Second-Track Diplomacy Aids Foreign Policy

The Australian

By John W.H. Denton,
Partner and Chief Executive Officer
Corrs Chambers Westgarth
Chairman, BCA Global Engagement Task Force

Recent news: in April 2010 John Denton delivered a speech to the University of Western Australia on the topic of second-track diplomacy. His op-ed on the topic is below.

Even in international relations, as Princeton University professor Anne-Marie Slaughter put it in a recent edition of the journal Foreign Affairs, “power is derived from connectivity orchestrating networks of public, private, and civic actors to address global problems’’.

It is time, then, that Australia’s international relations fully exploit the powers of such network.

It is time to involve the private sector more fully in foreign and diplomatic policy activities. It is time for business to help develop “second-track diplomacy’’.

The federal government does and should determine our foreign policy priorities – so-called “first-track diplomacy’’.

Where private organisations and individuals can make a valuable contribution is in advancing our foreign and security priorities through wider engagement. This is known as second-track diplomacy. Some in the business community already make such a contribution.

The next challenge is to leverage these contributions for additional advantage.

This will be hugely rewarding.

Strong relationships are especially important in our developing links in Asia.

Deep and effective relationships involve people-to-people links that extend well beyond governments. The global networks of business and the non-government sector can and should be harnessed in support of building such relationships.

Strong relationships are the basis for co-operative approaches to tackling problems, and identifying and taking up new opportunities. They can also help to address and reduce tensions if they arise. For business, second-track diplomacy can bring commercial benefits as well as additional public good.

A positive business contribution to Australia’s security and stability will help to create a better environment for commercial activities.

Similarly, business will benefit from improved and deeper economic relationships in the form of increased investment and market opportunities.

The most successful local example of such an initiative is the Australian American Leadership Dialogue founded by business leader Philip Scanlan.

Privately organised but drawing on a wide range of business, government and academic networks, it has deepened the Australia-US bilateral relationship beyond the main government-to-government structures.

There are other examples of involvement by the Australian business community and non-government organisations. The APEC Business Advisory Council enables business leaders to contribute advice directly to heads of government as to APEC priorities. Frank Lowy has established the Lowy Institute for International Policy, which has made a tremendous contribution to policy research and dialogue in Australia.

Similarly, the Asia Society and Asialink have brought together academic, business and government leaders to develop better links with the countries of Asia.

Notwithstanding these examples, Australia does not have the highly developed second-track networks that have emerged in the US and elsewhere.

The notion of second-track diplomacy has not been a priority for Australia. Furthermore, the number of non-government organisations involved in foreign and strategic policy is relatively small.

To jump-start the process of extending second-track diplomacy, Australia must take three steps.

First, business and other interested organisations need to promote the concept. The support, encouragement of and respect afforded by the government in taking this step will also be important.

Second, through a dialogue involving business, other private sector organisations and government, we should develop a clearer set of principles aimed at encouraging and extending second-track diplomacy by private actors.

Third, we should test the approach that is developed in one or two countries that are of major strategic significance to Australia, and where second-track diplomacy is currently underdeveloped. Second-track arrangements work most effectively when business, individuals and governments each respect the role and contribution of the other sectors.

There is a tendency for governments, even with the best of intentions, to constrain and stifle private initiative in the foreign policy domain.

Therefore, we need to make certain that where new private initiatives offer new ways of building deeper relationships, they are given both the opportunity and the flexibility that they need to succeed.

Developing second-track diplomacy in Australia should not require resourcing from government. Rather, it requires understanding, and the marshalling of existing resources in new ways. The reward will be to strengthen global relationships and secure our place in the world.