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Archive for December 2010

Science Diplomacy: How Can We Make It Work?

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By K. Shmueli

 Despite some of the scientists I know behaving far from diplomatically, science diplomacy is an increasingly important endeavor which aims to improve international relations and solve pressing global problems encompassing health, security and the environment. A recent meeting exploring New Frontiers in Science Diplomacy introduced a useful conceptual framework highlighting the multiple dimensions of science diplomacy: Science in diplomacyinvolves informing foreign policy objectives with scientific advice. Diplomacy for science is the facilitation of international science, engineering and technology cooperation. Science fordiplomacy is the utilization of science collaboration to improve relations between countries.

A classic example of science for diplomacy is the maintentance of ties between US and Soviet scientists throughout the cold war, both through the Pugwash movement and, more spectacularly, through the Apollo-Soyuz test project culminating in a joint space flight in 1975. More recently, the potentially life-saving power of science diplomacy has been demonstrated by at least seven cease-fires during civil conflicts since 1994 negotiated by UNICEF and other non-governmental organizations through vaccination campaigns.

Looking forward, science diplomacy may be most needed to tackle the challenges of global sustainability. Mechanisms such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change can help to inform global policymaking with scientific advice. It is not straightforward to measure the impact of such efforts in science diplomacy. One measure of success is the continuation of scientific relationships beyond the life of grant funding. Results in science and science diplomacy often take years to appear thus science and technology have become pillars of long-term strategic planning in the foreign policy arena.

Why is science diplomacy effective? Because scientists share a common language and values such as rationality and transparency, science can provide a non-ideological environment that helps to engage people across different cultures and build trust between nations even amidst political tensions. Using science and technology to address shared challenges can lead to mutual benefits. Scientific collaboration may also give access to influential and politically connected people in contexts where few channels for dialogue exist.

When does science diplomacy fail? Technology and knowledge transfer can be difficult between competitors, particularly where there are security concerns or with dual-use technologies. Asymmetries in scientific capabilities (e.g., between the USA and African nations) and lack of funding for international collaborative activities can also hinder diplomatically productive scientific partnerships.

For science diplomacy to work, scientific goals must be at the forefront and diplomatic goals should be clearly defined to avoid science being used for purely political ends. Some argue that, ironically, science diplomacy works best on an individual level when scientists focus on doing good science without an overt science diplomacy agenda.

Written by sciencepolicyforall

December 29, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Essays

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