When in 1954, governments that nine years earlier were at war with each other established the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the initiative received praise from various parts of the world as a sign of hope. Its aim was to foster trust, international cooperation, and open up space for building mutual understanding across the borders of (formerly) conflicted parties on the common ground of scientific interest and research. Today, the Middle East as a current conflict-prone region has its own scientific cooperation project across countries, in the form of a Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications, entitled SESAME.
On 3 November 2008 the SESAME building was inaugurated in the presence of UNESCO Director-General Matsuura and H.M. King Abdullah II (Shopper, 2017). The inauguration in November 2008 was preceded by decades of negotiations among scientists and politicians. Getting the current member states of Jordan, Turkey, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Pakistan, Iran, Cyprus and Egypt together to agree on a joint facility required pressure from dedicated scientists and diplomatic sensitivity, with first negotiations starting as early as the 1980s. The political negotiations that underpin the international scientific cooperation of SESAME can be regarded as a classic example of “diplomacy for science”. In turn, making use of research infrastructures for the benefit of international relations, intercultural understanding and economic and technological development for the region can be classified as “science for diplomacy”.
Within the terminology of S4D4C, SESAME is considered primarily an instrument driven science diplomacy case, as opposed to science driven or foreign policy driven cases. Instrument driven cases refer to science diplomacy configurations that originate in funding mechanisms, science collaborations, or infrastructures. As reiterated by the author, SESAME’s primary goal remains to serve the scientific community, rather than serve as a politicised instrument for foreign affairs. The case states: “if SESAME does not prove that it is able to produce competitive scientific results, it will also not be able to serve in diplomatic terms. SESAME will not be a credible science diplomacy case, if the scientific ambition is not considered paramount.”
Learn from two experts about the SESAME case study.
Research Associate, the German Centre for Higher Education and Science Research (DZHW)
Why do you think SESAME could be a good example of science diplomacy in action?
Former Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the International Synchrotron Radiation Facility Project SESAME
What is SESAME and how does it relate to science diplomacy?
You may get all the information about this S4D4C case study in the following references:
– Rungius C. (2020): SESAME -a synchrotron light source in the Middle East: an international research infrastructure in the making. In: Young, M., T. Flink, E.Dall (eds.) (2020): Science Diplomacy in the Making: Case-based insights from the S4D4C project (Link)
– Poster Report “SESAME – An international research infrastructure in the Middle East” (Link)
– Schopper, H. (2017): The light of SESAME: A dream becomes reality, DOI 10.1393/ncr/i2017-10134-8 (Link)
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