2+2 Dialogues: Do they work?

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Explaining the meaning, limitations and features of 2+2 dialogue between two nations.

Dialogue is a very important pillar of diplomacy. Nations need to find common grounds to collaborate on different issues. The balance is maintained by negotiations which only happen if nations have a continuous dialogue with each other. Embassies, Consulates and Offices of nations are tangible representation of diplomatic tools and so are different official state visits. India diplomatically has been very conservative with its approach towards dialogues, both bilaterally and multilaterally.

Image Courtesy: The Indian Express

India has very recently adopted the method of 2+2 dialogues with its important allies. 2+2 form of dialogues are a collaborative methods of diplomacy where presence of head of the state is not necessarily required. 2 Ministers from respective nations meet to talk on issues that are crucial. Till now we have seen combination of ministers of Defence-External Affairs, Defence-Finance, Finance-Commerce etc.

Japan is said to be the originator of this method of dialogue in the international sphere and it has worked charm for the island nation. India started this nature of dialogue only in 2018 when US delegation came to India for the meet. After that, India has held similar dialogues with Australia and Japan too. It has helped to increase the speed of decisions to be taken. However, its effectiveness is heavily debated around certain points in diplomatic circles. The points are:

A. Absence of Head of the State:

The major debate revolves around this point. Should the ministers have a final say in important decisions when mandate directs it towards person holding the top office? The answer is in the concept of delegation of duty and limited diplomacy.

  1. Concept of delegation of duty also means delegation of powers to do the duty. When the Prime Minister allots a ministry to a certain person, then the minister gets certain powers to discharge his/her duties. Thus, in these dialogues, the minister will have and should have a certain amount of power to make decisions. The scale of decisions to be taken is always pre-determined with the Prime Minister in the briefings before the dialogue. This dialogue is no different than a single minister on an official state visit. The difference is in collaborative diplomacy where two ministers who compliment each other’s portfolio are on respective sides of the dais.
  2. Limited Diplomacy means what can be committed and what cannot be committed to the counterpart. This is always determined beforehand. The finer details and conflict points are the ones which need deliberation. Even in the presence of the head of the state, no minister or even the prime minister himself/herself posses the power to commit anything to its counter-part. Thus, the issues of presence of the head of the state is negated.

 B. Incompleteness of discussion in either of departments:

A single agenda dialogue has one main goal in one sphere of diplomacy. For example: Defence deals are always one-point dialogues. Presence of another department or joint agenda risks the achievement of either goal. This risk arises due to limitations and reservations of not 2 but 4 people. In single ministerial discussions reservations and limitations of only 2 people could disrupt the meet. Now its 4 people who bring with them their reservations about certain decisions.

  1. The bright side: In diplomacy decisions are pan-ministerial. Defence deals cannot happen without financial backing. Thus if the Defence minister signs the deal in Washington but the finance minister in New Delhi disagrees to the deal then the Defence minister’s efforts are going to fail anyway. Presence of related ministries fasten the pace of decision making as any reservations or limitations can be solved or tried to be solved on the spot. It saves precious time and diplomatic effort on all levels.


Visits of Head of governments are like the Actors on stage. There is a lot of dialogue which happens on lower levels and in the backstage, which enables these actors to eventually perform. Such is the nature of departmental and ministerial dialogues which in turn help the important points which are discussed by head of states. India should explore this medium further to not only initiate different programmes but also mitigate certain conflicts which doesn’t require the head of the state to be present. Indian diplomacy has changed its nature in past 6 years from a deliberative to a dynamic one. This method of dialogue will only ensure that our diplomatic efforts yield faster and better results.

– Aditya Lele,
Editor, Bharat Bhagya Vidhata Blog

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