Hal Saunders

Director of International Affairs at the Kettering Foundation

Topics: peace processes, collaboration, dialogue

Interviewed by Susan Allen Nan and Andrea Strimling — 2003

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

......[transcript begins at 2:30]

Q: Your vision? What you would like to see in terms of interaction between official and unofficial actors? How would you define success or effectiveness?

A: Just to make a philosophical point or two first, there are some things that only governments can do, such as negotiate binding agreements, fund their implementation, and enforce them. There are some things that governments can't do at all, but only citizens outside government can do which are to transform conflictual relationships, to change political culture, and to modify human behavior. You could translate that into a drug situation. Governments can do some things, but only people can stop doing drugs. To put it in our framework, only governments can negotiate peace treaties and only people can make peace, which establishes new relationships that flow from that. For example, the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was a perfect example. Egyptians didn't feel like going to Israel because of what Israel represented to them. They weren't going to do it. Maybe there wasn't going to be fighting, but there wasn't going to be peace. If what I said is true then you need some kind of conceptual framework that puts these together in a partnership. Another way of saying what I said a moment ago is that the greatest untapped resource for the meeting the challenges of the 21st century are the energies of the citizens outside governments. That means that there needs to be an improved relationship between citizens and their governments, more broadly than just in the field that we are talking about. My desire would be to see a closer partnership between the two. If you get to that point in your thinking then my frame work is the frame work of a multi-level peace process and I won't go into all the roots of that for me, but I learned about peace processes in the 1970s in the Arab Israeli peace process. I think we invented the frame on the Kissenger airplane. Later on we realized that it was a multi level process. That Sadat visited Jerusalem was not the act of a negotiator, it was an act to change the sense of possibility among the people of Israel about the potential for peace. The idea of a multi-level process with everybody playing her and his appropriate role at the leadership level, at the middle level, and at the grass roots level must somehow work together. Which then brings you to the point of saying that one needs to recognize what people at each level can do and cannot do. One needs to accept the division of labor or lines of appropriate behavior or what ever it is in the multi-level peace process. I think it is only with that framework that the multi-level peace process, or something like that one creates a space for the legitimate roles of different people at different levels. It is not my idea alone, if you look at John Paul Lederach's book with the triangle with three levels, and so on. I am not saying anything especially original except putting that idea and peace processes together. Maybe it is something that I do because of my own particular commitment to the power of an open ended political process for making peace.

Q: Can you talk a little bit more about the nature of that partnership? What would it look like ideally?

A: One is that some body on the different levels of the peace process needs to think in terms of the whole, multi-level peace process. What does it looks like? It includes a government that is willing to pay attention to what goes on outside itself. As I said a few minutes ago, government thought that negotiating peace was government's business and that nobody should meddle. In your open forum people seem to be open to the idea that maybe collaboration could be helpful. What would it look like? People of all levels would accept a framework that assumes collaboration. There are a lot of practical answers to the question of what would it look like. People in government should not be disdainful of what people outside government can do, and similarly the reverse would be true, and recognition by all that maybe that they do need people at the grass roots. What would look like? It would look like a different mind set where people thought that collaborating was not only a nice thing to do, but was absolutely essential for getting the job done. Point number two I would draw from my experience in Tajikistan. The inner-Tajik dialogue met six times over twelve months, three or four days at a time, and when there was no communication between the government and the opposition in the bitter civil war, that group helped, I am sure, in very specific ways to launch the UN mediated peace negotiations. When the peace negotiations began the people in the dialogue when asked whether they wanted to continue. Their first objective was to start a negotiation, now that that is done what we do? Do we disband? No, we must help to get this started and make sure that it succeeds. At that point I went to the foreign minister of Tajikistan and said, "This dialogue is going to continue, but I want to promise you that we do not regard ourselves as amateur negotiators. We are not going to second guess your work. We are not going to do anything that undercuts or interferes with it. We are going to think beyond the negotiations and think in terms of what needs to be done in the larger body of politics so that people will be more receptive to what ever comes out of the negotiations." In other words, we drew a line defining the divisions of labor. The second part of what it would look like is not only acceptance, that everybody is part of the peace process, but a very precise recognition of what each group can contribute, and what it won't attempt to do. For instance people in a non-official track have no authority to mediate or negotiate. They just accept that proposition and work accordingly.

Q: To go another step further with that, if there were the recognition of what the people at different levels can do, where the appropriate lines should be drawn between their activities, if there were this frame work that assumed collaboration, if it is a different mind set, and clear division of labor within the peace process? In that vision where would there be interactions between the different levels? What do these interactions look like?

A: I think that it depends a bit on the ethos in a particular society for instance Herb Kelman's group at the time of Oslo was confronted with your question. Participants in his group were asked to be a part of the negotiating teams and said, "Well we can't be part of each. We can't be part of both, so we choose." In Tajikistan three people who went to the dialogue became members of the negotiating teams. Five sets of people were part of implementing the National Reconciliation Commission after the peace treaty. So one answer to your question is that people can live happily on both sides of the line, and that is extreme. Stepping back from that, another ??? was that when the dialogue was going on before the negotiation actually started the people in the dialogue briefed the leadership on both sides. Indeed it was one of those briefings that led to the judgment that the basis for negotiation now exists. Personal interactions across those lines are certainly a part of this, and probably the principal part of this. In the case of the inner-Tajik dialogue, the dialogue got to the point where often, and now always, it would produce a joint memorandum at the end of each three day meeting on whatever it had talked about. There first one was right before the negotiation started and it was a memorandum on the negotiating process with Tajikistan. It wasn't to tell people how to negotiate, but it was to suggest that the negotiating team would go about their work as they made decisions. They would implement them through four commissions and the object of the commissions was to bring people to together from government, civil society, from military, or whatever to do the work that needed to be done. One illustration of this is bringing refugees home. Obviously you can make a decision as negotiators that refugees should come home and making that happen possible, peaceful whatever, was to be the work of society. They literally saw a negotiating process in which there would be spaces set up for the implementation of decisions in the negotiation even before they were ultimately parts of an agreed treaty. The idea of a negotiating team generating a political process in which there would be necessary interactions at all levels for a country without much experience in diplomacy, it probably more sophisticated the picture of the multi-level peace process as it where, and how it would happen even here in the US. Show me a negotiating team that has actually done what I just said, and these people actually did it.

Q: It sounds like there are two general categories of interaction. One is actual individuals moving between an official and unofficial negotiation process and they are carrying the ideas, relationships, attitudes, ect. The other is ideas moving between these sets of processes, both substantive ideas about the peace process itself and actual issues on the table, and also structural about how the negotiations and the implementations can be carried forward. Building the necessary interactions for implementation and for concrete actions is third way for building those mechanisms.

If those are important ways in which official and unofficial processes can interrelate, that brings me back to your vision of partnership. You used the terms partnership and collaboration, and I am wondering how that plays out in what you are envisioning or what you have experienced. In other words is the collaboration something that needs to be paid attention to as collaboration as partnership or does it flow naturally from the shifting attitudes and perceptions of this division of labor?

A: I think it is more that. Then it is a formal and codified partnership. I used those words, but I certainly did not intend them to have a connotation of a formal agreement or anything like that. If one assumes that all of politics is a process of continuous interaction at all levels and so on, this would be a natural outgrowth of that. The exact forms that it would take would depend on the needs of the situation and what is natural for people to work on together and how they would go about that. I don't see anything formal about that, but I do see something very concrete.

Q: Let me just take this one step further. I am struggling with my own ideas about this. Is it enough to have a mutual respect, the appreciation of distinct roles and contributions, and a sort of implicit acceptance of division of labor in order to achieve division, or are there any other components that we would need to pay attention to?

A: One is the non-official group particularly would need to demonstrate it's capacity to produce something that is of value to the people in the negotiations. If you are just having a nice conversation it is not going to help the official level very much, on the other hand if you are talking about things that they are talking about that can be very useful, even though it might not be recognized as useful at that particular moment. I could cite one particular case where there was a blockage in the inter-Tajik negotiations being mediated by the UN. The dialogue talked about that blockage because three people came back from that negotiations and said this is what we are stuck on. The people in the dialogue didn't engage in a negotiation, because that was being done somewhere else. What they did do is they wrote a giant memorandum that said maybe there are three ways that you can deal with the blockage. One of those harped back to that memorandum on the negotiating process with Tajikistan. Of what they presented in terms of three choices, or three ways of doing this, one of them found its way into the peace treaty and became an institution that the peace treaty set up called the National Reconciliation Commission to continue the work of negotiation, and working out the details to implement the peace treaty. It demonstrated that the people in the dialogue ultimately, whether the people in the negotiations would have acknowledged it or not, the people in the dialogue who were in the negotiations feel that idea produced by the dialogue had value in unblocking a particularly point in the negotiations. That is one example of having something of value to offer. It is key, in this field, and toward much of citizen activity. In a democracy when a member of Congress says, "I have never thought of that before, look at what these citizens are saying" or that "They are telling me that I am using a word that doesn't mean anything to them." I am thinking about the word "accountability" and the whole fight over public school testing. Citizens don't mean the same thing as a Congressman does when they say something, because the Congressman is negotiating the language of a piece of legislation, and the citizens say that they believe the Congressman is missing the point. When people realize that somebody else has something that they can use, that they need, or tells them something that they don't know, I think that is an important part of this picture.

Q: Implicit in that story, the Tajik example, is it more than the recognition there was actually a communication channel that we can't assume can't naturally be there? In a lot of situations it isn't there, though here somebody came and said we should go to the Track II unofficial process and explain that there is a problem here and see if they can help. In turn when that communication happened there was a willingness and capacity to rise to the occasion and to respond.

A: There is another factor here. Nobody among the official conductors of the negotiating process said what you just said. They didn't say, "Lets go ask the unofficial people what they think." Three people who were also in the dialogue were in the negotiations. They came back to the dialogue and they said, in reporting, this is what we are stuck on. They had actually talked about the same issues in a previous meeting and after one of the men came back from the negotiations and said what they were stuck on, some body said, in our last joint memorandum we actually dealt with that problem. It wasn't a request; we haven't gotten to that point yet. You asked me earlier what my picture of the interaction would be, there is no reason why an official negotiation couldn't assign a piece of work to a non-official group even informally. That has taken place before, for instance in our Dartmouth Conference Regional Conflict Regional Task Force at the time the Soviets were about to announce that the were going to pull their troops out of Afghanistan, the subject we were talking about in the unofficial dialogue was how might one think about a scenario of US-Soviet interaction that would make it easier rather than more difficult for the Soviet Union to pull out its troops, which of course is what the United States wanted it to do? One of the members of the dialogue talked to the then predecessor for Mark Grossman, the other Secretary for Political Affairs. There were actually some ideas given to him that were tried out in the dialogue. We have not normally considered ourselves part of a quasi-official channel like that, but it has happened. It has happened in other dialogue groups, and ideas have transferred from one to another, tested by official parties. Asking an unofficial party to do this would be another very real possible way of implementing a two-way collaboration. This happens in an interesting way, probably an unspoken way, but you could see this in the Israeli-Palestinian case, you could see it in the year of the inter-Tajik dialogue before negotiations started. I am not sure that this was articulated in anybody's mind, or admitted by any official, but what they were really doing was to say, "We are not ready to commit ourselves to negotiations. We don't think these people are going to act seriously. We are not going to go out and commit our prestige to something have them stick their thumb in our eyes. So we are not going to do it, but there is this unofficial group talking lets see what they turn up." Indeed one of the then foreign ministers of Tajikistan, after people in the dialogue brought what became a basis for negotiations and reported to the government, his comment was, "Nobody in the government can say you can't do business with these people anymore." The other people would say, "You can't talk to them," and someone else comes in the room and said, "We have been talking." In that case they came up with a newly united Tajik proposition and a common platform that became that became the basis at least for the beginning of the negotiations. You could say that the governments use the non-official track by doing nothing, they may not even be subconsciously be using it, but that may be the effect. All that suggests that is that it would be quite possible to use the non-official track quite consciously, deliberately, actively as a way of sounding out another side.

Q: How does that play out if and when the official actors either have a very different agenda than the unofficial actors, or our perceived to have a different agenda? In thinking about this vision and how it really could happen, how does it get addressed? In other words, if the officials are envisioning that they could use the non-officials, but the non-officials don't want to be used?

A: They would simply have to make a judgment about the degree to which they are playing a particular role that is consistent with their own values. I can't think of a flat principal that would apply in all cases except that each party has to be honest with itself and not do something inconsistent with it's values. In a case like that I would say that some kind of dialogue, never set it up with the same formality that the inner-Tajik, but some kind of dialogue between the unofficial and the official needs to take place and there is no reason why it can't. That is more likely to take place through individual interactions than it is through some formal setting. I think some of that happens all the time in ways that would not be defined as that. When I was Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and the Israeli peace process was active the number of times that I was visited by various Jewish groups were numberless, and later on Arab Americans groups. There was a dialogue there between them and me, as a representative of the official team, and so that goes on all the time with citizen's delegations visiting. The only point that needs to made about that is that, again, there needs to be a generally accepted mode of behavior, we will talk with each other in a dialogue rather than in a confrontation. I told one of those groups one time, "Look, if you want to come in and talk about the problems we are facing then we will tell you what we are struggling with and you tell me what you are struggling with, lets have a conversation. If you just coming in to give me a broad side I will set you up down in the space in the state department where you can have your conversation with the statue. Don't come in here and talk to me like that." There needs to be a mode of dialogue even if there is not the formality of dialogue.

Q: One of the struggles that we were having in preparing for this symposium is that people include such an array of approaches, processes, and actors under the unofficial. It is hard to know when we are referring to official and unofficial. Here the three of us are talking much more about dialogue and relationship building, but of course people might think that other kinds of processes like training, other kinds of dialogue processes, capacity building, or institutional development might fit under the auspices of unofficial approaches to peace, or Track II. If part of the goal is to create a real understanding and appreciation for distinct roles, responsibilities, distinct values that each can bring to the table, and to have this kind of more accepting, respectful dialogue based on that, this goes back to my framework question, how do we present, especially to official actors, this array in a way enables then to really get their mind around different and unique roles, and where are the opportunities for partnership, even informally, dwell?

A: I think this is where if one were to describe the multi-level peace process, and to say that in the middle range, or lower range there are going to be various things going on, and they may not be directly relevant to what the government is doing. For instance you described the technique, kind of like what Louise Diamond and John McDonald did in Cyprus, or what International Alert uses sometimes, of using training to bring people across lines together. Some would say that it is not a dialogue, but that it is to see if relationships can be developed, changed, and whether stereotypes can be erased. There is one kind of activity in the multi-level peace process, which is directed at changing relationships. There is another kind of activity, which is more directly related to what people on the official level are doing. I think people in the government need to understand that there are all these things that could go on and the government can fund through AID, like some of things that Louise and John were doing in Cyprus, such as bringing people together in England, or other places across the line. That is something that the government should promote, but they know can do that and know that it is not a Track I or Track II thing, maybe one day it will be, but it is just an activity. You look at what is available at the various levels of the multi-level peace process, and you relate to it in a variety of ways. You don't expect it to produce something that is relevant to negotiation, and on the other hand if there is a systematic dialogue going on then people are close to the official level, and then you are going to use that in a different way. The reason for thinking about the multi-level peace process is to understand the number of resources that you have for the long term and for the short term, which could all be used in different ways, but they are not all going to be related to the policy maker. That is something that I would say to people in what I call the public peace process, "Don't always set your sights on influencing the policy maker." There are lots of other things that you can do on the second track, and that is not the be all and end all, although at certain points it might be nice to be able to do that. I don't know how you describe what happened in the Israeli-Palestinian context where there were twenty years of unofficial dialogues before Arafat and Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn. Go back and think or ask Herb Kelman about that because he has actually written about that sort of thing. What did those talks in 1982 contribute to the peace process? He could give you some of the examples of how reframing problems, and giving people a sense of what is possible on the other side that they didn't realize. There were a whole bunch of things that were not influencing negotiators because there was no negotiating to influence. In the Tajik case there were people meeting six times over twelve months, when they were the only place where people communicated. Let me just say parenthetically, as much as I consider Joe Montho my very close friend, and I said this in Bostona few days ago with him present, so there is nothing offensive about it, but I don't like the Track II, Track I formulation. What do you do in the Israeli-Palestinian case or the Tajik case? There was only one channel of communication and that was our dialogue, so was it Track I or Track II just because something else started? That is why I would prefer to name them. That is why I use the phrases official peace process, the public peace process, and the grass roots peace process, whatever you want to call it. I think you should be explicit in naming them instead of the other way around because who are you if you are the only game in town?

Q: Thank you that was very helpful. We had been struggling with that issue of the opportunities and limitations associated with those terms.

A: I think there is precedent for going the other way, and don't listen to me, but go to Ledrach's triangle and look at his levels, top level leadership, middle range, and grassroots leadership. Use some sort of descriptive like that, not the Track I and II. That made more sense in the Cold War for instance. It was very clear that most of the business is going to be done on an inter-governmental basis and people defined us as supplemental diplomacy, I didn't like that either because it wasn't diplomacy and as I say it wasn't always supplemental. I think that saying who is involved is easier than coming up with fancy terms.

Q: You have referred several times in this conversation to twenty years ago about the relationship between the official peace process and public peace process was in a certain way, and now it is different, and how it has been differently formulated after the Cold War. How do you see the reactions in the future and what is the best way that people interested in improving interactions and the complementarity of the official and the unofficial? What are the next steps in moving that forward? If you could address that. How it has developed and where it can go in the future?

A: As long as we subscribe to the so called "realist paradigm" we are going to focus on states and their government. There is no room for human beings and citizens outside government in that picture. There needs to be a paradigm shift toward what I call the "relational paradigm". I won't go into all that because I have written it in other places. Why do I, as a former practitioner and diplomat, spend time that scholars are supposed talk about? The answer is that paradigms can be argued ??? by scholars and they have a way of seeping into our consciousness. My very first answer to you is that we have to have a different picture of how the world works because these paradigms, or what ever you want to call them, determine how we act; it is the conceptual lens that we use to give the world and events around us meaning and they determine how we act. I think we need a picture of the world first of all that assumes that when you refer to political life you are talking about the whole body of politics with interactions on a number of different levels. At that point it is not government and the rest of the world, it is citizens in government, citizens out of government, citizens in medicine, citizens in the media, citizens in corporations, but that is a mindset, I don't know how to decree that. If you assume that as a matter of fact in the real world problems are not dealt with in the sort of cocoon like way that the paradigm suggests. Again, when I was Assistant Secretary, there were certain problems. I dealt with an area where oil was obviously a problem in the conflict, Israel-Palestine,, as where nuclear weapons. Every one of those problems had a group of people that were informally attracted by that problem. You could be talking about an ex-problem. For example, you could be with me and three colleagues in the office of the secretary of state about what the president was going to do tomorrow. You could go to dinner at the Brookings Institution and you could talk about the same problem and who would be there? A congressional staff member would be there, somebody from the media, and on and on, so if you think of society in terms of these clusters of groups you get a different picture of the world. Human beings have normally operated across those lines, but some how when they go back to their office there is something about the system that says, "I am the director of X and the office of X thinks this way," it ceases to be human beings struggling with problems together. It is a philosophical answer and probably utterly useless to most, but it is useful to me.

Q: I just find it tremendously helpful. It reminds me when I was at a UNDP program and so and so said to the officials there, "We as civil society have problems with you and official capacities," and one official said, "Let me remind you that I too am a member of civil society." It is just a good reminder that these lines are artificial. There are all sorts of ways to blur them. The very practical question that arises for me from your reflection is that we are using this conceptual dividing line as a vehicle calling attention to the need to bring people together. How do we bring together a symposium so that it does not reinforce the problem, but helps to create the new paradigm that you were talking about? I want to avoid falling into a trap of framing this symposium and structuring this so that is reinforces exactly the misconceptions that you are pointing to. Are there creative ideas that you have, or strategic ideas on how we frame it, how we bill it, and who to invite that allows the actual structure of the program to feed into the change?

A: I think how you name your title is going to be one way. If I saw six possible titles I might be able to comment on them, but it is hard in the abstract. I do think how you title it and in the exchange itself one of the devices we used to use in the Dartmouth Regional Conflict Task Force was that when we were going to talk about a problem we had a Soviet talk about the American interests concerning that problem, and you could do the same thing across the lines. If you were a citizen in government, how would you see this problem, and if you, Mr. or Ms. Assistant Secretary, could see it from the citizen's point of view? You can employ a device like that by getting people to make their presentations. Putting themselves in the other's shoes. I don't know how that translates exactly into what you will be doing. It would be interesting to have a case study where there was either non-interaction or where there was parallel activity, but not interaction. Having the government person say, "If I had been doing what you had been doing I would have seen it this way," and the reverse. It may not get the most out of the people there because after all the people who are presenting the situation are going to give you the richest picture.

Q: It would be a very interesting way to break the ice in the morning and get out of the normal, run of the mill symposium. We could say that we are going to take a moment and put on the table some of the perceptions that people have of different activities and actors. We have had a few people who have said that they are willing to do this ??? It would be very interesting. This leads to a broader request for advice, looking at the symposium, but also the longer-term process of helping to support and promote this kinds of shifts in attitudes, behavior, and structure. Applying the lessons of sustained dialogue, not just with the symposium but also more broadly to these different communities, what advice would you offer us as we move forward?

Q: In the official peace building community and the unofficial peace building community how can we have sustained dialogue between the two? What lessons emerge from sustained dialogue, not just the symposium but to our work and other's longer-term work to promote the relationships, mutual understanding, respect, and the communication that you describe in your vision?

A: While you were talking it occurred to me that one way to present this symposium is to present, as I said at the beginning, "Twenty years ago we probably wouldn't have the symposium because it wasn't an active question." We had an open forum and there seemed to be a different attitude on both sides about doing things together and now the question is not whether but how to do this. That is sort of your setting of the stage. It makes people on both sides feel more collaborative, you can get people on either side, and what do you see as what the other side has to offer and you don't? As I said earlier some things only governments can do and so on. What do you value about the other side, see I am using the language to, but the citizen in government, what do you value with that? Just maybe get a couple of people who can talk about what they fear from the other side.

Q: So acknowledging that there are fears and strengths and mistrust?

A: There has been plenty of concern from governments that a Roger Fisher wandering around like an unguided missile in the Middle East is going to do something where you get somebody who will be nameless who knew goes out and knew this big Brazinski??? at Columbia and drops us all over the place so someone in Lebanon gets the idea that he has been at Brazinski's office and what he is saying represents what the president national security advisor says.

Q: That is great.