In 1980 a diverse group of concerned American leaders convened at Esalen Institute on the California coast to address the impasse reached in Soviet-American relations. Those gathered agreed that action – beyond traditional diplomatic efforts – must be taken to transform the strained relationship. Upon this shared conviction, the Esalen Soviet-American Exchange Program was founded, and later renamed Track Two: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy in 2004 to acknowledge and incorporate an expansion of operations into different regions of the world.
Track Two Diplomacy, a term first coined by Director and Chair Emeritus Joseph Montville at this initial gathering, describes an emergent non-governmental approach to diplomatic efforts between nations. Track Two Diplomacy, also called Citizen Diplomacy refers to private-sector collaboration between members of groups or nations in conflict, seeking to devise strategies, coordinate human and material resources, and influence public opinion in an effort to resolve conflict and address common problems. It does not attempt to replace or obfuscate traditional Track One Diplomacy between governments and world leaders, but rather strives to complement it.
Throughout the 1980s Track Two worked to educate cultural and ideological leaders from
the US and USSR on the methods and means by which citizens might find common ground and gain deeper understanding of one another. These efforts resulted in Boris Yeltsin’s historic first visit to the United States in 1989, and ultimately influenced Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glasnost and the dissolution of the Soviet state.
During this time, Track Two developed a network of leaders in the US and USSR, generating partnerships in space exploration, journalism, literature, healthcare, athletics, psychology, business, peacebuilding, and the visual and performing arts that continue to influence both nations today.
In 2004 Track Two became an independent nonprofit organization in order to expand its reach beyond Russia, into the Middle East and the North Pacific Rim. Despite this move towards autonomy, Track Two continues to work closely with Esalen’s Center for Theory and Research (CTR), employing tools, methodologies and lessons learned from the human potential study to further positive relationships between citizens of nations in conflict.
In 2007 Track Two launched the International Abrahamic Network (formerly the Abrahamic Family Reunion) in response to rising tensions throughout the Middle East and the Western world. IAN works
to foster understanding and healing between and among members of the three Abrahamic faiths by focusing on shared values and on the historical roots of Jewish-Christian-Muslim animosities from psychological and spiritual perspectives.
This vision of unity gave rise to a network of hundreds of leaders from the Abrahamic faiths. Participants of IAN come from Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, and the US. They have worked on peacebuilding and human rights initiatives. This work has touched theology schools, seminaries, and graduate programs in the US, Canada, and the Middle East.
Throughout our work cultural exchange has played an integral role in providing members of our networks insight into the context, norms, history and perspectives that vary from region to region. Fine art exhibitions, performance art, dance exchanges, presentations on science and health, and readings of literature and poetry offer a unique opportunity for members to engage locally.
Plans to continue to develop Track Two’s networks into China and the North Pacific Rim nations are evolving in response to the growing importance of the region as a world economic force as well as a source of current tension.