Stewart – agree with him or not, CB3 likes a maverick) but how many laymen, even in the relatively intellectual audience of Newsnight, would have picked “Track Two” up and understood what it meant? And how many communications practitioners would readily identify it?
Whereas Track One refers to traditional diplomacy (or high level B2B), Track Two diplomacy is loosely defined as unofficial policy dialogue, focused on problem solving, in which the participants have some form of access to official policymaking circles. Track Two refers to non-governmental, informal and unofficial contacts and activities between private citizens or groups of individuals, sometimes called ‘non-state actors. Or, put another way: informal and unofficial interaction between private citizens or groups of people within a country or from different countries who are outside the formal governmental power structure. Even simpler: dialogue through back channels. Whilst these definitions are so broad that any nongovernmental activity could constitute Track Two, including business contacts, citizen exchange programs, advocacy work, or religious contacts, they are often borne of a specific hard objective and that objective will entail, to a significant degree, persuasion, education, understanding, informing etc – all those objectives associated with communication.
Call it what you will – unofficial fireside chats, key leader engagement, cultural diplomacy – the point is that whilst communication activities press on with radio spots, leaflets, media campaigns, digital strategy and the like, Track Two, or the corporate equivalent, continues (it always has done) away from the glare, often unnoticed. Yet all activities may be servicing the same objective.
As a communicator, Track One, involving the big boys – the Ministers or chief execs – may be seductive but the constant but distant rumblings of Track Two should not be forgotten, should be listened to, facilitated and coordinated. Of course, sometimes Track Two can be highly sensitive, as it was during the Oslo peace process, but at some point both overt and covert dialogue and communication must be on the same table, under the same scrutiny, synergised. As Professor Skinner hinted, Track Two is being seriously discussed regarding Somalia. This should be equally the case in Afghanistan, where back channels are potent. Any major communications efforts in either ignore the effects of Track Two at their peril.