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Cadets learn Track II diplomacy

Posted 9/16/2011   Updated 9/16/2011 Email story   Print story


by David Edwards
Air Force Academy Public Affairs

9/16/2011 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Some people think that diplomacy in the United States begins and ends with the State Department. Are they ever on the wrong track.

It will surely come as quite a shock to them that Colorado Springs has turned into a diplomatic hub thanks to Track II diplomacy and the Air Force Academy Political Science Department Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies.

The official diplomacy that happens in world capitals, called Track I diplomacy, is embodied in the Henry Kissinger and Hillary Clinton types.

Personifying the informal and more flexible Track II diplomacy are people like Lt. Col. Deron Jackson and Ambassador Roger Harrison, executive director and director, respectively, of the Eisenhower Center.

"We're not in the classified world, so we can be a neutral site for contending points of view within the bureaucracy," Harrison said. "And we have credibility in that way. No one thinks that we have our own agenda. They don't have to worry that we're going to inject a policy agenda into the process or try to tip it toward one conclusion or another."

Through the Eisenhower Center, the Academy has taken advantage of the surge in Track II diplomacy.

Writing in the July/August 2011 issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Charles Homans says Track II diplomacy "grew out of the observation that private individuals, meeting unofficially, can find their way to common ground that official negotiators can't."

The Eisenhower Center's most notable achievement so far has been its facilitation of dialogue between the United States and China regarding space policy. A workshop the center sponsored shortly after its inception led to a breakthrough in relations.

Since then, the Chinese have warmed to the overtures, increasing the likelihood that official cooperation will become possible. The Academy-facilitated Track II diplomacy has achieved so much that a workshop is being planned next spring in Beijing or Shanghai. If that happens, it will mark the first time China has hosted the workshop.

Other Asian countries have noticed the progress and have joined the diplomatic efforts. The Japanese, Koreans and Australians now take part, and invitations have been extended to India.

All this is made possible by the fact that the United States has a politically neutral military, Jackson said. And because the Eisenhower Center is linked to a military academy, cadets enjoy a front-row seat during the negotiations and an all-access pass to the participants during breaks in the action.

"It's a great learning opportunity for cadets, because we can bring together all the experts from think tanks and key universities from our side, and hopefully from (the other) side," Jackson said. "They get to hear an often very frank exchange of views between the two sides. And that all happens within the space of a one- or two-day workshop. It's a pretty efficient use of time and resources for cadet professional development."

Asia has been the scene for many of Track II diplomacy's moments of glory. A major triumph occurred in 1994, when former President Jimmy Carter brokered a deal with Kim Il Sung to halt the North Korean nuclear program.

"Carter exemplifies the rise in Track II circles of what might be called the Track 1.5 diplomat, an ex-official who meets on behalf of his country with other nations' officials," Homans wrote.

Harrison says the Eisenhower Center's undertakings have consisted of a mix of Track II and Track 1.5 styles of diplomacy. Regardless of the label, though, the results have more than justified the center's existence, not to mention its work.

Besides the program directed at China, the center has tackled two other topics: the future of space commerce and transatlantic space cooperation. The latter involves the United States' longtime allies in Europe.

"What we do is provide cadets with a better understanding of the complexity of what they're going to be getting into," Jackson said. "It's better to know what the other side thinks than to just jump in with half an understanding of your own side, or, in the case of the Europeans, what our partners are going to think in NATO. The worst thing to do is just mirror-image and assume both your allies and your adversaries think the same as you do."

Through the wonders of Track II diplomacy, cadets can learn that lesson even if they're a little starry-eyed at seeing VIPs of the international arena. And not just seeing but also interacting. Harrison said he stresses cadet interaction because it's good for them and good for the image of the Academy.

Jackson and Harrison regularly receive suggestions for future workshops. They consider the Eisenhower Center to be a service organization, so they do their utmost to be responsive to demand.

That said, U.S.-China relations, especially as they pertain to space and defense policy, will continue to loom large. Track II diplomacy is creating something of a reset after the relationship had turned rocky in 1999 and 2001.

"The meetings have helped ease tensions even as China has begun flexing its military might in the greater Pacific region," Homans wrote. He lists the peacemakers as the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Pacific Forum, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, "and others."

The Eisenhower Center is among those others, but Harrison and Jackson can make a strong case that it should have been mentioned by name. Harrison said that right now, the center's workshops are the only forum between the U.S. and China regarding space policy.

"In all these areas, we weren't following in anybody's footsteps. We were establishing a precedent for others to follow," Harrison said. "So I think one of the major themes of the center has been innovation and facilitation."

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