In the following I will present some of the criticism that has been raised concerning citizen diplomacy or track-II diplomacy.
It has been argued that track-II diplomacy only has long-term impact (Lieberfeld in Kaufman 2006:113). Depending on how you define long term, this appears to be true. The campaign to ban landmines, which has been considered an especially effective use of citizen diplomacy achieved its goals after 5 years of work. An evaluation from 2011 of the impact of citizen diplomacy programs confirms this:
“the associated outcomes and impacts are often intangible, not immediate, and qualitative rather than quantitative.“ (Bhandari & Belyayina 2011 )
The democratic paradox
A critique that has been raised against citizen diplomacy is that it might work against government interests and objectives.
Citizen diplomacy is “unauthorized”, so to say, and there is no guarantee that it follows the policies agreed upon by the government. This can be seen as an advantage or a weakness. It is considered an advantage because being unaffiliated with government also means untied by its formality and bureaucracy.
“One of the important consequences of the informal nature of Track-II talks is that participants are likely to be less inhibited about shedding formal positions than they would be in Track-I negotiations.” (Agha et al 2003:189)
However, formal positions are a way for decision makers to be accountable to their voters. The authority governments are given in a democratic country is legitimate because the people grant it. Citizen diplomats do not represent their country at large. In fact, it is often unclear who they represent, if any.
The argument that citizen diplomacy is dangerous because it can be in different from the government’s position should be no more of a problem than any other political opposition.
This discussion represents what I will call the democratic paradox in citizen diplomacy: it is both a process of participation and a non-representative parallel track to official channels. Therefore it is a democratic practice in a pluralistic sense of democracy, but with no representative legitimacy.
Security risks and a hostile political environment at times put strict limitations on the amount of interaction between track-II and track-I diplomacy (the unofficial and the official channels). It may not be possible to do citizen diplomacy in a region at all, or only in secret. Doing citizen diplomacy secretly naturally inhibits the ability to reach official policymakers and the wider public, thus limiting its potential effect to the narrow circle of independent participants.
“This, of course, raises the dilemma that when unofficial channels may be most needed, they be most difficult to bring about.” (Kaye 2006:27)
When people from the outside attempt to encourage track-two diplomacy, it can be perceived by the participants as outsiders pushing for a specific security agenda. This experience of imposition can create resistance towards the cooperative agenda as a whole (Kaye 2006:27).
A sticky problem that is mentioned by several sources (Kaye 2007:26, Kaufman 2006:129, Diana Chigas) is how to appropriately select participants. Often participants are chosen between influential elites, which of course makes it vulnerable to accusations of elitism. Other times, participants are chosen because they are particularly pragmatic in their views and more likely to reach agreement. This is an issue due to the lack of representativeness, discussed above.
According to Chigas, differences in power or resources between the two participating sides of a conflict are often reflected in their attitudes toward citizen diplomacy. It creates an unequal relationship between the participants and as a consequence weaker parties sometimes view these processes as ignoring the imbalance and not addressing the central problems in the conflict.
1. Rajika Bhandari & Raisa Belyavina “Evaluating and Measuring the Impact of Citizen Diplomacy: Current Status and Future Directions” Institute of International Education (IIE) (2011). Download link.