The peacenik and the spook as the diplomatic avant-garde

Lior Lehrs*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In conflicts between a state and a non-state actor, such as a paramilitary or terrorist organization, when no official diplomatic relations and recognition exists, there is a need for actors who can serve as a “diplomatic avant-garde.” This article identifies a diplomatic pattern in which breakthroughs occur through cooperative work between two types of actors: unofficial citizen diplomats and key figures in intelligence bodies. Each actor brings specific resources: unofficial actors have contacts with the non-state actor, while intelligence officers can offer backing from within the official system of the state. The article analyzes the topic using three case studies: Brendan Duddy and the MI6 officer Michael Oatley (UK and the Provisional IRA, 1975–1993); Willie Esterhuyse and the head of the South African National Intelligence Service, Neil Barnard (South African government and the ANC, 1987– 1990); and Gershon Baskin and the Mossad official David Meidan (Israel and Hamas, 2011). This study examines the unique relations between these two types of actors and how their collaboration promoted negotiations with non-state armed actors. It analyzes three stages: establishment of contact between these actors, persuasion of the relevant parties, and the breakthrough moment when talks shifted to an official back channel.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)544-561
Number of pages18
JournalCooperation and Conflict
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


  • Conflicts with non-state actors
  • Israeli-Palestinian conflict
  • Northern Ireland conflict
  • South Africa
  • diplomacy
  • mediation


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