Norman Cousins (24 Jun 1915 – 30 Nov 1990): A Pioneer of Track II Diplomacy

BIOGRAPHIES, 22 Jun 2020

René Wadlow – TRANSCEND Media Service

“A world that has become a single geographic unit is now groping its way, however slowly, toward global institutions as the only way of achieving common safety and common progress. A new world is waiting to be born.”
— Norman Cousins

World Citizen Norman Cousins was a pioneer of Track II diplomacy. Track I is official government to government diplomacy among instructed representative of the State.  Track II is a non-official effort, usually by a non-governmental organization (NGO) or an academic institution.  Track II talks are discussions held by non-officials of conflicting parties in an attempt to clarify outstanding disputes and to explore the options for resolving them in settings that are less public or less sensitive than those associated with official negotiations.

Norman Cousins

Track II talks can also be defined by what they are not: neither academic conferences nor secret diplomacy conducted by government representatives.  At a minimum, Track II talks are aimed at an exchange of views, perceptions and information between the parties to improve each side’s understanding of the other’s positions and policies. While Track II talks need not necessarily be linked to concurrent Track I negotiations, participants in Track II must have some relations with officials in their countries’ decision-making circles for such talks to be effective.

Track II is necessary as Track I diplomats are mandated to be concerned with “national interest” and are usually trained within such a framework. Yet as Norman Cousins wrote,

Our world is now an emergent system but that is not the way we perceive it.  We and particularly our leaders still see the world in older terms – as a collection of relatively independent and autonomous nation-states – a guiding social framework which has served humanity well for several hundred years.  That framework is neither immutable nor adequate. We already live in a community of states, bound through communications and economy to a common destiny.  Psychologically and attitudinally, however, we have not begun to come to terms with our new estate…The future is up to us, that we can change it and mould it ti suit the needs of all life on earth.  Implicit is the call to us each to recognize and to accept our responsibility and to exert ourselves fully in easing the transition to a humane world order.”

          By the mid-1950s, after the death of Stalin, there was a feeling among some in the USA and the USSR that informal talks and cultural exchanges might be possible and useful.  Norman Cousins as the editor of a leading literary and cultural weekly had a good overview of U.S. culture.  He also had international political interests and contacts in both the New York area and in Washington DC.  Thus he was asked to take on the task of organizing meetings among Soviet and U.S. intellectuals but also to keep the U.S. government informed of the thrust of the discussions. Thus, in 1960, the Dartmouth Conference, named after the US college where the first meeting was held, under the leadership of Norman Cousins, was born. (1)  As he later said,

“The purpose of the Dartmouth Conference was to identify areas of opportunities for both countries in reducing tensions.  The conferences made it possible for both governments to try out certain ideas without penalty.”

Cousins was born and grew up around New York City and was graduated from New York’s Columbia University.  After graduation, he became a writer for the New York Post, then a liberal newspaper.  In 1940 he joined the journal The Saturday Review of Literature which had its offices in the same building as The Post.

Cousins wrote a much quoted article “Modern Man is Obsolete” on 6 August 1945 as the US military dropped the A.- Bomb on Hiroshima.  It was published the next day and became a key text for the “One World or None” ideology which stressed that Atomic bombs had created a new situation which had to be met by a new world framework of a stronger United Nations and the growth of world citizenship. Cousins wrote

The new education must be less concerned with sophistication than with compassion.  It must recognize the hazards of tribalism. It must teach man the most difficult lesson of all – to look at someone anywhere in the world and be able to see the image of himself – an education for citizenship in the human community.”

In 1953 Cousins published Who Speaks for Man, the theme being that while a president speaks for the citizens of his country and a religious leader speaks for the members of his faith, there was no one who was recognized as speaking for humanity as a whole.  This task of “speaking for man” was the role that citizens of the world should carry out.

The early 1950s was a time when there was increasing public criticism of testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere because of the radioactive fallout which could endanger health.  This was my first political effort, and I met Norman Cousins at the time.  We always stayed in touch, and I welcomed his advice. Although Cousins was a good deal older than me and much better known, he always treated everyone with respect and was a willing listener to what others had to say.   He has always represented for me the spirit of world citizenship: rooted and learned in a particular culture and open to the world, its difficulties and its hopes.

NOTE:

1) For a history of the Dartmouth Conferences see James Voorhees, Dialogue Sustained: The Multilevel Peace Process and the Dartmouth Conferences (Washington DC: S Institute of Peace Press and the Charles Kettering Foundation, 2002)

See the interview of Norman Cousins in Maureen R. Berman and Joseph E. Johnson (Eds) Unofficial Diplomats (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977)

For other examples of Track II efforts see Oliver R. Richmond and Henry F. Carey. Subcontracting Peace: The Challenges of the NGO Peacebuilding (Aldershat UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2005)

Hussein Agha, Shai Feldman, Ahmad Khalidi, Zeev Schiff. Track II Diplomacy -Lessons from the Middle East (Cambridge MA: The MIT Press, 2003)

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René Wadlow is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation and problem-solving in economic and social issues, and editor of Transnational Perspectives.


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 22 Jun 2020.

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