Featured Image: Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash.
At this time of increased tensions and armed conflits in different parts of the world; it is useful to recall the positive possibilities of unofficial diplomacy. Unofficial diplomats recognize that the suspicions of government officials are a major hurdle to overcome; and that they must emphasize their impartiality and independence from governments. Preparing the way for official policy changes; or for improved interstate relations is a slow-building evolutionary process. Personal contacts across borders hold the potential for influencing the knowledge and attitudes of those involved; as well as the ability to gain information.
Horace Alexander (1889 – 1989); the British Quaker and friend of Mahatma Gandhi is a good example of the unofficial diplomat and mediator. Horace Alexander was born in an English Quaker family. His father was a lawyer deeply involved in peace efforts; and in opposing the opium trade active between India and China. Horace Alexander was a Cambridge University graduate; who went on to teach international relations at Woodbroke; an adult education center run by Quakers. Alexander was very active in efforts to support the League of Nations.
In 1926 and 1927; there was increased agitation and repression in India; as the Indian National Congress became increasingly active. Thus in 1928; Horace Alexander was sent to India by the British Quakers; to see if relations between the Vice Roy Lord Irwin and Mahatma Gandhi could be improved. Alexander saw the spiritual dimension of Gandhi; but also his political impact and suggested to the British government that Gandhi be invited to the Roundtable on Indian politics; which was to be held in London in 1931.
Alexander developed close relations with Gandhi; and divided his time between India and England. He was active in relief work during the famine in Bengal in 1943-1944; and was active with the Indian National Congress during the negotiations; which led to independence in 1947; but sensed the birth pangs of the creation of the two states of India and Paxistan and the terrible days of partition; when fighting between religious communities took a deadly toll in human life and spirit.
Studio photograph of Mahatma Gandhi, London, 1931. By Elliott & Fry (see ), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
While he was with Gandhi in India; seeing the growing divide between Hindus and Muslims; he created the Fellowship of Friends of Truth. As he wrote:
“The basis and goal of the Fellowship of Truth will be a common striving toward fuller knowledge of the Truth that is God. Members will commit themselves to learn with and from one another of the things that are eternal, through common acts of quiet worship and meditation and through other forms of communion with God and man.”
Horace Alexander lived his later years in the United States and died at the age of 100.
Unofficial diplomacy rarely creats a breakthrough; as situations can be completely blocked; and even minimal proposals are unacceptable at the time. However small steps can be useful if taken in the right direction. Unofficial Diplomacy; which is increasingly called Track II diplomacy; is growing in importance and merits support.
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.