Secret Diplomacy

analytical Essay
2788 words
2788 words


International negotiations may comprise a number of different channels during a peace process. Negotiations between states may take place in public front channels or they may be veiled to maintain secrecy of the bargaining process. This essay will look at the later and examine whether the beneficial effects of secret diplomacy can also yield negative consequences. This essay will be divided into three sections. The first section will define secret diplomacy, referred to as back channel diplomacy (BCD), and outline some of its characteristics. The discussion will outline why parties use BCD and convey the benefits and disadvantages. The second section will outline the function of BCD in two negotiation case studies. The first will look at Israel and Palestinian negotiations leading up to the Oslo Accords in 1993. The second case study will examine British negotiations with the IRA and Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland leading up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The third and final section will evaluate the use of BCD in both cases and convey some lessons for policymakers. This essay argues that whilst BCD can be helpful in facilitating a peace process, it can be damaging if it is not managed with front channel diplomacy (FCD).

What is Back Channel Diplomacy?

Secret diplomacy, also known as ‘back channel diplomacy’ (BCD) refers to ‘official negotiations conducted in secret among the parties to a dispute or even between a party and a third party intervenor, which may complement front channels, and are potentially at variance with declared policies’ . Wanis-St. John has also described them as the ‘black markets’ of negotiation. This is because they provide a separate negotiation space away from public diplomat...

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...ic Use of Multiple channels of Negotiation in Middle East Peacemaking’, 2001, A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of The Fletcher School Of Law And Diplomacy Tufts University, viewed at on 10 April 2012 .

• Wanis-St. John, Anthony, Back Channel Negotiation: Secrecy in the Middle East Peace Process, Syracuse, 2011, chapter 1, pp. 1-22.

• Wanis-St. John, Anthony, 'Back-Channel Negotiation: International Bargaining in the Shadows', Negotiation Journal, April 2006, pp.119-144, at .

• Wanis-St. John, Anthony, 'Peace Processes, Secret Negotiations and Civil Society: Dynamics of Inclusion and Exclusion', International Negotiation, 13 (2008) 1–9, at,%20Intro%20JIN%2013.1.pdf .

In this essay, the author

  • Argues that secret diplomacy can be beneficial in facilitating a peace process, but it can also be damaging if it isn't managed.
  • Argues that bcd encourages flexibility and frank discussions, provides political cover, and allows parties to overcome hurdles if disputants remain in conflict.
  • Explains that israel and the plo have used bcd with limited fcd to address interim issues and permanent status negotiations.
  • Explains that secret dialogue enabled israel to avoid recognizing the plo, but in practical terms both parties found it difficult to implement a settlement.
  • Explains that the initial use of secret back channels laid a foundation of limited trust and increased mutual understanding in northern ireland.
  • Argues that secret negotiations can facilitate early breakthrough agreements, and that over-reliance on bcd can yield diminishing returns.
  • Concludes that bcd can yield beneficial effects as well as negative consequence, and that secret negotiations and front channels must be strategically used if parties are to make the transition to peace and coexistence.
  • Explains carcasson, martn, 'unveiling the oslo narrative: the rhetorical transformation of israeli-palestinian diplomacy'.
  • Explains the irish department of foreign affairs and trade's good friday agreement, which was viewed on 17 april 2012.
  • Cites the israel ministry of foreign affairs, 'agreement on the gaza strip and jericho area', may 4, 1994.
  • Cites the israel ministry of foreign affairs, ‘declaration of principles on interim self-government arrangements’, september 13, 1993, at
  • States that israel ministry of foreign affairs, 'main points of the agreement on the preparatory transfer of powers and responsibilities', august 29, 1994.
  • Explains kriesberg, louis, 'mediation and the transformation of the israeli-palestinian conflict', journal of peace research, 2001 38: 373.
  • Explains lieberfeld, daniel, 'secrecy and "two-level games" in the oslo accord: what the primary sources tell us', in international negotiation.
  • Explains that ’dochartaigh, niall, 'together in the middle: back-channel negotiation in the irish peace process', journal of peace research, 2011 48: 767.
  • Explains pruitt, dean g., 'back-channel communication in the settlement of conflict', international negotiation 13 (2008) 37–54.
  • Explains pruitt, dean g., 'readiness theory and the northern ireland conflict', american behavioral scientist, 2007 50: 1520.
  • Explains wanis-st. john's thesis, back channel diplomacy : the strategic use of multiple channels of negotiation in middle east peacemaking.
  • Explains wanis-st. john, anthony, back channel negotiation: secrecy in the middle east peace process, syracuse, 2011.
  • Explains wanis-st. john, anthony, 'back-channel negotiation: international bargaining in the shadows'.
  • Explains wanis-st. john, anthony, peace processes, secret negotiations and civil society: dynamics of inclusion and exclusion.
  • Explains that secret diplomacy, also known as ‘back channel diplomacies’, provides a separate negotiation space away from public diplomatic channels, and allows parties to seek alternative arrangements.
  • Explains how the israeli-palestinian conflict dates back to 1948 after the british mandate to form israel left the arab palestinians without a homeland.
  • Explains how the power discrepancy in which the protestant majority dominated the catholic minority led to tension and conflict.
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