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Track II Diplomacy and Election Observers: OSCE

A voter casts his vote at a polling station in the city of Travnik during general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 3 October 2010. (OSCE/Jens Eschenbaecher)

A voter casts his vote at a polling station in the city of Travnik during general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 3 October 2010. (OSCE/Jens Eschenbaecher)

Earlier this month I served as a member of the US delegation to the election observation mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (overseeing presidential, parliamentary and cantonal elections held on October 3).  The observation was implemented by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the official press release from the OSCE on the elections can be found here.

As I served on the observation team for the OSCE it is not appropriate for me to offer my personal views on the processes or politics of the elections.  However, I think it is worth noting the ancillary benefits of having a observation team made up of many (if not all) of the OSCE member states.  Over 200 people came to Bosnia and Herzegovina from across the OSCE states (as the OSCE says of itself, “[t]he OSCE is the world’s largest regional security organization whose 56 participating States span the geographical area from Vancouver to Vladivostok).  The US delegation included employees of the State Department and many from outside government.  Observers from other member states were employees of their respective ministries of foreign affairs and other government agencies (my team member, for example, was from the Spanish Ministry of Defense) but others came from non-governmental walks of life: journalists, researchers, writers, aid workers, and university types likes me.   This diverse gathering of so many engaged and committed people offered the opportunity for them to act as citizen diplomats as they fanned out across the country. For many people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the closest they will come to meeting an international representative is when an OSCE observer team visits their polling station on election day (this is true in any country).  Accordingly, the mere presence of the observers is nearly as important as the information they collect.  It also means that the observers must comport themselves in a professional and respectful manner – they must be selected, trained and briefed to that end.  I am pleased to report that was certainly the case with my fellow observers and that the OSCE team in Sarajevo did an excellent job in emphasizing this in the briefings to the observers before election day.

The gathering of the entire group of observers in Sarajevo for briefings before the elections and a debriefing afterward also allowed for multilateral citizen diplomacy.  Many observers know each other from previous missions and over time a community of interested and engaged observers has remained in touch and continue to share information and experiences, further enhancing their own skills as observers, their overall knowledge about complex elections and their ability to serve in this citizen diplomacy role (for those observers who aren’t professional diplomats).   I also imagine that many of the observers have returned to their home countries with an understanding of Bosnia and Herzegovina they would not otherwise have – and they can share those experiences with their fellow citizens.

This version of track II diplomacy may not be the intended result of ODHIR’s election observations but it is certainly a positive outcome and supports  broader goals of citizen engagement on many levels.



James Ketterer

James Ketterer is Dean of International Studies at Bard College and Director of the Bard Globalization and International Affairs program. He previously served as Egypt Country Director for AMIDEAST, based in Cairo and before that as Vice Chancellor for Policy & Planning and Deputy Provost at the State University of New York (SUNY). In 2007-2008 he served on the staff of the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education. He previously served as Director of the SUNY Center for International Development.

Ketterer has extensive experience in technical assistance for democratization projects, international education, legislative development, elections, and policy analysis – with a focus on Africa and the Middle East. He has won and overseen projects funded by USAID, the Department for International Development (UK), the World Bank and the US State Department. He served on the National Security Council staff at the White House, as a policy analyst at the New York State Senate, a project officer with the Center for Legislative Development at the University at Albany, and as an international election specialist for the United Nations, the African-American Institute, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He is currently a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Association and has also held teaching positions in international politics at the New School for Social Research, Bard College, State University of New York at New Paltz, the University at Albany, Russell Sage College, and the College of Saint Rose.

Ketterer has lectured and written extensively on various issues for publications including the Washington Post, Middle East Report, the Washington Times, the Albany Times Union, and the Journal of Legislative Studies. He was a Boren National Security Educational Program Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and in Morocco, an International Graduate Rotary Scholar at the Bourguiba School of Languages in Tunisia, and studied Arabic at the King Fahd Advanced School of Translation in Morocco. He received his education at Johns Hopkins University, New York University and Fordham University.

Areas of focus: Public Diplomacy; Middle East; Africa; US Foreign Policy

Contributor to: Global Engagement