Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy

John McDonald

Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

We started out in divided Cyprus. I'll come back to these, for now I just want to give you an overview. We worked there for some eight years. We worked in Israel/Palestine for years, and we started work in Bosnia in 1996, and we're still working there. We worked in seven or eight countries in Africa: Liberia, Sierra Leone, we worked in Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Congo, Rwanda, and now Uganda. We worked in India/Pakistan with a focus on Kashmir. We're still working there. I made three trips to Nepal in the last year and a half. We're working with the Dali Lama and the government of Tibet who has been in exile since 1990, helping them to develop a diplomatic corps to negotiate with the Chinese. We work in Sri Lanka and we're working in the Caucuses, in Georgia and Azerbaijan, and Turkey. That's sort of where we have been in our work. We have some basic principles that we follow that I think would be interesting to your audience.

First of all, we only go where we're invited by the people in the country, and that's a very important fundamental belief as far as I'm concerned. Also, we never cross the line between Track II, unofficial citizen diplomacy, and Track I. As some of my friends and colleagues have done that to regret, because they always get kicked out of the country when that happens. We're not there to negotiate a peace treaty. That's not our job.

What we try to do is to interact with civilian leaders across the spectrum, at all levels of society, provide them through training with conflict resolution skills, life and leadership skills, and then allow them to impact on their conflict and their policy makers in their own time frame and their own language and their own culture, and bring about change in that way. Now, this takes time. There are no quick fixes, and of course most governments don't have the patience to wait for that to happen. That's one of the problems you have in Track I diplomacy, you're always impatient. We insist upon building a trust relationship. We believe that you cannot bring change, you cannot get someone to see differently about the enemy, until you develop a trust relationship with each side separately, first, and then together. And that also takes time. We never advertise what we do, or where we go, or what we're doing, and we only operate overseas outside the United States.

What happens is that we get invited in to do a lecture here or a talk there, or maybe a two-hour training. The word begins to get around. We first go in and listen, I should say that. We go and listen; governments don't listen, they don't know how to listen. We then ask for the needs of the people who invited us. Government won't ask you what your needs are, they'll tell you what your needs are, and they'll fix them for you. It's all related to people, but fundamentally based on people, their concerns, their fears, their aspirations, their needs. That's an important element we have to work with. We don't advertise because we're trying to build trust. When we start out, if we decide to take on a program, we also make a five-year commitment to build trust. No weekend, not parachuting in, we're there for five years or longer if they want us. That's another way that you'll actually build trust. So that's an important thing to consider.

When we start out, we make some connections, and we start training then we tell the people we're going to be back in ten days, or two weeks, and we want to meet here. Bring your friends, we say. Word of mouth is what we do. That takes longer, but by word of mouth, you build trust. The people who come to you are already committed to the idea that they really want to learn about how you build a peace process. Those are some basic issues that I feel strongly about.