Choosing the right track

By Jamal Khaer Ibrahim, May 16, 2013

I argued in my first Roundtable essay that any societal verification effort perceived as too closely aligned with government would have limited chances of success in the developing world. In my view, this would hold true for diplomacy as well. A diplomatic initiative to promote societal verification might have its best chance of success if it involved no official diplomacy at all.

Diplomacy is often characterized as running along three tracks. Track 1 involves interactions between high-level representatives of national governments; it is characterized by formal negotiations and rather rigid national positions. Track 2 involves policy analysts and academics (and sometimes government officials participating in their personal capacities) who engage in unofficial dialogue, conceptual discussions, and problem-solving activities. Track 3 consists of person-to-person interactions among individuals and civil society groups working at the grassroots level.

Track 3 diplomacy and its informality bear clear similarities to societal verification itself — and its informality might help overcome the political obstacles to societal verification that my colleagues Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan and Ibrahim Said Ibrahim have discussed.

This possibility rests on two incentives. First, though states' official stances on arms control can be quite rigid (which also helps account for the political constraints that societal verification is likely to face in many places), most nations have incentives to comply with international norms and to gain trust as economic partners — especially if they wish to develop nuclear power sectors or otherwise participate in nuclear trade.

Second, individuals working in industries associated with the nuclear supply chain have incentives to avoid activities related to proliferation. I argued in my first essay that professionals in the precision engineering industry might find that their personal interests encourage participation in societal verification — but this idea can be expanded to professionals in any part of the nuclear supply chain. Businesses and individuals might well embrace the techniques of societal verification to protect their professional reputations and avoid criminal or civil penalties associated with wrongdoing.

Once societal verification gained support in the business community, support might bubble up to high levels of government. Public officials might see, within the framework of trade and economic development, the advantages of allowing societal verification to develop freely. The nationalistic tendencies so often displayed when national security issues come into play might be outweighed by economic considerations. In essence, societal verification would be enabled by globalization.

But what would Track 3 diplomacy actually look like in the context of societal verification? An example would be this: Professionals in industries relevant to nuclear trade might develop initiatives to spread the ideas and practices of societal verification to colleagues in other countries. Nongovernmental organizations that focus on arms control would provide support. Governments would take no direct role, because this would only invite the official resistance that so much Track 1 diplomacy encounters. This approach would require restraint on the part of Western governments — but it would have a far greater chance of success than would direct methods.

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