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UN Consultative-status NGOs and Track II Efforts
by Rene Wadlow
2013-06-25 10:53:57
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“Only the bridge of Beauty will be strong enough for crossing from the bank of darkness to the side of light”.

Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947)

There is a growing interest in the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the making and implementation of policies at the international level.(1).  NGOs are most active at the United Nations, where, through time and persistent effort, NGO representatives have developed a structured role for themselves, especially in such fields as human rights, ecology, and humanitarian relief.  NGOs are starting to play a role in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and there are close links between the European Union and NGOs, especially in the field of development cooperation.

The role of NGO representatives is to influence policies through participation in the entire policy-making process.  What distinguishes the NGO representative’s role at the UN from lobbying at the national level is that one may appeal to and discuss with the representatives of many different governments.  While some governments may be unwilling to consider the ideas of anyone other than the mandate they receive from the Foreign Ministry, others are more open.  Out of the more than 100 States usually present at most UN meetings, the NGO representatives will always find some who share a common policy outlook or who are seeking additional information on which to take a decision.

As with all diplomacy in multilateral forums such as the UN, much depends upon the skill and knowledge of the NGO representatives and on the close working relations which they are able to develop with some governmental representatives and some members of the UN Secretariat.  NGO representatives have little power — that is a permanent ability to influence policy outcomes, but on specific issues where they have expert knowledge, they can have a real impact — through this is always difficult to measure since only government representatives can vote.

NGO representatives have played an important role in recent mobilization efforts at the UN such as the campaign against landmines, for the creation of an International Criminal Court or for increased protection from violence for women and children.  The groups working on these issues are found in many different countries but have learned to work trans-nationally, both through face-to-face meetings and on the internet.  The groups in the campaigns share a certain number of values and ideas but may differ on others.  Thus, they come together on an ad hoc basis around one project or a small number of related issues.  Yet their effectiveness is based on their being able to function over a relatively long period of time — at least a decade— in rather complex networks even when direct success or influence is limited.

These campaigns are based on networks which combine actors of different types across various levels of government. The campaigns are alliances among different types of organizations: membership groups, academic institutes, religious bodies and ad hoc local groups.  Some groups are well known, most are not.

There is a need to be able to work at the local, the national, and the UN level all at the same time.  Such NGO networks need to be able to contact key decision makers in national parliaments, government administrations and intergovernmental secretariats.  Such mobilization is difficult, and for each “success story”, there are many failed efforts which were unable to build the necessary momentum.

It is in the peacemaking field where there is the greatest need and the greatest difficulties for NGO action.  The French Prime Minister during the First World War, George Clemenceau, said “War is too important to be left only to generals”. Likewise, peacemaking is too important for it to be left only to political leaders who had created the violence in the first place.  Thus, there needs to be movements and efforts beyond and outside the governments to help bring about negotiations and a climate in which peace measures are possible.  Such non-governmental efforts are increasingly being called “Track Two”.

Track One is official government negotiators and their back up resources.  There is the President or Prime Minister of a country and his immediate staff.  Governments also have the Foreign Ministry with official diplomats, a certain research and intelligence capacity, and contacts at the United Nations, regional bodies, and in other countries.  There are also one or more intelligence services with agents, research capacities and spies.

Governments have military, each branch usually with its own intelligence-gathering services.  Governments have ministries of commerce or trade — some of which, such as Japan, have extensive negotiating and research capacities.  
Many governments have news or information services whose role is to present the government’s views and usually to analyse the foreign press and media.  Many governments also have cultural bodies to present national cultures and to be in touch with cultural workers in other countries.

Governments can also call informally upon a wide range of contacts in business, religion, the media and educational bodies.  There is in many countries what the English call 

“the Establishment”, people who by their education, family history, wealth, and influence in sections of the society play a key role in society regardless of what political party is currently in the majority. Diplomats are often from families of “the Establishment”, have gone to the same schools or universities and can call upon people for their views, family contacts, and observations when travelling.  Thus “Track One” diplomacy has always been “multi-track”.  To what extent the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister is able to coordinate this multitude of agents and initiatives will depend on the personality of the minister and the skills of his close staff.

Track Two are citizen-based peacemaking efforts through research, dialogue, mediation, and the development of collaborative conflict prevention strategies and mechanisms.  Track Two has certain key concepts of relationship, process, capacity-building, coordination, collaboration, diversity, and transformation.  These are concepts which are not always welcomed by governments who often consider such initiatives detrimental to the ‘real work’ of diplomats following the governmental Track One.

Yet  Track Two efforts are becoming increasingly important in world politics. Track Two exists for two reasons.  Increasingly, conflicts exist between a Government with all its structures named above, and a non-State actor — usually one or more armed movements — the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the Maoists in Nepal, the armed groups in Nagaland, India or the ethnic minorities in Myanmar (Burma).  Governments are often reluctant to negotiate openly with armed groups fearing to give them legitimacy or fearing to encourage other such armed movements.  Yet peace requires discussions with such groups.  Such talks can be carried on in unofficial ways which the government can deny later if needs be.  

The second environment for Track Two efforts is that of  deep and prolonged tensions where, despite all the resources of governments, tensions and the danger of armed conflict continues.

Track Two dialogues are discussions held by non-officials of conflicting parties in an effort to clarify outstanding disputes and to explore the options for resolving them in settings that are less sensitive and often less structured and with less media attention than those associated with official negotiations.

The non-officials involved usually include scholars, senior journalists, former government officials, retired military officers, and business people.  Depending on the aims and the styles of these meetings, the profile and expertise of Track Two participants will differ.

The purposes of Track Two talks vary, but they are all related to reducing tensions or 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.  Such talks may also help participants familiarize themselves with one another, increasing their understanding of the human dimensions of the struggle in which they are engaged.  By informing their respective publics, elites, and governments of the perceptions and insights they have gained, participants may indirectly contribute to the formation of new national political priorities and policies.

Track Two talks can be divided into two —‘soft’ and ‘hard’. Soft talks are awareness building.  They often begin by personalizing the experiences of conflict — an effort to explore personal concepts and impressions — to see the face of the enemy.  In ‘hard’ Track Two talks use is made of the informal standing of Track Two participants to initiate talks on sensitive issues that cannot be dealt with in formal settings or between parties that have not yet recognized each other and hence cannot engage one another in official negotiations.  The  objective in these cases is to reach a political agreement or understanding that will be acceptable to the conflicting parties.

However, such dialogues are only part of a Track Two approach.  Each person can make a difference in building a peace constituency that can support partial agreements and then press for further measures.  Some Track Two techniques address immediate issue, others more long term relating to systemic and institutional change and the rebuilding of human relationships.

One promising approach of Track Two efforts is the bridge of beauty.  Beauty can bring out in the individual sentiments of awe, of compassion, of the spiritual in life.  One such effort is the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra led by Daniel Barenboim with musicians from Israel, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Spain — Spain in honour of the creative co-existence of Christian, Islamic and Jewish culture at one stage of its history.  Along the same lines is the Caucasian Chamber Orchestra led by the German conductor Uwe Berhemer with musicians from Armenia, Georgia and Dagestan with places reserved for Azerbaijani musicians when political tensions over Nagorno-Karabakh permit.

Music, dance and painting are wordless and thus can touch a part of human consciousness that can be blocked by words.  While the bridge of beauty does not overcome political divisions in the short run, beauty can open dimensions of the person not reached by economic gain or political calculations.


(1)   See such studies as the following:

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

T. Princen and M. Finger (Eds.). Environmental NGOs in World Politics. Linking the Global and the Local (London: Routledge, 1994)

M. Keck and K. Sikkink. Activists without Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998)

B. Arts, M.Noortmann, B. Reialda (Eds.). Non-State Actors in International Relations (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001)

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

O.P. Richmond and H.F. Carey (Eds.). Subcontracting Peace: The Challenges of NGO Peacebuilding (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005)


Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens


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