The blind leading the blind?

A comparison of EU and US policy relations with the Middle East

1. Introduction

There exists a belief that the European Union (EU) follows the lead of the United States of America (USA) in development of its foreign policy positions, although lately, especially in relation to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, this perception may have changed. Nevertheless, in a broader context, is the idea of 'the EU as disciple of the USA' in foreign policies valid? In this essay I will compare and examine the foreign policies of both, with a focus on their relations with the Middle East (ME), primarily based on policies the EU and USA portray themselves as being involved in.
First, an overview of the EU and US relations with the ME will be outlined, then compared and discussed on who's leading whom, finalising with a conclusion.

2. EU relations with the Middle East

Before addressing EU policies towards the ME, a more general comment is in place, which is the general framework of the EU foreign policy system, known under the heading Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), in itself intended as a widening and deepening of its predecessor European Foreign Policy (EFP), as institutionalised starting with enactment of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993. Though CFSP is in place, at least on paper for roughly 10 years now, it is still very much in its developing stage due to the dichotomy of EU intergovernmentalists and federalists. This results in 'switching' of approaches towards foreign policies on a case-by-case basis, making it all the more difficult for states and (international) organisations on what to expect form the EU - and which international contributions may be accredited to EU involvement. For example the divide surrounding support for the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, but a common stance in the Euromed1 process towards the ME. The principles the CFSP is based on are:
"democracy, soft-edged capitalism, a zone of peace among members, and diplomatic mediation between third parties to undercut the causes of major conflict" (Ginsberg, 2001:25)
"reflect a unique European brand of diplomacy and foreign policy molded by an internal dynamic of cooperation among members and common institutions. Unlike neofunctional externalisation, the self-styled logic focuses on the EU'sown internal dynamic, foreign policy interests, and mission and initiative in the world independent of external stimuli" (emphasis added) (Ginsberg, 2001:31)
What comprises these foreign relations with these ME countries? Compared to 'pre-Barcelona', where several bilateral cooperation agreements signed in the 1970s were cautious steps in the direction of economic and scientific cooperation and cultural exchange programs, the relations in the (late) 1990s, and even more so in the 21st century, are considerably stronger. Not only via institutionalised dialogue2 with most ME states, but also by implementing the Association Agreements, and their related Country Strategy Papers, with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank/Gaza Strip (/Palestinian Authority). Summarizing the agreements, they focus on three main aspects (the 'three pillars') of the Barcelona Declaration: Thus targeted on aiding development of the region via diplomacy and socio-economic policies as a way to attempt to achieve peace and security. The country strategy papers provide concrete projects that are, or will be, undertaken in the time span of 2002-2006.
It must be noted however, that the positive tone of the EU website on the Barcelona Process, is not always reciprocated by the affected countries, who have had, and still need, to change a wide range of internal laws and policies in order to comply with EU 'demands'3. At least part of the reason why these countries eventually agreed is the potential for economic growth, as the EU is their main, or at least a large, trading partner and at the time of writing the 'only game in town'. Ideally, in the long run it may be more advantageous to strengthen their position in the international sphere by further development of the Arab League into their own free trade area (Greater Arab Free Trade Area, GAFTA) with closer administrative cooperation amongst themselves. Maybe the individual countries are not 'ready' for it yet, for various reasons, but will be with the aid of the EU in the (near) future. On the other hand, with a negative interpretation, this might not be the intention of the EU, because a stronger Arab League will undoubtedly result in a less favourable trade and negotiation position of the EU (versus the present bi-lateral negotiations, which is rather unbalanced in terms of power and economy). With a more positive mindset: a stronger ME likely will be more stable and consequently add to international stability and security, thus benefiting all.

Relations with non-MEDA countries are institutionalised through the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC, comprising of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman), who are in a stage alike the ME countries of the Barcelona Process in the 1970s: there are working groups in the fields of industrial cooperation, energy and environment and decentralised cooperation involving universities, businesses and media4. Last, there are three countries that are not covered by either the MEDA or the GCC, which are Yemen, Iran and Iraq. On relations with Iran,
"The Commission contributes to the CFSP activities relating to Iran and coordinates new dialogue rounds on issues of EC competence like energy or trade and investment." (European Commission, 2002b)
where the negotiations are linked to political dialogue, 'counter-terrorism' and human rights (European Commission, 2003), considered very positive from an Iranian perspective (Hariri, 2003). Its information on Iraq is rather outdated (European Commission, 2002c) and cooperation with Yemen seems to be limited to an agricultural research project (European Commission, 2002d).

Aside from these long-term projects, the EU is involved in the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP), widely claimed as playing second fiddle to the US, but refuted by e.g. Ginsberg (2001). The EU themselves see their contribution as a "facilitator" and carrying out "CFSP joint actions such as monitoring of the Palestinian elections of early 1996 and training of Palestinian policemen" (DG External Relations, a), but most likely the largest contribution is that the
"Barcelona Process and the Peace Process are complementary. One of the successes of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is to have allowed, against a tense background, dialogue to be pursued between Mediterranean Partners involved in the MEPP in a context of regional meetings on all questions of common interest. The Partnership still remains the only multilateral forum outside the United Nations where all the conflict parties meet." (DG External Relations, a)
And it likes, and maybe even proud of, to mention in bold text that the EU is the "largest donor of non-military aid to the MEPP" (DG External Relations, a). In particular, the EU has provided immediate support to avert the collapse of the institutional structures within the Palestinian Territories, because
"It is the EU's view that a well-governed Palestinian State which follows democratic principles and operates in a predictable and transparent way on the basis of market economy rules is the best security guarantee for its neighbours, and in particular for Israel." (DG External Relations, 2002)
This must not be interpreted as a one-sided approach to the MEPP involved parties: the EU maintains their commitments of the Association Agreement and is "keeping the lines of communication open" with Israel (DG External Relations, 2002). I will return to this matter in chapter 4.

In a wider historical context, I find this positive attitude by the EU towards the ME and Arabs who are not anti-EU, or even in favour of closer cooperation, curious. Just over half a century ago 'larger Syria' was artificially split up into Syria and Lebanon, the French-backed Lebanese Maronites vicious during the civil war, not to mention British-mandate Palestine and resulting creation of the state Israel (the latter with major support form the USA) and the British colony covering the south-east of the Arab Peninsula. Yet closer cooperation between the EU and ME is taking place, not fast-paced - slowly but steadily. A reason for this put forward is, that despite internal differences between EU Member States and a history of violence, the countries have shown, and still show, a capability to work together themselves, which may be interpreted as an example (see e.g. Toulemon, 1998:129), a 'proof of good behaviour' and not only talk the talk of achieving peace and security but also walk the walk with the EU as its own lab rat.

Overall, the common foreign policies of the EU with the ME are of a long-term approach, with the aim to foster diplomatic dialogue, regional development, intercultural dialogue and coexistence in conflict areas - tied to human rights and democratic values - as the EU's 'self-styled method' for achieving lasting security and positive peace in the region. This however, does not necessarily mean that EU Member States are yet capable to achieve a common stance on ad hoc issues of the security part of the CFSP, the failure with respect to the ME clearly demonstrated during the crisis with and invasion of Iraq.

3. US relations towards the Middle East

US relations towards the ME are like a seesaw of approach and disengagement / condemnation. After Britain withdrew form the Gulf in 1971, leaving a power vacuum with the US did not step into, the US started military-oriented relations with Iran, but moved on to supporting Iraq after the Iranian Revolution instead. Its, probably well meant, involvement in Lebanon in 1983 was of short duration; the failure lives on today in their open adversity against Hizbollah. In general, before the 1980s, the ME was relatively low on the US foreign policy agenda, notwithstanding Jimmy Carter's Camp David efforts, but changed from the Reagan years onwards to a "wide variety of issues and countries, using all aspects of its political, economic, and military instruments" (Rubin, 2002), which is a bit of an euphemism of a policy to put in place US-friendly governments in several ME countries in order to secure 'friendly relations' with countries producing oil for the USA and a Cold war remnant to endeavour limiting Russian influence in the region. This, of course, changed with the end of the Cold War in the late 1990s, in that the "radical forces in the region…now became the principal U.S. enemy in their own right" (Rubin 2002).
An initial attempt by the US to negotiate with the PLO failed, because the Palestinians did not end their terrorist actions. However, the political arena changed with Bill Clinton in office, who put the MEPP firmly on the agenda, resulting in the, albeit fundamentally flawed, Oslo Accords, earning Yasser Arafat, Shimon Perez and Yitzak Rabin the shared Nobel Peace Prize5. The peace agreement was not implemented in full - as usual each blaming the other - and a follow up 'Camp David' in 2000 failed, leading to announcement of the intifada in September 2000. In hindsight and on the long-term, the MEPP can be interpreted as a failed US foreign policy.
Recent developments by the Bush Jr. Administration, in my opinion, do not have a promising outlook either: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld talking about "so-called" occupied territories, Bush Jr considering Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "a man of peace" and demands 'regime change' of the Palestinian Authority, "To be a credible and responsible partner, the new Palestinian Prime Minister must hold a position of real authority" (Bush, 2003), from which can be inferred that at the moment they are not credible, and "Immediately upon confirmation, the road map for peace will be given to the Palestinians and the Israelis." (Bush, 2003), which sets out a path for
"a Palestinian state, the end of Israeli occupation, the end of Israeli settlement activity, the return of revenues to the Palestinian leadership for the benefit of the Palestinian people, their money being returned." (Powell, 2002)
Until I read Silverman (2003), I was led to believe by the media the roadmap was a US effort, but it is apparently drawn up together with Russia, the EU and the United Nations (the other members of the "Quartet"). To date [April 2003], the roadmap has not been published.
Last, the Bush Administrations is even less than a neutral partner in the MEPP than the Clinton Administration; its bias in favour of Israel is certainly more overt. Together with failure of the MEPP - principally in letting the Palestinians down according to Arab perception - this fuels the mistrust of the Arab people towards the US (Ziad, 2003).

On the other aspects of 'high politics', there are two more subjects I'd like to bring under attention. First, terrorism and, secondly, other ME countries will be addressed; a third aspect, in some respects apparently independent of the high politics, is development aid, which will be addressed subsequently after the other two.
Although combating terrorism is certainly not a new US policy, it surely is at the forefront in their policies being communicated since 9/11, and surely different from the more elaborately formulated Weinberger Doctrine of the 1980s and Presidential Decision Directive 25 of the 1990s6, that have an air of being carefully thought through with the intention of being the more long-term focussed policies. On the present foreign policy target, Walker (2002) notes,
"We no longer have dual containment for Iran and Iraq - instead we have the evil axis. We no longer hold countries in the region to the litmus of their relations with Israel, instead we hold them to a standard on terrorism that is seen to be supporting Prime Minister Sharon's very broad definition of who is a terrorist and his aggressive policy of response."
Less blunt, but in the same line is Powell's (2002) statement on US-ME policies "…it must begin with the end of terrorism", Bloomfield's7 "So, the first job of the U.S. government is to make sure there is no more terrorism" and Southwick's explanation to veto resolutions criticizing Israel8. Here is not the time to go into detail on definitions of terrorism, its causes, non-causes, validity of information and (non-) relation to weapons of mass destruction; the end effect is, that the term 'terrorism' is used for political and military reasons, resulting in a US stance opposing the (now defunct) Iraqi regime, Syria, Lebanon and Iran9. Further, the recent Anglo-American invasion of Iraq is widely interpreted in the Arab world as "an extension of Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands" (Ziad, 2003) and in aid of US-Israeli interests. All this leaves a smell of a very one-sided approach towards the ME states, not with them, and primarily one of strategic military interest.

Though power, securing oil, arms trade and instigating an unjust war are of course not the only foreign policy relations of the USA towards the ME, but bear in mind these words form former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright:
"Let us be clear what we are talking about. Most of the funds we spend on international affairs cannot fairly be called foreign aid; they aid America." (2000:20)
Aside from the 'spoils of war' (Monaghan, 2003), US funds are channelled through USAID, who in turn sub-contracts other organisations and businesses, as well having offices in the ME themselves (USAID, a). Their 'presence countries' are Jordan, Lebanon, West Bank/Gaza and 'non-presence countries' Israel, Yemen and Oman (USAID, 2002), with two main programs: Demining (US DoS, 2002; USAID, b) and the Democracy Fund (USAID, c). The irony of the demining program for a country as Lebanon is that "well over half of these explosive remnants [290.000 landmines and unexploded ordnance] of war are in the former Israeli security zone" (US DoS, 2002). Other, smaller, projects involve the water treatment project in Jordan (USAID, d) and some educational support. The lion's share of the 'economic support funds' are loans, with at the top Israel receiving a $720,000,000 cash transfer
"used by Israel primarily for repayment of debt to the United States, including re-financed Foreign Military Sales debt, and purchases of goods and services from the United States." (USAID, e).

Summarizing, US foreign policy towards the ME is primarily at the higher political and military level and subject to change for specific bi-lateral relations, though consistently pro-Israel and 'anti-terrorism', with some disjoint development projects.

4. Who is leading whom?

There are three approaches to answering the question posed in the title of this chapter. One is to follow media and 'popular common sense', secondly, an answer may be inferred from previous two chapters and third, by starting to define what 'leading' means and when it occurs in the first place. I will start with the latter and leave the platitude that the EU is 'always following superpower USA' for what it is.
So, what does define leading, and following the leader? Leading means being at the forefront, but the idea of 'forefront' is multi-interpretable and what at one stage may be considered as being at the forefront may, in hindsight, be considered as outdated. For example differing perceptions of the Iraq invasion. The USA see it as a fast-track policy for future implementation of giving the Iraqis 'freedom and democracy' and EU (and UN) as a chat show with an outdated soft-policy approach that would suit 1960s and 1970s vagaries and popular ideologies of those times - blaming that the EU is free-riding on the power of the US, in not committing troops but subsequently enjoying the 'increased level of security when Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction are eliminated'. On the other hand, the prevailing perception in EU (well, at least its citizens) is that enforcing one's policies by military might is well past its sell-by date and diplomacy is the keyword, which may take longer but has an enduring effect on achieving security and positive peace in the ME region. Unless you make a value judgement, both the US and the EU may think they can claim they're leading the other. Once I've read the quote "violence is a tool of the incompetent", which is a bit harsh at first reading, but on second thought, what if the 'superpowers' had better communications skills, could the invasion have been avoided and Saddam be persuaded to cooperate by dialogue? (Which, by the way, he did to a large extend; although one can argue if he did so because of the threat of force or because of persuasion by dialogue.). After 19 March 2003 the latter is confined to the realms of academia. As Zedillo10 (2003) noted, "it remains to be seen what has failed, and who has failed whom". Or, in line with this essay: time will tell who is, or has been, leading whom in this occasion.
However, I have not yet stated my value judgement, which is needed for the next section when I will discuss other policy measures than the Iraqi crisis as well. Dialogue and diplomacy, cherishing cultural differences, bottom-op development etc., i.e. track two, four and five diplomacy, and to some extend track three (see Appendix A for more details) is the way forward in my opinion. One could argue that I'm 'diplomacy-biased' as I'm a EU citizen and indoctrinated alike Europeans consider 'ignorant Americans' indoctrinated by their media, but it's definitely not only me thinking in the direction of a diplomatic, multilateral approach, for example:
"In the 21st century mature civilizations should not clash, they should interact with and benefit from one another." (Zedillo, 2003)
With strengthening levels of globalisation, not only in economic sense but also in the wider context of increased levels of mobility and the exponentially expanding Internet, the world becomes psychologically a smaller place with stronger butterfly-effects; once distant countries in 'cuckoo land' are practically at your doorstep, hence enhancing the idea and sense that we all will have to, must, find a way to share the planet with one another. And sharing does not mean killing 'the other' when one pleases to do so regardless of existing international law.

Aside from current affairs and wobbles in effectiveness of diplomacy and multilateralism, there are, and have been, different approaches towards ME affairs by the EU and USA, most notably the MEPP. Literature of the 1990s points out the, arguable, weakness of the EU and the stronger commitment of the US in pursuing a peaceful settlement of the protracted Palestine-Israel conflict. But it has failed up to now, despite additional encouragement by the Nobel committee. Why would the EU even want to claim 'major involvement', i.e. in the interpretation of leading the US, in a failed process? The MEPP was, and still is, a top-down approach, whereas EU policies with the ME are based on Association Agreements, bottom-up development tied to institutional reform, instead. In this framework, is a top-down approach not outdated and constructive development, albeit in a slow pace, the new style? In other words, the EU leading the US, by not only recognizing and engaging both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel, but also providing a common ground for dialogue via the institutionalised Euromed and GCC meetings and providing development funds to the parties involved, which is in stark contrast with the US Administration who require 'regime change' of the PA as a precondition for publishing their road map and if/when publication occurs,
"we will expect and welcome contributions from Israel and the Palestinians to this document that will advance true peace." (Bush, 2003)
The 'road map' is about the Israelis and palestinians primarily, so they should have most influence in shaping it, not the Quartet, and should not be a lopsided influence by a strong Israel and weakened Palestinian refugees11. More criticism on the road map is voice by Arabs, like Abunimah (2003), on the vagueness of the road map as well as the dubious PA regime change from Arafat to US and UK-backed Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan, both with a shady past. Last, it has been mentioned that larger US influence was, at least initially, due to the fact that both parties agreed on US as an independent and neutral mediator, unlike the EU who was by the Israelis perceived as biased towards the PA. One thing can be accredited to the Bush Administration - they show the 'true face' of American foreign policy: favouring Israel to a great extend12.
Related to the MEPP, well, the EU does, is the Barcelona Process, which I referred to in between the lines when mentioning EU subsidies allocated to the PA as complementary to the MEPP, or, as Ginsberg (2001) claims, provided the necessary preconditions for a MEPP to start off in the first place (to ensure the PA to be a credible partner during the negotiations). In this respect, the EU policies as part and parcel of previous cooperation agreements, the more recent MEDA and GCC meetings et al, are syrupy, thought consistent, joint policies towards closer cooperation with the ME countries in a gradual increment of shared activities, which doesn't mean an equal balance between the partners, but nevertheless first steps in that direction. This, by the way, is different, at least on the surface at the time of writing, form policies like the Lomé agreements of dependent development of the ACP countries - focussed on economics - or the rapprochement with the EU Accession States in Eastern Europe - political system as primary subject. It's a bit of both economics and democratic values with transparent governance including human rights. This is in contrast with the US attitude, which is primarily bilateral if the country is of strategic importance at that date, which may, and does, change over time (e.g. Iran, Iraq) - hence unreliable from the point of view of an Arab state. Furthermore, though there are a few development projects, 'high level politics' talks are geared for military cooperation, as for example Assistant Secretary of State Bloomfield points out during a visit to Saudi-Arabia:
"I have a number of duties concerning the policy relating to security relations…makes decisions on arms transfers. We have responsibility for the licensing of commercial defense sales and trade. We have an important role in making recommendations for funding security assistance programs, and we also provide the diplomatic coordination for military movements," (Bloomfield, 2002)
The EU does not have any significant military power. In discussions on the CFSP this has been pointed out as a flaw, but likewise can be turned around into a strength of the EU: there is no sword of Damocles, in the form of threat of force, hanging above anybody's head when negotiating with the EU, which, ideally, may result in some constructive cooperation because all taking part want to do so and are more committed to a process than when forced. A commitment from all sides is less prone to inconsistent behaviour on the mid- to long term, in turn creating an atmosphere of allowing building mutual trust.

A last aspect that would be better served not to be touched upon because of the limited space available for this essay is the main US foreign policy of terrorism, in full swing during the 1980s under the Reagan Administration and, due to recent events in the 21st century, prominently on the US agenda again. Terrorism is a political label to be used whenever one pleases and fits his/her interests; there is no agreed definition, no prime cause, no 'proven path to solution' and it depends on the time frame within 'the age of terrorism' who fits the volatile description and subsequently being stigmatised as terrorist13. As with previous topics, the differences between the US and EU are multi-interpretable: the EU hitchhiking with the US policies on the 'war on terrorism' as a result of the soft-edged policies and sluggishness of the EU bureaucracy, thus the US leading the EU, or the US overreacting on impulse rather than nuanced analysis in a 'civilised' manner, thereby the EU leading (desiring to lead) the US. The EU is putting brakes on US unilateralism, even may be taking the lead eventually, but is not quite leading the US in the short term, at least not in public.

5. Conclusions

The English proverb "the blind leading the blind" has its Dutch equivalent in "the paralysed leading the blind"14, which seems an apt description of the EU respectively the US policies towards the Middle East, especially in the light of the recent Anglo-American invasion of Iraq: establishing EU policies with the Middle East is a slow process with small steps of progress towards aiding development of the ME region spread out over an indefinite time period (to some extend requiring closer internal cooperation within the EU as well), whereas US policies are inconsistent and with hardly any constructive long-term peacebuilding measures in sight. One cannot win the hearts and minds of Arabs, or anybody for that matter, through threats and the use of force.
The Western nations claim to be 'civilised', which means valuing diplomacy and development above military might (a.o.t.); in this respect, the EU has set its own constructive policies in this area and, on the long term, is leading the US in its foreign policy positions with the Middle East.



1. Also called MEDA, resulting form the 'Barcelona Declaration' (DG External Relations, 1995), on the increased (predominantly bilateral) cooperation between the EU and several ME countries.
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2. See e.g. 'Le Calendrier Euromed' (DG External Relations, 2003a).
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3. See e.g. Shahin and Shehadi (1997) for a comprehensive analysis.
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4. See European Commission (2002a) for more details.
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5. "By concluding the Oslo Accords, and subsequently following them up, Arafat, Peres and Rabin have made substantial contributions to a historic process through which peace and cooperation can replace war and hate." (Norwegian Nobel Committee, 1994)
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6. See e.g. W.J. Durch's UN peacekeeping, American politics and the uncivil wars of the 1990s.
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7. Lincoln Bloomfield is Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs.
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8. During the 59th session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva; Michael Southwick is the US Ambassador.
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9. See e.g. Rahimi (2002) and Kemp (2002).
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10. Former president of Mexico and present director of the Yale Center of the Study of Globalisation.
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11. At present, Israel is withholding tax refunds belonging to the Palestinians living in the occupied territories and denying these Palestinians work permits (DG External Relations, 2002).
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12. Refer to Michael Moore's Stupid white men for a, rather comical, account of what Democrats voted for but didn't highlight in their press conferences.
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13. See for a more nuanced and comprehensive discussion on terrorism the forthcoming dissertation of C. Maria Keet on Terrorism and Game Theory.
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14. In Dutch: "De lamme leidt de blinde"
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Appendix A

Multi-Track Diplomacy

McDonald (1991) identifies the following five types of diplomacy (quoted verbatim).
· Track One: Official government-to-government diplomatic interaction;
· Track Two: Unofficial, non-governmental, analytical, policy-oriented, problem-solving efforts by skilled, educated, experienced and informed private citizens interacting with other private citizens;
· Track Three: Businessman-to-businessman, private sector, free-enterprise, multinational corporation interactions;
· Track Four: Citizen-to-citizen exchange programs of all kinds, such as scientific, cultural, academic, educational, student, film, music, art, sports, and youth exchanges, to name a few;
· Track Five: Media-to-media based efforts designed to expose and educate large segments of the population in conflict to the philosophy, ideas, culture and needs of the other national, society, or ethnic group with whom they are in conflict.
Please refer to the reference website (Krueger, 1998) for some detail and brief outline of the four phases of implementation, or the book in which it is published:
McDonald, John W., (1991), 'Further Exploration of Track Two Diplomacy'. In: Timing the De-Escalation of International Conflicts. Kriesberg, Louis and Thorson, Stuart J. (eds.). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. pp. 201-220.

This is an essay written as part of the course PO5012 - External Relations of the EU, Department of Government & Society, University of Limerick, Ireland.