There is common agreement that the conference celebrated in June 2009 in London and jointly organised by the Royal Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) represented a significant milestone in the story of “science diplomacy”. This is because the concept of science diplomacy was given contemporary emphasis and currency, resulting in a turning point from which developed a global science diplomacy community and common understanding.
The overall discussion and conclusions were summed up in a policy report entitled “New frontiers in science diplomacy” (Royal Society 2010). The report first provides a rough overview of the history and evolution of the role of science in foreign policy, including the recent and renewed interest in the concept of science diplomacy.
The report explores the universal values of science, namely rationality, transparency and universality, which can all help underpin good governance and build trust between nations. It also covers the changing dynamics of the power balance in the international landscape focusing on the role of science as a soft-power tool that can help in building influence and partnerships worldwide.
Having said this, the most influential outcome of the meeting, which is extensively covered in the report, is the establishment of the first taxonomy for science diplomacy that has become widely used ever since:
At present, this taxonomy tends to be the starting point for most practical conceptualisations of science diplomacy. It represents a landmark contribution that should be known to every science diplomat, and provides a valuable framework for science diplomacy activities.
Feel free to browse in the tabs below for more information about this taxonomy.
Science will be critical to addressing global challenges, and the priority of science in diplomacy should be to ensure the effective uptake of high-quality scientific advice by policy-makers, global leaders and diplomats.
This is why the scientific community must inform policy makers with up-to-date information on the dynamics of the Earth’s natural and socio-economic systems, identifying scientific consensus as well as uncertainties or an inadequate evidence base.
Scientists are prompted towards supporting foreign policy, but it has a double-edged perspective depending on the times when this support is requested. In times of war, this has resulted in mobilising national scientific and technological resources for the development of weapons. In times of peace, this is about using scientific knowledge in foreign policy decisions. The overall goal of such activities is to improve Foreign Policy actions through the use of scientific knowledge.
Some examples of this approach are shown below:
The report stresses the importance of building up capacity to give and receive scientific advice, providing as an example the AAAS Policy Fellowship Schemes, and other programmes to engage science with public policies around the world.
This approach focuses mainly on the facilitation of international scientific and engineering collaborations. This can be pursued with top-down strategic priorities for research or bottom-up collaboration between individual scientists and researchers.
Classical tools of diplomacy are put to use to support the scientific and technological community in building up together joint research programmes, flagship international projects (such as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, ITER), large research infrastructures (such as the Large Hadron Collider, LHC). Some of these projects require vast amount of resources and funds, which one country cannot withstand alone, thus international collaboration is key to build scientific projects in partnership.
The usual collaboration between individual scientists, researchers and institutions worldwide fits within this category too. The scientific endeavour is now more global than ever and scientific publications based on international collaborations are growing every day. Sometimes creating scientific collaborations in specific regions or with specific partners will require diplomatic assistance (contract negotiations, intellectual property, visa regulations, etc.) to build up research partnerships between either both governments and other institutions. Thus, any bi- or multilateral research funding requires explicit diplomatic interactions or actions that can be said to contain “Diplomacy for Science” elements of standardizing, safeguarding and mediating (the role of “science diplomats” to staff of research ministries, project funding agencies, peer reviewers, funded institutions is certainly key).
The overall goal of actions under the “Diplomacy for Science” category is to benefit from international science and technology resources in order to improve the national capacity, as well as to build up joint partnership projects that one country alone could not undertake.
This approach goes one step further. Science and technology cooperation can be used as a tool to build and improve relations between nation states. Traditionally science has played a role in the development of hard power capabilities, such as military technologies and economic coercion, but “Science for Diplomacy” primarily draws on the “soft-power” of science to attract, persuade and influence both as a national asset, and as a universal activity that transcends national interests.
These activities can be done when there are difficult relations between certain states when states are faced with common problems that they cannot solve on their own, or when new relations are to be initiated. Some exemplary actions are science cooperation agreements, the establishment of new institutions to foster collaboration or rebuild relationships among nations (as for instance CERN or SESAME), educational scholarships, negotiation or mediation processes, science festivals and exhibitions, etc.
Lastly, it may have had effects on the negotiations for international security and cooperation to monitor nuclear arm control agreements and disarmament, and to actively prevent environmental threats.
In general, scientific collaboration is used here to provide collaborative relationships that are based upon a non-ideological basis. The goal is thus to support Foreign Policy actions by mobilising scientific networks.
However, it is necessary to be aware of the potential risks and pitfalls that such use of science for external relations may have. A careful reflection of using the various science diplomacy tools is required and should be backed by a strong scientific basis and trusted networks of experts in order to foster a mindful implementation of activities that offer added value for all partners.
|Read more about this report in the reference below:|
- Royal Society, The (2010): New frontiers in science diplomacy. RS Policy document 01/10. January 2010 - RS1619. London: The Royal Society. (Link).
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