By Rev. Bud Heckman
As much as you may like (or not like) Dennis Rodman, it’s tough to think of leaving our entire game plan for U.S. progress on the Korean security situation up to his organic do-it-yourself diplomacy. Friendly exhibition games of retired NBA basketball players may open some eyes and hearts, but are only one tactic. And we are talking about a situation in which there are serious human rights violations, missile buildups, and nuclear weapon proliferation concerns that threaten global peace. Everybody has to do his or her part, including people of faith and their religious communities. The proposed talks on September 18 in China to informally advance talks by governments are only part of the equation.
Religious leaders can often make a difference when political and diplomatic processes reach an impasse. Going back to the 1960s, Religions for Peace, for example, has made a hallmark of such second-order diplomacy and dialogue in places like Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Bosnia, Iraq, Kosovo, and now Syria. Religious leaders can continue in conversation when political leaders feel they can not, creating informal ways of opening avenues and understanding. Religious communities stay the long test of time, while governments may come and go. Translated, this means that religions can offer stability and social cohesion, as well as moral agency and urgency.
Where it involves a second order of diplomacy, largely apart from governments, advancement of dialogue and cooperation is called Track II diplomacy. Where it involves some interaction (or even cooperation) with the political order – that is, when it is a hybrid – it can become what is now coined Track 1.5 diplomacy.
Religions for Peace conducts both Track II and Track 1.5 diplomacy and has formal and informal cooperative engagements with dozens of governments. Moreover, it has been regularly convening closed door dialogues of religious leaders from the Six-Party countries in the Korean security situation – Russia, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the United States. With careful leadership and facilitation from Ven. Dr. Chung Ohun Lee of Won Buddhists International, representatives from each country met in June in remote Indonesia in preparation for a longer and more structured dialogue at the IXth World Assembly of Religions for Peace in Vienna in November. Citizen diplomacy gets to the hearts and minds of the people, to their religious sensibilities above and beyond political, diplomatic, and military conditions.