Part I – The internationalization of Canadian science: Getting back in the game?

Blogger’s note. My apologies, again, to regular followers of this series. This fall I have been preoccupied with a combination of conferences, travel and other writing projects. As a result, I have fallen behind with my postings. I will do my best to remedy that situation, starting with this entry.   

 

Paul Heinbecker’s compelling 2010 book, from which I have borrowed the second part of my title, offers many useful insights into how Canada’s once storied place in the world might most expeditiously be restored. It does not, however, dwell upon the role of science in diplomatic practice or as a constituent element of foreign policy kit. This is not surprising. Those issues have never registered appreciably on the domestic public or political radar screen. That said, the need for, and potential associated with combining science and diplomacy carries critical implications for security, prosperity and development. Indeed, this connection has never been more timely or relevant.

Why?

Because at this crucial juncture, were the earth to be equipped with a collision warning system, the alarm would almost certainly be clanging incessantly.

A plurality of expert opinion is now convinced that the health of the planet is deteriorating and that, as a direct result, humanity’s long-term survival is in jeopardy. Although some aspects of that argument have been contested, it seems to me clear that we are collectively hurtling towards some indefinable, but nonetheless not too distant tipping point beyond which remediation and recovery will be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

If we are to avert that disastrous outcome, it will be science that provides the requisite knowledge, and technology the necessary tools. By better combining the objective, evidence-based, problem-solving methodology of science with the political agency and extensive networks of diplomacy, it just may be possible to avoid reaping the whirlwind associated with our rapacious approach to global stewardship.

But there is much to be done, and the clock is ticking…

Understanding the challenge

In a post-truth age of “alternative facts” and “fake news”, emotion, conviction and ideology have in large part triumphed over reason, empirical proof and pragmatism. Against this backdrop of uncertainty and rising populist and nationalist sentiments, science shines brightly as a beacon, a positive and powerful driver of progress in addressing a daunting range of complex, cross-cutting challenges. Unlike terrorism, political extremism or political extremism, however – and this is germane – the new threat set  already afflict us all.

For these reasons and more, and notwithstanding unfortunate developments such as Brexit and the Trump ascendency, many countries have put into place international science policies and programs which respond to the transformed landscape. Those sorts of initiatives include, but extend well beyond more conventional S&T-based international pursuits related to arms control/disarmament and environmental protection.

Canadian performance has lately been mixed, and over the past decade considerable capacity has been lost. Between 2006-2015, budgets and programs were cut severely, thousands of federal scientists (and those working elsewhere who depended upon government funding) lost their jobs, scientists were muzzled and support for basic science took a huge hit. Rebuilding is today a precondition if new opportunities are to be seized and Canada’s place secured in the widening world of international scientific cooperation.

In the face of continuing globalization (the defining historical process of our times) and the emergence of heteropolarity (the nascent world order model) Canada has many comparative advantages, and retains substantial potential. This reserve resides mainly in various levels of government, the private sector, academia, research institutes, and specialized NGOs. Key players could, and indeed should be doing more to expand their engagement in collaborative efforts to address the vexing range of “wicked“, S&T-driven issues, ranging from climate change and pandemic disease to food and water insecurity, migration, urbanization and declining biodiversity. Special opportunities exist for Canada to demonstrate leadership the emerging field of science diplomacy, but re-investment and new partnerships will be essential. Even as seemingly natural a proposition as taking the lead on the negotiation of an international convention on the conservation and management of freshwater resources would be difficult in the present circumstances.

 

Canadian foreign policy at mid-term: Reset, or recycled?

Two months ago, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered a parliamentary address  which set out her thinking on Canada’s place in the world.

Her remarks, while unanticipated, were generally well-received, and the Minister has enjoyed something of a cake-walk through the doldrums of summer in the aftermath.

On deeper reflection, however, there are compelling reasons to conclude that the Freeland got off too lightly. Not unlike the popular perception of Canada’s recovering, if not exactly resurgent global position, her declaration deserves rather more critical scrutiny than it has been accorded to date.

The nature and provenance of the statement  raise important questions related to both administrative process and governance. For starters, what, exactly, is the relationship between this very short take  and a more long-term and comprehensive Foreign Policy Review which might mirror in substantive detail and scope the defence and development reports released just prior to the Minister’s speech?

If there is a longer document upon which the summary was predicated, it has yet to surface. I expect that if such a paper exists – at best an open question – it will have been prepared internally, perhaps solely within the confines of her office,  and likely without the benefit of outside consultations.

What can be said of the Freeland address’ content?

Read more…

Globalization, Enterprise and Governance: Twentieth Anniversary Re-release – Part V

Blogger’s Note. Reflecting upon the a recent “long read” published in the Guardian – an absorbing piece by Nikil Saval entitled “Globalisation: the rise and fall of an idea that swept the world” – I was rather jarringly reminded of something I wrote back in the nineties.  What strikes me about this vintage analysis, published in the International Journal (53:1, Winter 1997, pp 17-37), is just how little the debate has advanced over the intervening two decades. It seems that virtually nothing has been learned, and even less done in response to this longstanding critique. Why?  As a contribution to everyone’s summertime reading, I have decided to re-release the original, complete and unabridged, in five easy pieces. With apologies for the curious formatting and the length of this concluding section , I would very much welcome reader commentary.

 

Civil society at risk

 

How, then, has globalization forced authoritarian governments – in Latin America, Southeast
Asia, Taiwan, South Korea – to become more democratic? Again, we are left peeling back the
layers. Gwynne Dyer, Francis Fukuyama, and others are convinced that the triumph of
democracy over dictatorship looms as one of the major historical themes of the late 20th century.
A more searching assessment might conclude that globalization has narrowed political options in
countries with long-standing democratic traditions and complicated the transition to democracy
most everywhere else.

 
Indeed, the greatest impact of globalization may be the extent to which it has engendered a
palpable dissonance within and between existing forms of economic and political organization.
On the one hand, multinationals have leap-frogged ahead of any countervailing form of authority
and are accountable only to their shareholders, many of whom are other firms or large investment
funds with little or no interest in corporate responsibility. National leaders, on the other hand,
remain accountable to electorates, but their ability to control or even to shape outcomes is
diminishing rapidly. When power without accountability meets accountability without power it
seems a safe bet that the sharp distinction between commercial and political choice will translate
into volatility.

 
The industrial revolution provided the tools and resources to transform countries into nationstates
and then welfare states. To a greater or lesser extent, these modern political constructs
permitted the accommodation of heterogeneity by imparting a sense of common civic culture
based on shared values and interests rather than ethnic, linguistic, or religious particularity. In
developed countries, the historic compromise between capital and labour, expressed as social
democracy and seen by some as one of the greatest achievements of this century, is unravelling
under the pressure of global competition and shifting factors of production which favour
employers, investors, and others who control capital. This winnowing of the middle ground is
especially profound in the United States and Britain but is increasingly seen in Canada, the
countries of the European Union, and Japan.

Read more…

Globalization, Enterprise and Governance: Twentieth Anniversary Re-release – Part IV

Blogger’s Note. Reflecting upon the a recent “long read” published in the Guardian – an absorbing piece by Nikil Saval entitled “Globalisation: the rise and fall of an idea that swept the world” – I was rather jarringly reminded of something I wrote back in the nineties.  What strikes me about this vintage analysis, published in the International Journal (53:1, Winter 1997, pp 17-37), is just how little the debate has advanced over the intervening two decades. It seems that virtually nothing has been learned, and even less done in response to this longstanding critique. Why?  As a contribution to everyone’s summertime reading, I have decided to re-release the original, complete and unabridged, in five easy pieces. With apologies for the curious formatting, I would very much welcome reader commentary.

 

Globalization, national affiliation, and sovereignty

 
Corporations are growing increasingly cosmopolitan and sophisticated, able to respond to
challenges and exercise influence with subtlety and nuance. Circumstances may still dictate the
occasional hiring of mercenaries or subverting of governments, but most days corporate power is
more effectively wielded through local consultants or sympathetic national or international
organizations.

 
The received wisdom is that corporations have become stateless, and in general the location of a
company’s head office is increasingly incidental to corporate priorities and objectives. The
internationalization of production, in combination with the lure of tax avoidance, has largely
brought an end to corporate affiliation with countries of origin – except, perhaps, when foreign
assets are threatened or when it suits marketing objectives. United States flag patches, for
example, have again become a popular ornament on denim apparel – much of it made in Indonesia
or China or Bangladesh.

 
For the most part, major corporations raise capital in international financial centres, do their
design work in nodes of creative expertise, assemble where labour market conditions suit, pollute
where regulations or enforcement are weak, market where demand is strong, and so forth. With
the exception of demands related to trade policy negotiations and the control and policing of
intellectual property rights, it is in the interest of multinational corporate managers to retain at
most an arm’s-length association with host governments. No sinister plots here, just rational
responses to objective conditions.

 
The global negotiating agenda over recent years has been good for business. Dreams of the North-
South dialogue and a new international economic order have receded into distant memory and in
their place stand the WTO, Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), and a host of regional
trade liberalization agreements. Successive rounds of trade talks have brought widening agreement
on basic principles intended to facilitate competition, while protectionism has acquired a bad
name.

 

In such areas as terms of entry, access to technology and intermediate goods, and the treatment of
investment capital and remittances, most barriers are down. The Multilateral Agreement on
Investment (MAI) promises to level the international economic playing field yet further – for
certain types of players. When differences do arise, reference can usually be made to one or
another of the dispute settlement mechanisms that are standard features in most trade
agreements. But these tribunals tend to meet behind closed doors, and neither their
responsiveness to the public interest nor their accountability is well established.

Read more…

Globalization, Enterprise and Governance: Twentieth Anniversary Re-release – Part III

Blogger’s Note. Reflecting upon the a recent “long read” published in the Guardian – an absorbing piece by Nikil Saval entitled “Globalisation: the rise and fall of an idea that swept the world” – I was rather jarringly reminded of something I wrote back in the nineties.  What strikes me about this vintage analysis, published in the International Journal (53:1, Winter 1997, pp 17-37), is just how little the debate has advanced over the intervening two decades. It seems that virtually nothing has been learned, and even less done in response to this longstanding critique. Why?  As a contribution to everyone’s summertime reading, I have decided to re-release the original, complete and unabridged, in five easy pieces. With apologies for the curious formatting, I would very much welcome reader commentary.

 

 

What about growth … and development?
Development is a precondition to human security and democratization, and development
prospects are conditioned by history and geography, demography and ecology, technology and
resources. Globalization, however, worships at the altar of growth, which is now almost
undisputed as the primary indicator of national achievement, good governance, and business
acuity.
Donor countries and agencies, the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the
regional development banks play a central role in the globalization process through their
enthusiastic promotion of growth-centred national strategies, based on expanded trade and
investment, worldwide. The strict policy conditions attached to aid and loans are a powerful
instrument for advancing international economic integration, but the price is significant. Equipped
with heavy machinery and maps derived from infrared satellite imagery, deregulated and
unimpeded by the burden of government controls, from the rain forests to the tundra Adam
Smith’s acolytes are exacting a heavy toll.

 

Read more…

Globalization, Enterprise and Governance: Twentieth Anniversary Re-release – Part II

Blogger’s Note. Reflecting upon the a recent “long read” published in the Guardian – an absorbing piece by Nikil Saval entitled “Globalisation: the rise and fall of an idea that swept the world” – I was rather jarringly reminded of something I wrote back in the nineties.  What strikes me about this vintage analysis, published in the International Journal (53:1, Winter 1997, pp 17-37), is just how little the debate has advanced over the intervening two decades. It seems that virtually nothing has been learned, and even less done in response to this longstanding critique. Why?  As a contribution to everyone’s summertime reading, I have decided to re-release the original, complete and unabridged, in five easy pieces. With apologies for the curious formatting, I would very much welcome reader commentary.

 

 

Inclusion for consumers
At the international level, and notwithstanding the occasional recourse to coercive force, guns will
remain a last resort. Globalization’s most obvious, and possibly most powerful, milieu is cultural,
manifest through technology, popular entertainment, and the media. The Internet is at the leading
edge of the current wave, but with the satellite-enhanced penetration of television and the spread
of VCRs and video rentals, an international community united by similar tastes and appetites has
been in formation for some time. At the most fundamental level what is most remarkable about all
of these media is that they share a look, a feel, and an ambiance which derive from common
production values.
In the early 1980s, filmmaker David Cronenberg probed the assertion that ’video is the retina of
the mind’s eye.’ His vision was disturbing, and since then the scale and intensity of electronic
homogenization has grown. We should ask: what kind of culture is being created, what kind of
norms are being imparted as a result of constant saturation by the latest in broadcast and
information technology? To a large extent the values transmitted are those associated with the
uninhibited pursuit of self-interest. What are the implications for democracy when in the United
States 43 million more people watched the Superbowl than voted in the last presidential election?

Read more…

Globalization, Enterprise and Governance: Twentieth Anniversary Re-release – Part I

Blogger’s Note. Reflecting upon the a recent “long read” published in the Guardian – an absorbing piece by Nikil Saval entitled “Globalisation: the rise and fall of an idea that swept the world” – I was rather jarringly reminded of something I wrote back in the nineties.  What strikes me about this vintage analysis, published in the International Journal (53:1, Winter 1997, pp 17-37), is just how little the debate has advanced over the intervening two decades. It seems that virtually nothing has been learned, and even less done in response to this longstanding critique. Why?  As a contribution to everyone’s summertime reading, I have decided to re-release the original, complete and unabridged, in five easy pieces. With apologies for the curious formatting, I would very much welcome reader commentary.

 

Globalization is about borderless nations, stateless firms, infirm states, and a new frontier –
without frontiers. That’s the Reader’s Digest version, popular with cocktail party cognoscenti
and among those who imagine themselves, someday, attending the World Economic Forum in
Davos, Switzerland. Globalization is emerging as the defining historical phenomenon of our
times, transforming structures and conditioning outcomes across an expansive range of endeavour.
It is a work in progress, a new order under construction, an expression of power relationships.
Given the relentless diffusion of the mass media and entertainment industries and rising levels of
trade and international investment, travel and immigration, education and communications, it
seems likely that more of the same is in train. Loved or loathed, globalization can be resisted, but
it can’t be ignored.

Simply put, globalization is working at the supranational level to create a single world society.
This is possible because fundamental change – greater interdependence and technological capacity;
increased mobility of most factors of production; higher levels of market integration and
liberalization; and deregulation, privatization, and a reduced role for government – has reshaped
the world economy.

Read more…

The Dark Nexus: Diplomacy, Sport, Politics and the Media

These are disturbing, even bewildering times.

We appear to have entered a post-empirical era in which ideology, emotion, conviction and dissembling have displaced evidence, fact and truth in public life, policy development and decision-making.

Special interests have trumped the public interest.

Amid the current blizzard of startling developments in national and global affairs, it is altogether too easy to retreat and recoil, and to focus instead on issues much closer to the front door.

That would be a mistake, particularly if  that preoccupation includes spending time on Facebook and other social media, which we now know to be implicated in a swathe of efforts to manipulate user behavior.

As an alternative, why not limber up and stretch our minds a bit in the analytical gym?

Think, for instance, of the relationships among these distinct fields of professional practice: diplomacy, sport, politics and the media. At first glance, given the amplitude of such divergent topics, this task might seem a rather daunting, even ungainly enterprise. Upon closer inspection, however, I would suggest that there exist not only significant parallels among and between these strange bedfellows, but also some intriguing paradoxes and potentially consequential pitfalls.

Read more…

Seven Obstacles to a Science Diplomacy Renaissance – Part III

Make no mistake.

Data is of little use in the absence of interpretation, and there exists a desperate need for guides, brokers and translators who can bridge the two solitudes. Overcoming these challenges will not be easy, not least with the ascension of a regressive Trump administration in the USA. Yet, absent radically improved performance, there is a growing likelihood that humanity will arrive, at some indeterminate, but not too distant point in the future, at a global tipping point beyond which recovery may be impossible.

Finding ways to manage the “Malignificent Seven” – a sleeper issue of enormous consequence – should be one of the central political and public policy objectives of our times.  But instead, the lion’s share of resources still flow to the military; the US Government, for example, spends more on defence R&D than all other types of research combined. In the mainstream, consideration of SD is next to invisible, displaced by infotainment spectacles, fake news, “alternative facts” and more proximate concerns such as employment, housing, education and health care.

Still, before readers get too depressed… the situation is not entirely bleak. Science diplomacy has produced a rich legacy of arms control and environmental agreements, including recent pacts to establish an Antarctic marine reserve and to control HFCs, and significant disarmament initiatives affecting Iran  (nuclear non-proliferation) and Syria  (chemical weapons).

The general intensity of SD-related activity has increased significantly in recent months, with meetings in LondonBrussels, Vienna, Berlin and Ottawa.  All seventeen of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals contain major S&T components. Courses are cropping up at US institutions, including Tufts, The Rockefeller University and NYU.

Some specialized agencies (UN, EU) and governments (US, UK, Switzerland, Spain, Japan,  Korea,  and NZ) have demonstrated a number of best practices in SD. New Zealand’s Chief Science Advisor, Peter Gluckman, has worked tirelessly to establish an International Network of Government Science Advice (INGSA), while NGOs such as TWAS have significantly deepened their engagement. Vaughan Turekian, the Science and Technology Advisor at the US State Department and former head of the AAAS’ Science and Diplomacy program, has launched a raft of innovative initiatives. The SESAME Synchrotron project in Jordan is co-managed by a group of countries not known for their habits of cooperation – Palestine, Israel, Turkey and Cyprus, among others.

That said, these examples represent the exceptions rather than the rule; even taken together they are not nearly enough to change the big picture. Indeed, there have lately been some especially unwelcome setbacks (e.g. Russia ) and much remains to be done. 

Read more…

Seven Obstacles to a Science Diplomacy Renaissance – Part II

Science diplomacy  (SD), a specialized sub-set of public diplomacy, is a transformative tool of soft power which combines the political agency of diplomacy with the evidence-based, technologically-enabled problem-solving methodology of science. Unique among non-violent international policy options, SD can play a key role in advancing the cause of peace and prosperity, security and development in an increasingly unstable world. In face of the negative attributes of globalizationSD  offers the prospect of engaging shared interests to overcome political constraints and enlarge international cooperation. The universal, non-ideological language of science is especially valuable when regular channels of political and diplomatic communication are strained or unavailable, for instance during periods of protracted international tension. In the rising heteropolis – a work in progress in which the vectors of power and influence are characterized more by difference than by similarity – SD is under-utilized and under-valued, but nonetheless essential.

Notwithstanding conventional convictions and the present spike in the incidence of armed conflict, there are no military solutions to the world’s most pressing problems – a new threat set comprised of S&T-driven transnational issues.  No amount of spending on defence will resolve the challenges of food and water insecurity, environmental collapse, drought, desertification or soil degradation, habitat destruction or environmental collapse. Indeed, it will almost certainly intensify them. Security is much more than a martial art; it is rooted in broadly-based, long term, human-centred and sustainable development. The search for innovative approaches to treating the security/development nexus should become the priority of both diplomacy and international policy, and SD offers a promising way in.

But, here’s the rub.  If SD is what the world needs now, and is indispensible in addressing global issues which are immune to the application of armed force, why are most international institutions so ill-equipped to deliver? Why is SD so marginalized and obscure?

Read more…

Saving scientists amid crisis

Blogger’s note. Readers may be interested in reviewing the following account  – just released – of an address that I made at a conference on “Refugee Scientists: Transnational Resources”,  March 16th, 2017 at TWAS in Trieste, Italy. I will return to the series on the obstacles to a science diplomacy renaissance in the next entry.

Can we tap the skills of refugee scientists to benefit their new countries – and, someday, to rebuild their home countries? It’s an appealing idea, but it will take intensive science diplomacy, says Canadian foreign affairs expert Daryl Copeland.

Historical forces and resource-driven conflicts are in collision over much of the globe, and as a result, millions of people are on the move as migrants or refugees – including uncounted thousands of researchers, doctors and advanced students. But in the view of Daryl Copeland, an author and veteran diplomat, the world may be ill-prepared to recognize them and put their skills to work.

In the keynote talk at a workshop on refugee and at-risk scientists co-sponsored by TWAS, Copeland surveyed the policy and diplomatic landscape affecting refugee scientists as they try to integrate into new nations in the Middle East, in Europe and beyond.

Daryl Copeland at the 2017 workshop “Refugee Scientists: Transnational Resources”Programmes to support the refugee scientists are few and fragmented, with great inconsistency between the host countries, he said. There is no consistent effort to identify them and to assess their skills. There are no platforms where they can come together. Research on these issues is scant.

“National governments and international organizations, and to a lesser extent civil society, business and universities, are best positioned to facilitate action and collaboration,” Copeland said, “but they face a knowledge and information gap.”

His conclusion: “The problem of how best to harness the untapped potential resource of diaspora and refugee scientists as a tool for advancing the goals of international policy and relations falls squarely within the province of science diplomacy.” Such diplomacy must bring stakeholders and governments together in the interests of effective solutions.

[See the full text of Daryl Copeland’s keynote remarks.]

Copeland spoke on 15 March 2017 during the workshop “Refugee Scientists: Transnational Resources”. The weeklong workshop in Trieste, Italy, convened some 50 high-level policymakers, science leaders, refugee programme administrators, along with refugee scientists. It is co-organised by Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e di Geofisica Sperimentale (OGS), based in Trieste, Italy, and Euro-Mediterranean University (EMUNI), based in Piran, Slovenia. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) provided key support.

Copeland served as a Canadian diplomat from 1981-2011, posted to Thailand, Ethiopia, New Zealand and Malaysia. Today he is a senior fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and policy fellow at the University of Montreal’s Centre for International Studies and Research. His book, Guerrilla Diplomacy: Rethinking International Relations, was released in 2009.

In setting the context for his talk, Copeland described how the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s created dramatic new possibilities for human movement and migration. In the 21st century, migration has been driven also by a wave of wars and conflicts, especially in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that by the end of 2015, more than 65 million people globally had been displaced, with 21.3 million of them registered refugees and 3.2 million asylum seekers. Of the total, 40.8 million people have been displaced within their own countries.

But in the midst of an historic exodus from the Middle East and North Africa, Copeland noted that new obstacles – such as the proposed US restrictions on migrants from some Muslim-majority countries – are rising to limit migration once again.

Already, uncounted thousands of migrant scientists, medical doctors and others in related fields have come from the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region to adjacent nations, and to Europe and North America. They represent a significant potential resource for science – and for science diplomacy – in both their home nations and their new nations, he said.

“How might these communities of expatriate expertise be tapped to help address development and security challenges in their countries of origin and to hasten the advance of peaceful, prosperous international relations across the board?” he asked. “Can the collective knowledge, cultural understanding, and linguistic capacities of the [displaced scientists] … be harnessed and mobilized to produce win/win outcomes for the mutual benefit of both home and host governments?”

“Perhaps,” he says, “but not easily.”

In his remarks, Copeland proposed that science diplomacy should have a central role. It can help to facilitate the movement and integration of refugee scientists. And, he said, diplomacy can help the scientists to address challenges both in their home countries and in their new countries.

But, he argued, global capacity in science diplomacy is presently limited. He explored a number of factors that currently constrain the diplomacy: military spending gets a disproportionate share of funding, for example, and political leaders often have a mistrust for both diplomats and scientists.

And yet, Copeland concluded, science diplomacy has an admirable record of success in the fields of arms control and environmental protection. And it can be developed into a valuable tool on issues of migration ­– for scientists, and for all people.

“Both science and diplomacy seek to use reason to bring order and understanding to their otherwise roiling and disorderly realms,” he said. “Perhaps that is a basis for better collaboration in the future.”

[Learn more about the 2017 workshop “Refugee Scientists: Transnational Resources.”]

Edward W. Lempinen

It won’t come easy: Seven obstacles to a science diplomacy renaissance – Part I

There is a question which should be on everyone’s mind, but isn’t.

Is the world careening towards some unknowable — but not too far distant — tipping point beyond which remedial solutions and recovery will be impossible?

Perhaps.

Consider, for instance, these vexing challenges, any one of which could take down the planet if allowed to fester:
• Climate change;
• Diminishing biodiversity;
• Public health and pandemics;
• Species extinction and habitat destruction;
• Management of the global commons; and
• Emergency preparedness and disaster response.
This is a small but representative sampling drawn from the ever-expanding list of global issues which share as a defining characteristic the centrality of a major science and technology (S&T) dimension. The urgent need for effective action is clear, and science diplomacy (SD) is the international policy instrument best suited to treating these wicked problems. Unfortunately, the demand for science diplomacy far outstrips the available supply.

How can this capacity gap be explained?

What lies behind the SD shortage?

I propose to address those questions by summarizing the concept of science diplomacy and presenting the arguments in favour of governments and international organizations undertaking more and better SD practice. The balance of the analysis will focus on identifying and elaborating the constraints which are inhibiting progress. That troubling combination of factors — the “Malignificent Seven”? — must be better understood and effectively broached if performance is to improve.

A summary assessment will begin in the next post.

What Might Have Been: Reflections on Afghanistan

“Afghanistan’s barren, ragged desolation moaned a long dirge of ancient wonder, the earth’s broken features ready to receive fallen horsemen, the lost traveller, and all the butchered tribes.”

Zia Haider Rahman, In Light of What We Know

 

I don’t usually post my thoughts on recently released books, but in the case my close friend Chris Lowry’s richly textured photographic retrospective, Afghanistan: Before the Rain of Fire, an exception is clearly warranted.

Why?

I would describe this book as dazzling.

Evocative.

Disturbing.

But most of all,  as befits a project which has been incubating for forty years, these pages are deeply moving.

This is no ordinary travel book. With the sensibility – and sensitivity – of Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between, Lowry’s striking images are interspersed with sparse, but illuminating text. Through observation and anecdote the author captures a country on the verge of a wrenching descent into violent disintegration.  Torn asunder as the object of geopolitical rivalry between the superpowers, only to emerge as the epicentre of what came to be known as the Global War on Terror, Afghanistan has today become a tragic case study in blowback.

Lowry reminds us that Afghanistan was once an exotic and enticing destination, and Kabul a crossroads of civilizations. His book is a treasury of memory. It provides essential testament to the existence of alternative possibilities, and underscores the terrible cost of empires and ideologies in collision.

Left to its own devices, Afghanistan might well have developed into a diverse and dynamic nexus, something much more than a political football in the latest installment of the Great Game.

As author and analyst Robert Fisk once famously remarked, “The only thing we ever learn is that we never learn…”

Afghanistan remains a festering sore on the flesh of the international body politic, and there is blood on many hands.

By poignantly and powerfully illustrating  what might have been, Lowry has admirably performed a noble service.

Lest we forget.

 

Dealing with The Donald: Advice for Canada’s new Foreign Minister

The Trump ascendancy carries with it much anxiety and uncertainty, but of this we may be confident – on 20 January, under dark skies, the world collectively entered terra incognita.

PM Justin Trudeau is meeting with his cabinet in Calgary this week to assess options, and has tried to act pre-emptively by shuffling his cabinet.  Liberal Party stalwart Stephane Dion was abruptly replaced by the celebrated and cosmopolitan Chrystia Freeland.

A study in contrasts

This was not unexpected. As Foreign Minister, Dion was engaged and knowledgeable, but emotionally tone deaf and intellectually rigid. He delved deeply into issues, read his briefs, and wrote many of his own speeches, but was not at ease as a communicator. He lacked an integrated policy agenda and as a result seemed locked perpetually in reactive mode. Unlike the more easily defined, tractable issues which he had previously mastered – climate change (Kyoto Accord, Green Shift) or the constitution (Clarity Act) – at Global Affairs Canada (GAC) he was unable to find his footing or leave his mark.  Some files – Saudi military sales, human rights, arms control and disarmament, non-proliferation – were seriously mishandled. And his would-be ideological centre-piece, “Responsible Conviction”, was both obscure and never joined-up to a concrete plan similar to Lloyd Axworthy’s Human Security Agenda.   Adapted from the work of Prussian sociologist and philosopher Max Weber, such a maxim undoubtedly appealed to Dion’s academic and bookish bent. But it was way over the top in Ottawa and stillborn politically.

Enter urban sophisticate Chrystia Freeland, an accomplished author, public speaker and journalist, at home in Davos and well-connected in major capitals. She is acutely attuned to the neoliberal political economy of globalization, and to the over-arching importance of addressing its downside  – distributive  inequality and intensified  polarization. Although her fit with the prevailing mindset in Washington is not natural, concern over the fate of the shrinking middle class may provide common ground for discussions with her US interlocutors. Moreover, given the preponderance of former military figures in Trump’s cabinet, the  naming former Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie as her Parliamentary Secretary, with special responsibility for Canada-US relations, appears inspired.

The 3Cs: Preparing for the Trump transformation

In this volatile, unpredictable and complex operating environment, the Freeland appointment may have been a necessary response to the incoming Trump administration, but it will not be sufficient. In terms of action, how might Canada’s new Foreign Minister best minimize risk, manage vulnerabilities and maximize opportunity?

Not easily. There are at least three major issue areas which require major work.

Read more…