Various forms of diplomacy
Governed by the Vienna Convention of 1961, the basic task of a diplomatic mission is to promote political understanding, enhance trade, strengthen defence ties and protect the interests of its citizens in its host country. Missions communicate with host governments through letters or more impersonal aide-memoires, but over time, the diplomatic vocation has developed a certain professionalism with regard to designations, traditions and diplomatic parlance.
This is regular or Track I diplomacy. When relations between two countries deteriorate to the extent that regular diplomacy fails in its task, then Track II and back-channel diplomacy are instead employed. The problem with these informal channels however, is that their recommendations are not binding. The Oslo Accords for example, were reached after prolonged back-channel diplomacy. Even when they were formally signed in Washington DC, the undertakings were never implemented by Israel despite a deadline of five years, which was mutually agreed upon.
Track II Diplomacy is completely unofficial, often arranged by well-wishing think-tanks or governments with delegations including retired civil and military officials, journalists, academics and parliamentarians often speaking in their personal capacity. Several rounds of this Track II diplomacy have been organized between India and Pakistan starting from Neemrana in 1991 but little progress has ever been achieved on the ground.
Back-channel diplomacy is in between track one and two. The interlocutors here are nominated by respective governments but they talk to each other in an informal capacity. The idea is not to restrict interlocutors to official briefs and encourage them to think outside of the box. In the 90’s, India and Pakistan held several rounds of Track II and back-channel diplomacy simultaneously with the latter confined to the resolution of the Kashmir conflict. Although the issue could not be resolved, some good ideas did emerge which were later discussed during the Musharraf-Manmohan period.
Standard or Track I diplomacy remains the most authentic form of inter-governmental interaction.
Terms like private diplomacy and Track III diplomacy are more recently thrown around in political circles these days with private diplomacy used by US officials in the context of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s behind-the-scenes efforts to diffuse the tense standoff between India and Pakistan last month. I do not quite agree with the nomenclature of private diplomacy, because Pompeo spoke to India and Pakistan in his official capacity. This style of diplomacy is quite close to the back channel one which Pakistan used around 1970 to bring China and the US closer by arranging a secret visit by Secretary Henry Kissinger to Beijing. These two examples are quite close to back channel diplomacy.
I feel the nomenclature of Track III, which is used for public and cultural diplomacy, isn’t quite right either with promotions of the country’s soft image as part of its broad functions because these promotional activities are within the range of Track I diplomacy.
All said and done, standard or Track I diplomacy remains the most authentic form of inter-governmental interaction. Ambassadors are sent and accepted after due deliberation. They represent the heads of state and enjoy their confidence. Other forms of diplomacy are simply ad-hoc emergency kits for unusual situations. This is not to say that alternative diplomacy is without merit or that it doesn’t serve a useful purpose when tensions are high. This was apparent in the recent India-Pakistan standoff this month, where the world watched as a quiet, alternative diplomacy played a major role in preventing an all-out war.