United States Institute of Peace

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Private Peacemaking USIP-Assisted Peacemaking Projects of Nonprofit Organizations

Part I: Track II Diplomacy

East Timor

by Michael Salla

According to Louise Diamond and John MacDonald of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, there are nine forms or “tracks” of intervention in conflict.1 The first involves official or governmental intervention, while the other eight involve nongovernmental, non-official intervention. Among the eight tracks of non-state intervention is “peacemaking through professional conflict resolution”—what is more generally known as second track or Track II diplomacy. A distinctive feature of second track diplomacy is that academics, nongovernmental organizations, or individuals organize “analytical” or “interactive” problem-solving workshops with two or more parties to a conflict in order to bring about conflict resolution.

     Herbert Kelman, the originator of problem-solving workshops, argues that they have two purposes. They are designed first to produce changes in the way workshop participants see themselves, see the conflict, and see any solution, and second, to enhance the likelihood that new perspectives generated will be fed back into the political debate and the decision-making process within the communities involved.2

     These two purposes lead to a distinction between “problem-solving” and “process-promoting” workshops—the former attempts to have a direct effect on the dynamics of a conflict by influencing key decisionmakers, while the latter is more indirect, seeking to bring about changes in public perception in ways that ultimately affect decisionmakers. A further distinction of problem-solving workshops is that third parties can introduce concepts, techniques, and skills to the conflicting parties either to facilitate changes in their perceptions of one another (consultation or prenegotiation) or to assist them in negotiations over substantive political issues (mediation).

     Additionally, it is not often clearly understood that Track II diplomacy may also be aimed, at least initially, at working with only one party to a conflict, in an effort to introduce the concepts and skills which might lead to a breakthrough in negotiations.

     Eileen Babbitt of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University is among the few who have begun the needed analysis of these “training workshops.”3 In particular, says Babbitt, further research is needed on the usefulness of facilitating group cohesiveness among individuals marginalized by members of their own ethnic or religious groups in order to break negotiation impasses. Once groups have achieved cohesiveness and confidence, one can proceed to Kelman’s next step of building coalitions among political moderates across conflict lines. There is consequently a need to broaden the concept of second track diplomacy to include efforts that begin with attention only to one facet of a conflict.

The Marginalization Process in Intractable Conflicts

Conflicts become polarized when those who take intermediate or moderate positions are marginalized or excluded. This typically occurs when political violence becomes so widespread as either to discredit those who hold intermediate political positions or make them targets of violence from more extreme factions of their own ethnic or religious group who view them as traitors or collaborators. Ultimately, polarization results in a victim mentality which characterizes other parties as the oppressor. According to the “dual concern model” advocated by Jeffrey Rubin and Dean Pruitt, such attitudes lead to a party’s viewing the other in ways which preclude cooperation or “problem-solving,” fostering instead competition or “contending.”4 Consequently, marginalization of the “negotiating middle” for one or more of the conflicting parties proves a recipe for stalled negotiations and intractable conflict.

     In intractable conflicts it is extremely difficult for marginalized individuals to form a coherent political group. Moreover, moderates are often driven into exile, intimidated into political silence, or even murdered by members of their own ethnic groups, as we have seen in Sri Lanka, Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, and Kashmir.

     One means of breaking the negotiation impasse in intractable conflicts is to assist individuals who have suffered from marginalization to gain political cohesion as a group and to understand their strategic significance in the negotiation process.

Rebuilding the “Negotiating Middle” in East Timor

A July 1997 workshop organized by the author and funded by the U.S. Institute of Peace attempted to facilitate group cohesion among marginalized East Timorese. The workshop, held at American University in Washington, D.C., involved individuals who fall into the “negotiating middle” between those who advocate a self-determination process that might result in independence, and those who argue that East Timor already enjoys sufficient political autonomy as one of Indonesia’s twenty-seven provinces, a position consistent with Indonesian government policy.

     East Timorese who fall into the “negotiating middle” have been excluded as their fate and that of the wider East Timorese community is decided by others—the Indonesian and Portuguese governments negotiating under United Nations auspices, and expatriate East Timorese political organizations skillful at lobbying foreign governments, multilateral organizations, and NGOs. The Indonesian government policy of intimidating or repressing those who do not accept the official government position has contributed further to their isolation. This extends also to the recent winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Bishop Carlos Belo, who has publicly taken an intermediate position and has as a consequence had to weather various forms of criticism and repression by security forces, as well as having twice reportedly been a target of assassination attempts. The treatment given to such high-profile individuals as Bishop Belo makes it extremely difficult for others in the middle to take a public position over the stalled negotiations. Consequently, they have lacked the confidence to form a cohesive group that could discuss and lobby on behalf of the political principles they share. An irony of the East Timor conflict, then, is that individuals who still live there and are most likely to suffer from the conflict have been excluded from the negotiations which affect them most directly. They are widely perceived by governments, NGOs, and expatriate political organizations as stooges for Indonesian government positions or as too intimidated to speak their own minds, so external actors have found themselves with fewer options in terms of who to involve in multi-track efforts to resolve the conflict.

     The chief aim of the Washington workshop was to bring together a number of East Timorese in the middle to assist them in gaining group cohesion and in appreciating the group’s strategic significance in the stalled negotiating process. At the end of the workshop, the individuals commented on how they had been marginalized thus far and felt that the workshop outcome—a jointly drafted document—had given them a sense of strategic significance. The group that emerged from the workshop wished to play a more prominent role in settling the conflict than that previously allowed them by their expatriate peers and foreign governments and NGOs. Focusing on a power-sharing arrangement that would straddle the positions of both the Indonesian government and of expatriate East Timorese, the workshop participants drafted a confidential plan they believe meets the core needs of the Indonesian government and the East Timorese community for both security and self-government.

     Through problem-solving exercises executed in the framework of future powersharing, the group came to have a greater appreciation of its own capacity to make a serious contribution to the negotiation process.

     The workshop did this through three types of sessions. The first consisted of formal presentations by experts on different models of power-sharing and problems associated with each. The second involved more informal roundtable discussions which addressed the applicability of the concepts and models that had been introduced. This type of session was very useful as it allowed diplomatic “observers” to participate in a way which maintained confidentiality. These sessions were facilitated in the fashion of a problem-solving workshop, with more emphasis on encouraging dialogue and problem-solving than on information sharing.

     The third type of session, caucuses involving only East Timorese participants, was the most critical for inspiring cohesion among them. In the caucuses, East Timorese participants could privately and confidentially discuss issues and draft documents. They developed more confidence in themselves as a group, and were prepared to advocate on behalf of a jointly-drafted document that might have been too politically hazardous for an individual to support.

     The East Timorese felt that they needed a further workshop among themselves before they were ready to include Indonesians and expatriate East Timorese in a workshop oriented toward substantive problem-solving. Rebuilding the “negotiating middle” is not achieved by a single transformative event, but requires a process involving a number of meetings and events.

     The East Timor workshop fell into neither of the two main categories of Track II diplomacy as it is usually understood. It involved neither perceptual change between protagonists nor substantive problem solving involving parties to the conflict. Only a faction from one side of the conflict was represented—the “negotiating middle”–rather than two or more parties in the conflict. Nor does the process adopted in the East Timor workshop fit into any of the other six non-official tracks of diplomacy outlined by Diamond and MacDonald. The concept of Track II diplomacy would benefit from a wider understanding of the importance of facilitating and nurturing cohesiveness among marginalized individuals involved in an intractable conflict.

     It is also helpful to recognize that academic and NGO efforts aimed at facilitating strategic group cohesiveness are part of a third category of Track II diplomacy. Babbitt’s description of training workshops comes closest to describing what occurred at the East Timor workshop, if “training workshops” are understood as a third category of Track II diplomacy involving external parties in efforts to work with members from one party in a conflict, either to promote better negotiating strategies or to help consolidate group cohesion as a prelude to problem-solving or process-promoting workshops.

Problems in Rebuilding the “Negotiating Middle”

Creating a group from individuals who have in common only their intermediate position between parties in an intractable conflict requires a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics and history of the conflict. The political and/or violent processes that culminated in the middle’s being marginalized must be carefully assessed in terms of possible threats to any group that takes an intermediate position. Is the emergence of the “negotiating middle” likely to result in physical threats to members of the group, their families, or supporters?

     Second, is the emergence of a negotiating middle likely to prove beneficial in helping break an impasse in negotiations? Will it only foster division and friction among the wider community without affecting the dominant negotiating position, or will it facilitate a more flexible bargaining position?

     A third critical question for external actors is whether to invest resources and time to help marginalized individuals attain strategic group cohesiveness in a way that might unnecessarily compromise fundamental positions. In the case of East Timor, expatriate East Timorese see the forces of history—democratization and human rights—on their side, and are tempted to view compromise as unnecessary and unacceptable.

     Fourth, will the formation of an intermediate group merely allow state authorities to manipulate it in order to entrench their own position and to weaken international support for the state’s principal political opponents, in this case expatriate East Timorese organizations? Finally, are the expectations and desires of the workshop organizer likely to lead to such feelings of obligation that participants feel pressured to adopt positions they might on reflection find untenable?

Wider Applicability

A training workshop designed to rebuild the negotiating middle must carefully consider who ought to participate, since parties entrenched at either end of the negotiating spectrum have an interest in dismissing the group’s strategic significance. This is clearly the case in East Timor, where the conflict has lasted over twenty years with little change in the protagonists’ primary positions. A group of East Timorese representing the negotiating middle might prove indispensable in the negotiating process by offering alternatives which break the impasse without causing the other parties to lose face. This has already been hinted at in the East Timor workshop where a negotiation position produced by the participants has been favorably received by most other actors in the conflict.

TOC | Introduction | One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten | Eleven | Twelve | Notes | Contributors

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