The past two decades have witnessed a phenomenal rise in the number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that complement traditional diplomacy in its pursuit of effective international relations and the avoidance of war. But retired Ambassador John W. McDonald has taken the concept a step further – in fact, several steps further. McDonald was a U.S. diplomat for 40 years with the U.S. Department of State. Skilled in traditional government-to-government relations, known as Track One diplomacy, he became an innovator in the use of Track Two diplomacy, which adds the use of non-governmental organizations in seeking conflict resolution and peace building.
Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA and with Taclan Suerdem of the VOA Near East-Central Asia Division, Ambassador McDonald says it was while working with Western and Third World countries at the United Nations that he recognized the essential nature of consensus-building between nations. It involved the realization that government-to-government interactions were not always the most effective means of resolving differences. He called it his shift from a “win-lose” to a “win-win” philosophy.
When he published his first book on Track Two diplomacy in 1985, some government officials regarded it as a revolutionary document. Unlike Track One, he explains, Track Two diplomacy is open-minded, risk-taking, and innovative, enabling non-governmental organizations to make a major contribution to solving conflict in the world.To this day, however, he says some governments still don’t understand the concept.
In the 1990s, Ambassador McDonald says that he and American writer and peace educator Louise Diamond developed the concept of multi-track diplomacy. They described it as a “systems approach to peace.” Together, they founded the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy to promote the transformation of deep-rooted social conflicts through education, conflict resolution training, and communication. It includes tracks that involve the business community, citizen exchange programs, training, peace activism, religion, raising money for peace projects, and just plain talking with people. The Ambassador says all of these tracks have to work together to build a peace process.
As a matter of policy, McDonald says IMTD goes only where it is invited to go by the people in a conflict, and each project requires a minimum commitment of five years. “We do something that governments have a very difficult time doing – we listen,” McDonald says. One of the first IMTD projects was on the island of Cyprus and lasted for eight years. It involved training 2,500 private citizens drawn from each side in the conflict whose job it was to “break the cycle of conflict.” Four years ago, the deputy prime minister of the Turkish Muslim north announced that he would raise the gates on the Green Line so people could move back and forth. Ultimately, three-quarters of the population on both sides of the island crossed the Green Line. Ambassador McDonald says the man who made that decision was one of the first set of trainees with whom IMTD had worked ten years earlier.
In Kashmir, which has been in conflict since 1947, IMTD brought business leaders from India and Pakistan into the process of peace-building. It involved the creation of a so-called “people’s bus,” which enabled Kashmiris on both sides of the line of control to visit their families on the other side in 2005, exactly five years after the project began. Ambassador McDonald says it showed people for the first time that it was possible to move back and forth.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, IMTD worked with Bosnian diplomats and with 139 young Bosnians from small villages on technical assistance projects or programs that enabled them to pursue university degrees.
In Georgia beginning in 2001, Ambassador McDonald says, IMTD worked with the government on ways to protect its pipeline project. IMTD is currently working on a proposal that may eventually enable businesspeople from Azerbaijan and Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia to come together for dialogue on projects that are mutually beneficial.
Most important, Ambassador John McDonald says, peace-building requires patience, optimism, and the conviction that no problem is insoluable.
Ambassador McDonald co-founded and continues to direct the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, an NGO in the Washington suburbs. He holds a law degree from the University of Illinois. He has recently published his autobiography, The Shifting Grounds of Conflict and Peace Building.
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