Home Diplomatic Pouch What is a track 1.5 Diplomat?

What is a track 1.5 Diplomat?

Barrington Roy Schiller

By Barrington Roy Schiller

The term Private Military Contractor is well known in the modern world but the existence of Private Diplomatic Contractors is less known Perhaps the most famous werethe united states ex-Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton after they left office.

Private diplomatic contractors engage in  Track 1.5 diplomacy which is a type of “soft diplomacy” not to be confused with “soft power”. For the purpose of this article State with a capital S, is synonymous with Country whereas sate with a small s refers to a smaller self-governing part of a Country.

The diplomats operate more like envoys and more covertly than in other diplomacy tracks to make approaches of possible official Track one and track two diplomatic negotiations. These covert approaches enable the official State governments to retain plausible deniability until such time as both sides are in a position to confirm their official interest in negotiating without a loss of “face”. (Officially State governments do not negotiate with terrorists and do not have diplomatic relations with all or enemy nations).

The track 1.5 diplomat will therefore often use a cover story with the real purpose of their approaches only being known to the intelligence service of the Contracting State or actor. This is particularly useful in hostage negotiations, with rebel organizations and between States which have no formal track 1 diplomatic relations.

Diplomacy is divided into tracks and like all tools, each has its strengths and weaknesses.

Track 1 is what springs to mind when Diplomacy is talked of in the media i.e. mutually recognised individuals representing and practising the official foreign policy from States which are signatories to the Westphalian State Sovereignty System and it has a certain protocol regarding formal governmental contact.

As well as States, other recognized track one actors are the Vatican, the Arab League, the United Nations, the African Union, the OAS and a host of other political and regional groupings like the EU. However, politics is unforgiving and mistakes not tolerated by the electorate creating a need for others to take the fall when inevitably such failures do occur. This creates a need for track 1.5 diplomats.

Track one Diplomats (Ambassadors) are employed and appointed by their relevant States’ party political government of the day and they are supported by a host of civil servants, heads of states with their families albeit that the latter hardly constitute track 1 diplomacy b is the perfect example of soft diplomacy.

The track one diplomats negotiate international treaties with all the backing and resources of their State/Country/Nation and they have the power to enforce those treaties with the threat of military force if necessary and with all the knowledge of their country’s Intelligence Services but it is done in the full glare of the media so covert actions and arranging backchannels is almost impossible. Their work, however, is aimed solely at promoting their governments’ best interests first and getting re-elected so a better world for humanity or the interests of the political opposition plays a far lesser role.

They need to play the gallery of their base of those who elect them.  The Embassies they work out of abroad are also risk-averse so when the going gets tough, the track one diplomats get going and head for home exactly at the time when they could be of the most use leaving those domestic employees who are not already working for their birth country to fend for themselves. The same applies when a general election or some other factor causes a change in government and possibly a change in foreign policy.

Track 2

When INGOs (International non-governmental organizations) and NGOs air their views and promote their civil society aims this “unofficial, informal interaction between members of adversary groups or nations that aim to develop strategies, to influence public opinion, organize human and material resources in ways that might help resolve conflict” is referred to as track 2 diplomacy. Such organisations usually have a specific agenda or cause when dealing with humanitarian matters and conflict resolution.

Track Two Diplomacy is intended to provide a bridge or complement official Track One negotiations (Nan, 2004; Agha, Feldman, Khalidi, Schiff, 2003). However, there is little evidence of this and it most certainly cannot be seen as a substitute for track 1. That being said their highlighting the plight of those in danger or in need can indeed raise awareness amongst the electorate whereby the government of the day is forced to take track one action

INGOs and NGOs do not have to consider an electorate so have the advantage of only having to pursue their own agenda and their members’donations without the complications of bipartisan politics and electoral cycles but this means that they are seldom going to directly affect foreign policy even though they enable their grassroots members to have a say.  In conflict track 2 is, therefore, more of a reaction and damage limitation tool than a strategic action negotiation tool and any results can take a long time to be seen and have minimal effect especially during the hot war phase of a conflict where they initially aim to save lives then rebuild the communities, the systems and implement projects to fight poverty and corruption while the track one diplomats focus more on nation-building.

As civil society has less influence in illiberal and authoritarian democracies track 2 is generally not recognised as being very valuable, tends to be frowned upon and considered more as an interfering western liberal invention tool.

In International relations, therefore, both tracks of traditional Diplomacy have their limitations leaving a vacuum for some troubleshooting and problem-solving tasks which governments and their Intelligence Services are not suitable to be engaged in.  To do this “exceptional individuals”are often called upon to bridge the gaps. These individuals come from all walks of life but often retired statesmen, track one diplomats, politicians, business leaders or religious leaders tend to have the necessary skills and the time to be of use to the global community and their State. In some cases, therefore, such professional private contractors are called in based upon their life and career experience.

Track One and a Half Diplomacy

There are many false definitions of the elusive track one and a half diplomacy with most being written by academics with no experience and they portray it as viewed from the outside.
In my experience as a practitioner, track, one and a half diplomacy can be defined as “An overt or covert interaction or negotiation, discretely sanctioned by one State leader, government, NGO or INGO to achieve mutually beneficial aims where other diplomacy tracks are limited, initiated and initially mediated by a private individual enabling plausible deniability to achieve ripeness for a solution and as a precursor to track one or two diplomacy.  Barrington Roy Schiller, 2019.

Some academics believe track 1.5 diplomacy to be hybrid diplomacy because the initial appointment can be instigated either by typical track one or track 2 actors or be a bridge between track 1 and track 2.  There is however abundant evidence of track 1.5 existing in its own right as a precursor for both other tracks. This enables the track 1.5 diplomats to take on the persona of either track where necessary and use the tools of either track. However, track 1.5 is neither track 1 nor track 2. The diplomats have no authority in their own right to sign any agreements on behalf of those appointing them.

There are many examples of track 1.5 individuals acting on their own behalf and a good example of this is Former President Carter with the Carter centre whose own humanitarian beliefs led him to get involved in ethnic and International Conflicts in typical track 1.5 mode.

In 2007 the British entrepreneur and the British musician Peter Gabriel took track 1.5 to the next level and together with Nelson Mandela formed a group of influential individuals, the Elders  https://www.theelders.org.  Their focus was on promoting global governance and leadership, the causes and consequences of Conflict, Inequality, Exclusion and injustice.    Other members of the Elders have been Desmond Tutu, Lakhdar Brahimi, Kofi Annan and Graca Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela. However, now that the Elders are organised and self appointing and following their own agenda with their own funds they have, in my opinionnow switched to practising track 2 diplomacy and no longer track 1.5. as is the Carter Center which continues the work of ex-president Jimmy Carter as opposed to when he acted with Colin Powell on behalf of the U.S government to intervene and hinder an impending military conflict with Haiti which was track 1.5 albeit in the full glare of the media and public.

True track 1.5 diplomacy should, therefore, have the following aspects:-

  • The track 1.5 diplomat is appointed by a third party
  • The track 1.5 diplomat has no personal or own agenda
  • The track 1.5 diplomat engages in Scoping talks as Precursor to track 1 or 2
  • The track 1.5 diplomat Is not a signatory to the arranged treaty or agreement
  • The track 1.5 diplomat’s approach can be covert or overt
  • The track 1.5 diplomat offers the contractor plausible deniability
  • The track 1.5 diplomat is discrete
  • The track 1.5 diplomat has the ability to make contact to both middle and top-level leaders
  • The track 1.5 diplomat has the ability to build trust
  • The track 1.5 diplomat has the ability to fund negotiations without a paper trail
  • The track 1.5 diplomat must have sufficient resources
  • The track 1.5 diplomat is an individual
  • The track 1.5 diplomat enables face-saving
  • The track 1.5 diplomat can bridge communication gaps by opening backchannels
  • The track 1.5 diplomat has mastered people and mediation skills.

An essential ability in track 1.5 diplomacy is for the diplomat to build trust and rapport with the person or organisation that they are approaching without being able to rely on the track 1 resources but psychological barriers and biases can hinder the approach.

It is not uncommon for the person or organisation being approached to believe that the nationality of the track 1.5 diplomat will be the same as the official current foreign policy as the State they were born or live in and in some cases that official foreign policy and media can be at odds to the aims of the negotiation or aims of what the party being approached is attempting to achieve.

A perceived bias or allegiance to one or another religion can also be seen as a potential hindrance to a successful outcome by one or the other State or non-State engaged actors being approached.

Unlike in the world of business, the track 1.5 diplomat is not working to commit their own funds or resources and will not personally profit from the outcome of the negotiations so the track 1.5 diplomat must have a clear understanding and briefing before taking on the assignment of exactly how far they can go and what assurances they can make. Their life literally depends on not making representations that they cannot keep and they have no military or technical resources to back them up. This can often be frustrating when they are often badly rewarded financially for their non-partisan diplomatic skills.

My experience shows that particularly illiberal democracies and those States in the post-soviet space are reluctant to use or accept track 1.5 envoys who are not their own nationals in resolving conflict or achieving their aims unless the envoy is living in the State being approached with links to the contactor’s own country. This is not without danger however as the track 1.5 diplomat can quickly find themselves accused of spying. Unless the envoy is fluent in the contactors language with a thorough understanding of their culture it is extremely difficult to build the rapport and trust necessary for the track 1.5 processes. However, as Kofi Annan and Desmond Tutu etc. showed contacts and access to the “right” targets should play a larger role than psychological barriers and emotional factors.

Track 1.5 diplomacy is, therefore, a highly underrated tool and weapon in the diplomatic toolbox of States and non-State actor who underestimate the ability of certain individuals to influence their adversaries or possible allies. One of the reasons for this underestimation is perhaps that the track 1.5 diplomats, who often act covertly, seldom get any credit when the final treaties or agreements are signed with the politicians or governments taking all the credit. What they are quick to do however is use the plausible deniability and deny all knowledge of the existence of the track 1.5 diplomat when they are caught in an environment where track 1 diplomacy dictates that they shouldn’t be.  Their career is therefore often in the shadows and not without dangers. The expression “don’t shoot the messenger” is extremely appropriate.

In some cases, the track 1.5 diplomat is called upon to make covert contact with grassroots elements of a foreign society as a form of instigating public Diplomacy and establishing a bridge between the grassroots activists and the contracting foreign power. This is of particular risk for the diplomat as if observed a criminal charge of treason or spying is possible with no track 1 diplomatic safety net.

Relevant quotes

Track 1.5
Dr Susan Allen Nan, in her PhD dissertation, writes:

[T]here is a type of conflict resolution effort that defies categorization with other types above (Track One and Track Two diplomacy), and is commonly called “Track One and a Half.”

This is the long-term unofficial facilitated joint analysis among negotiators, LUFJAAN for short, that Conflict Management Group conducted January 1996, May 1996, June 1997, and July 1998 (Nan, 1999, p. 202).

For The Carter Center interventions, Mapendere (2000) defined Track One and a Half Diplomacy,

…Public or private interaction between official representatives of conflicting governments or political entities such as popular armed movements, which is facilitated or mediated by a third party not representing a political organization or institution. The aim of such interaction is to influence attitudinal changes between the parties with the objective of changing the political power structures that caused the conflict (p. 16)

Nan (2003) defined Track One and a Half Diplomacy as “unofficial interactions between official representatives of states” (p. 9). In 2005, Nan redefined Track One and a Half as “diplomatic initiatives that are facilitated by unofficial bodies, but directly involve officials from the conflict in question” (p. 165).

These former presidents’ well-known record for reliability enables serving presidents and rebel leaders to trust that the third party will facilitate the attainment of common interests among the parties without bias (Hoffman, 2006).

Moral authority is one of the Track One and a Half interveners’ activities may run contrary to their country’s foreign policy; this may undermine their peace efforts. However, one of the most effective ways of reducing the impact of the weaknesses of the three forms of diplomacy on peace-making is by the complementary application of the various diplomatic activities (Nan, 1999).

State power can be a liability to durable peace, rather than a facilitative tool. Power can suppress underlying issues of weaker parties, thereby undermining the sustainability of a peace agreement (Diamond & MacDonald, 1996).

officials cannot, of course, speak against their country and, as a result, may either be too rigid or delay negotiations through consultations with their leaders at home (Volkan, 1991; Sanders, 1991).

By giving due respect to both President Clinton and the Great Leader Kim Il Sung of North Korea, President Carter gained entry into the peacemaking process and finally defused the situation (Carter, 1995).

“The United States and a large international force were on the verge of invading the island when I was called by the [C]ommander in [C]hief of the Haitian military, General Raoul Cédras, who asked for my help…I was willing for the Carter Center to serve as a channel for communication” (Carter, 1995, pp. 176-177).

“Because of his prominence as a former president, Carter is able to serve as a bridge between Track One and Track Two diplomacy” (Diamond & McDonald, 1996, p. 43).

“The United States had branded Sudan a supporter of world terrorism, and accusations of religious persecution were a major issue in the civil war” (Carter, 1995, p. 184).

Regardless of the enmity between the U.S. government and Sudan, the Carter Center never stopped attempts to pursue peace in Sudan (Carter, 1995).

Theoretically, the ICCR has the capacity to intervene at various levels of a conflict because of the expertise it carries such as Former President Carter, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Harold Saunders, Ambassador Bethune Kiplagat, and professors Vamik Volkan, Christopher Mitchell, and William Ury, just to mention a few (Carter, 1995).

President Carter visited North Korea in 1994 as a private citizen to help resolve the tension between the US and North Korea. The North Korean government had withdrawn its membership from the International Atomic Energy Agency raising suspicion by the US that North Korea “had developed nuclear weapons in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty” (Carter, 1995, p. 172).

My meeting with Kim II Sung ended the immediate crisis. I did not make any concessions to him. I simply gave the highest leader of the country the opportunity to talk with me and to know that his words would be communicated directly to the president of the United States. Negotiations resumed on a lower level to work out technical issues. These issues included matters of national pride… This is another example of how difficult it is for people in a conflict to overcome their hostility. Yet, with good faith and perhaps a trusted mediator, it is the kind of issue that can be overcome (Carter, 1995, pp. 175-176).

Since each track of diplomacy has its own strengths and weaknesses, it is important to find a way by which the weaknesses of each can be reduced in order to improve the chances of resolving conflicts without loss of life and material (Ziegler, 1984; Volkan, 1991; Montville, in Volkan, et al, 1991).

The need for joint efforts using different types of diplomacy has been frequently noted in recent conflict resolution literature. Speaking of preventive diplomacy, Bercovitch (1993) writes that early deployment of economic, diplomatic and military tools could be effective at preventing or even resolving conflicts before they escalate.

In Volkan et al (1991), Sanders writes that private citizens know how things should be done, and officials develop and widen these ideas.

Lederach’s (1997) three levels of leadership, types of diplomacy including Track One and a Half, shows the type of actors found at different diplomacy levels and the levels of leadership on which they can exert influence.

Through their combined efforts to address issues at different levels of leadership (Lederach, 1997) with the aim of reducing the impact of their weaknesses.

Different levels of diplomacy target different social structures of conflict. In addition, the diagram shows the position of Track One and a Half Diplomacy and presents the Carter Center as an example of a Track One and a Half actor.

Track Two Diplomacy (Montville, 1991).


Track 1

(Volkan, 1991 Track One Diplomacy has the ability to use political power to influence the direction of negotiations and outcomes (Sanders, 1991).

“Track One Diplomacy has the capacity to access material and financial resources that give high leverage and flexibility in negotiations”(Bercovitch and Houston, 2000).

Track One Diplomacy can employ in-depth knowledge about the parties’ interests because of the use of various intelligence sources (Stein and Lewis, 1996).

diplomatic missions, an asset to Track One Diplomacy, are normally closed down at the peak of conflicts between countries “thereby reducing communication when it is needed most” (Ziegler, 1984, p. 27).

Track 2

The strengths of Track Two Diplomacy have been discussed in detail, but separately by Montville (1991), Ury (1999), Sanders (1991), Ryan (1995), and Lederach (1997).

Nan (1999) demonstrates through field research that Track Two efforts prepare the ground for Track One by enabling ideas to be tested before official negotiations.

James Traub (2000), in his article Inventing East Timor, discusses the United Nation’s ‘nation-building’ efforts, which include both military and civilian resources in developing a state as a way of providing a lasting solution to what was an intractable conflict.

Further Reading

  • Agha, H., Feldman, S., Khalidi, A., & Schiff, Z. (2003). Track II Diplomacy:Lessons from the Middle East. Cambridge: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
  • Bercovitch, J. (1993). The nature of the dispute and the effectiveness of international mediation. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 37, 670-691.
  • Bercovitch, J., & Houston, A. (2000). Why do they do it like this? An analysis of the factors influencing mediation behavior in international conflicts.Journal of Conflict Resolution, 44, 170-202.
  • Burns, F. J. (2000, July 27). Hero’s Welcome for Arafat, From Those Who Showed Up. The New York Times, p. A10.
  • Carter, J. (1995). Talking peace: A vision for the next generation. New York, NY: Dutton Children’s Books.
  • Crossette, B. (2000, August 19). As Peace Mission Deteriorates, U.N. Sends an Envoy to Congo. The New York Times, p. A6.
  • Diamond, L. & McDonald, J. (1996). Multi track diplomacy (3rd Ed.). Connecticut: Kumarian Press, Inc.
  • Fisher, R. (1997). Interactive conflict resolution. New York: Syracuse University Press.
  • Hoffman, A. M. (2006). Building Trust: Overcoming Suspicion in International Conflict. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Jentleson, W.B. (Ed.) (2000). Opportunities missed, opportunities seized: Preventive Diplomacy in the Post-Cold War World. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Jonsson, C., & Hall, M. (2005). Essence of Diplomacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Kelman, H. (1996). The Interactive Problem-Solving Approach. In C. A. Crocker, F. O.
  • Kriesberg, L. (1998). Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Landsberg, C. (2004). The Quiet Diplomacy of Liberation: International Politics and South Africa’s Transition. Johannesburg: Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd.
  • Lederach, P. J. (1997). Building peace: Sustainable reconciliation in divided societies. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace
  • Lund, S. M. (1997). Preventing violent conflicts: A strategy for preventive diplomacy. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press.
  • Magalhaẽs, C. J. (1988). The pure concept of diplomacy. New York: Greenwood Press.
  • Mapendere, J. (2000, Summer). Consequential Conflict Transformation Model, and the Complementarity of Track One, Track One and a Half, and Track-Two Diplomacy. (Available from The Carter Center, Conflict Resolution Program, 453 Freedom Parkway, Atlanta, GA 30307).
  • Mitchell, C. R. (1989). The structure of international conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  • Montville, J. (1991). Track Two Diplomacy: The Arrow and the Olive Branch: A case for Track Two Diplomacy. In, V. D. Volkan M.D., J. Montville, & D. A. Julius (Eds.), The Psychodynamics of International Relations: Vol. 2. Unofficial diplomacy at work (pp.161-175). Massachusetts: Lexington Books.
  • Nan, A. S. (1999). Complementarity and coordination of conflict resolution efforts in the conflicts over Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniestria. Fairfax, Virginia: George Mason University.
  • Nan, A.S. (2003). Track I Diplomacy. Retrieved June 12, 2006, from http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/track1_diplomacy/
  • Nan, A. S. (2005). Track one-and-a-Half Diplomacy: Contributions to Georgia-South Ossetian Peacemaking. In R. J. Fisher (Ed.), Paving the Way (pp. 161-173). Lanham: Lexington Books.
  • Rupesinghe, K. (Ed.) (1995). Conflict Transformation. New York: St. Martin’s Press, Inc.
  • Ryan, S. (1995). Ethnic conflict and international relations. Brookfield: Dartmouth.
  • Rothchild, D. (1996). Successful mediation: Lord Carrington and the Rhodesian Settlement. In C. A. Crocker, F. O. Hampson & P. Aall (Eds.), Managing global chaos: Sources of and Responses to international conflict (pp. 475-486). Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace.
  • Sanders, H.H. (1991). Officials and citizens in international relations. In V. D. Volkan M.D., J. Montville, & D. A. Julius (Eds.), The Psychodynamics of International Relations: Vol. 2. Unofficial diplomacy at work (pp.41-69). Massachusetts: Lexington Books.
  • SIPRI Yearbook. (June, 2006): Armaments, Disarmament and International Security. London: Oxford University Press. Retrieved June 12, 2006, from http://yearbook2006.sipri.org/chap2/app2A
  • Stain, W. K. & Lewis, W. S. (1996). Mediation in the Middle East. In C. A. Crocker,
  1. O. Hampson & P. Aall (Eds.), Managing global chaos: Sources of and Responses to international conflict (pp. 463-473). Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace.
  • Traub, J. (2000, July/August). Inventing East Timo. Foreign Affairs, 79, 74-89.
  • Ury, W. (1999). Getting to peace: Transforming conflict at home, at work, and in the world. New York: Viking Penguin.
  • Volkan, D.V. (1991). Official and unofficial diplomacy: An overview. In V. D. Volkan M.D., J. Montville, & D. A. Julius (Eds.), The Psychodynamics of International Relations: Vol. 2. Unofficial diplomacy at work (pp.1-16). Massachusetts: Lexington Books.
  • Weeks, D. (1992). The eight essential steps to conflict resolution. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc.
  • Ziegler, W.D. (1984). War, Peace, and International Politics. (3rd Ed.). Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

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