MOSCOW. OCTOBER 5, 2023. PIR PRESS. “U.S.-Russian relations have caused a lot of ink to flow and will likely continue to do so in the nonproliferation and disarmament. This Midweek Brainstorming Session of PIR Center is no exception as we dived into what most know as the Esalen hot-tub or Track 1.5 Diplomacy. The historical and practical lessons from this case study give hope and an understanding of the challenges to pave the way to official discussions — whether we consider them positive or not. The comments and questions allowed me, as a presenter, to challenge or attempt to complete my conclusions. Despite the existing lack of enthusiasm in engaging into Track 1.5 Diplomacy in the current environment, parties should consider this initiative as a window of opportunity that as it opens can easily close”, — Ms. Océane Van Geluwe, PIR Center Consultant, graduate of the International Dual Degree M.A. Program Global Security, Nuclear Policy, and WMD Nonproliferation (developed by MGIMO University, PIR Center and Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, USA).
On September 27, 2023, PIR Center conducted an expert seminar in English on the “US-Soviet/Russian Relations in the Times of Crises: Lessons Learned from the Esalen Track 1.5 Diplomacy”. The event occurred in frames of the PIR Center Midweek Brainstorming Sessions educational project.
The seminar took place based on the eponymous analytical report that Ms. Océane Van Geluwe prepared on the Esalen Institute’s work to maintain relations between the Soviet Union (later the Russian Federation) and the United States through bilateral negotiations via Track 2 and Track 1.5 Diplomacy. In frames of the seminar, Ms. Océane Van Geluwe presented the main conclusions on the work of the Esalen Institute and shared her understanding of the lessons learned from the history of the Institute’s contribution to maintaining the relations between Russia and the US.
While opening the event, Dr. Vladimir Orlov, Founding Director of PIR Center, MGIMO University Professor, Academic Advisor of the International Dual Degree M.A. Program Global Security, Nuclear Policy and WMD Nonproliferation (MGIMO-MIIS-PIR Center), delivered a welcoming speech. He pointed out that the Esalen Institute has historically provided a platform for bilateral informal negotiations, even at the most intense and pressing times within Soviet-US relations. Dr. Vladimir Orlov recalled the indispensability of looking back at history to extract the lessons that might be applicable today. He also called on the seminar participants to think about the concept and definition of Track 1.5 Diplomacy, emphasizing that this phenomenon and its possibly artificial nature are sometimes disputed within the expert community.
As a special event guest, Dr. Andrey Kortunov, Academic Director of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), member of PIR Center Advisory Board, gave an expert comment on the agenda. He shared his memories of cooperation with the Esalen Institute, noting the Institute’s contribution to maintaining international peace and security. Dr. Andrey Kortunov pointed out that Track 1.5 Diplomacy is one of the most challenging formats to implement and, similarly, one of the most effective in achieving the desired outcomes. He also stressed the advantages of Track 1.5 Diplomacy, such as the visibility of the interest from state-ruled institutions in what is happening at the level of interaction between NGOs, the pragmatism that state officials bring to the table during their participation, as well as the opportunity for experts and NGOs to convey the results of their work directly to the government. Speaking about a wide range of formats of interstate interaction, Dr. Andrey Kortunov recalled a fine line in the definition of Track 1.5 Diplomacy, which depends on the degree of involvement and participation of state officials.
While presenting the report, Ms. Oceana Van Geluwe spoke about the work of the Esalen Institute, the formation of Track 2 and Track 1.5 Diplomacy, and the principles and mechanisms of interaction within the relevant tracks. She also shared the lessons that can and should be learned from history and assessed their applicability in Russia-US relations nowadays. To prepare the report, exclusive interviews were held with Dr. Andrey Kortunov, Academic Director of the Russian International Affairs Council, and Ms. Elena Sokova, Executive Director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP).
At the end of the seminar, an intense discussion took place. In particular, the comments and questions were addressed by Ms. Cynthia Lazaroff, Founder of Women Transforming Our Nuclear Legacy; Mr. Alexander Chekov, Research Fellow at MGIMO University; Dr. Oleg Krivolapov, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for US and Canadian Studies, RAS; Ms. Anastasia Kulikova, Student at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and graduate of the PIR Center Internship Program; Ms. Alexandra Zubenko, student of the 7th cohort of the Dual Degree M.A. Program Global Security, Nuclear Policy and WMD Nonproliferation (MGIMO-MIIS-PIR Center); and Mr. Roman Kalinin, Ms. Ekaterina Strakhova, Mr. Maksim Sorokin, PIR Center interns.
During the discussion, the participants and guests of the seminar reflected on the history of the Track 1.5 Diplomacy-fueled Soviet-American cooperation during the Cold War. Thus, Ms. Cynthia Lazaroff shared her memories based on the experience of working with the Esalen Institute and the history of the formation of Track 1.5 Diplomacy, noting that at that time, the fear of a nuclear war was a catalyst for the dialogue. The seminar participants also speculated about the prospects for resuming a full-fledged dialogue between the US and Russia in light of the generational change. Moreover, an active discussion held on the relevance of Track 1.5 Diplomacy in the information age and the consequent censorship, which is an obstacle for the expert community and NGOs in communicating their views and opinions on particular issues. The seminar participants concluded that such an interaction format is still fundamental despite many obstacles. At the end of the event, they also raised the issue of the feasibility of the Esalen Institute’s dialogue format for more than two countries in the context of China’s military development.
The event also commemorated Ambassador Roland Timerbaev, who would have turned 96 years old on September 27, 2023. As mentioned by the moderator of the seminar, Ms. Elena Karnaukhova, PIR Center Deputy Director-Education & Training Program Director, Ambassador Timerbaev contributed significantly to the formation and development of the agendas of nuclear nonproliferation and arms control not only in frames of the official diplomatic contacts but also as part of the experts and NGOs-led public diplomacy. From 1994 to 1998, Roland Timerbaev performed the duties of PIR Center President. From 1999 to 2010, he was a member of PIR Center Executive Board, and later, till the end of his days, Ambassador Timerbaev was a member of PIR Center Advisory Board. Many of the talks conducted by PIR Center regarding Track 1.5 and Track 2 Diplomacy were inspired either by Ambassador Timerbaev or his rich experience and knowledge that he shared with the younger generation of specialists in nonproliferation. To commemorate Roland Timerbaev, PIR Center has launched several initiatives you can get acquainted with here.
The participants of the seminar shared their impressions of the event with PIR Center:
“The PIR Center seminar raised a significant issue, precisely the fate of Track 1.5 Diplomacy in contemporary acute crises and overall international instability. The Esalen Institute symbolizes the possibility of such a dialogue, and, as such, it is remarkable that this case study has been published”, — Ms. Alexandra Zubenko, student of the 7th cohort of the Dual Degree M.A. Program Global Security, Nuclear Policy and WMD Nonproliferation (MGIMO-MIIS-PIR Center).
“In the ongoing crisis in relations between Russia and Western countries, the issue of conducting bilateral negotiations based on Track 1.5 Diplomacy is relevant. Understanding the experience of the Cold War and, in particular, the Esalen Institute as one of the organizers of such contacts could help us today in developing some kind of format for negotiations between the confronting parties”, — Dr. Oleg Krivolapov, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for US and Canadian Studies, RAS.
The video recording of the expert seminar is now available on the PIR Center educational platform NONPROLIFERATION.WORLD.
If you have any questions about PIR Center Midweek Brainstorming Sessions, please contact Ms. Elena Karnaukhova, PIR Center Deputy Director-Education & Training Program Director, via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Key words: Russia-USA