(Quiet) Mideast Diplomacy via UCSD

Buried in the gargantuan defense bill signed by President Obama is a $2.4 million earmark for something called the Middle East Regional Security Program at the University of California, San Diego.

Although Congress has been directing money to this program for years, there’s no reference to this program on the UCSD website. But the obscurity is probably deliberate.

The earmarked money goes to the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at UCSD, a 501 (c)(3) housed with the UCSD School of International Relations and Pacific Studies. (E-mails to a UCSD spokesman or the IGCC’s director, Susan Shirk, an expert on China, weren’t returned)

Rep. Howard Berman,  D-North Hollywood, who requested the funding, wrote in his earmark certification letter that the Middle East Regional Security Program facilitates “informal contacts among senior military and security officials and experts from the U.S., Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Arab states, and other countries in the region.”

This is what is known as Track II diplomacy, an informal back-channel dialogue between adversaries.

A 2007 RAND study (.pdf) on Track II diplomacy declares that the IGCC and another program run by UCLA’s Steven Spiegel  are “among the most prominent Track II processes in the Middle East.”

“These activities include a broad-based dialogue group currently meeting three times per year in Europe—involving up to 250 participants per meeting—as well as a smaller military-to-military dialogue meeting semi-annually, including, at times, in Middle East capitals when security and political considerations allow. The military dialogues include active-duty and retired generals from nearly every Arab country, Turkey, and Israel. (Iranian representatives participate in the broad-based meetings but not in the military dialogues.)…

The topics covered include military balances in the region, weapon effects, military doctrines, arms control, counter-proliferation measures, military ethics, and military education. Some meetings involve paper presentations, with participants sharing their country’s regional security perspectives and threat perceptions. Other meetings have focused on operational issues, such as a code of conduct for military behavior in the Middle East….

The first IGCC Track II workshop took place 10 days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The second occurred a week before the Arab-Israeli peace conference in Madrid the following years.

“Since many of the same regional elites left the IGCC conference to attend the formal Madrid talks, some considered the Track II conference a ‘trial run,'” RAND noted.

Wow. Sometimes, San Diego can surprise you.

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