Bridging the Chasm: Why science and technology must become priorities for diplomacy and international policy – Part II

S&T matters in international relations

I see five primary reasons favouring a wholesale course correction and significant re-profiling of international policy priorities and resources. For purposes of brevity they will be set out at a high level of analysis:

  1. Science, technology and innovation drive the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous age of globalization, and are now central to all aspects of our lives. Still, despite a widespread preoccupation with the latest gadgetry, and particularly with hand held digital devices, S&T per se is accorded relatively little attention. Yet the planet is imperilled by a host of vexing, “wicked” issues for which there are no military solutions. From climate change to diminishing biodiversity, nanotechnology to ecosystem collapse, genomics to to cyberspace, these issues have one feature in common: they are rooted in science, driven by technology, and immune to the application of armed force. This has been evident for some time. Simply put, you can’t garrison against pandemic disease, call in an air strike on a warming globe, or send out an expeditionary force to occupy the alternatives to a carbon economy. But make no mistake. A “wicked” issue is one which CUTS all ways (C for cross-sectoral; U for unresolved; T for transnational; S for science-based). These defining attributes render the management of such issues notoriously difficult.
  2. Development – equitable, sustainable, human-centred and long-term – has become the basis of security in an increasingly heteropolar world order. This relationship has become particularly clear with the transition from the Cold War era to the globalization age. Human progress in large part turns on the ability to successfully harness S&T in service of achieving development objectives related to agriculture, food and water; urbanization, public health, environmental protection and remediation; population and demographics; resource scarcity; energy and so forth. The capability to generate, absorb and use science and technology (S&T) can play a crucial role in advancing development prospects, in resolving differences, and in reducing inequality. Improved security would be the inevitable result.
  3. Evidence-based decision-making and public policy development are the hallmarks of good governance and responsible public administration. As is often remarked, policy without science is gambling. (This seems, incidentally, to be unknown to the Government of Canada, who have muzzled their scientists, imposed deep cuts on science-based departments and slashed spending on research and development (R&D)). Moreover, certain aspects of scientific endeavour – not unlike the case of democracy or human rights – are of universal value and applicability. Scientific culture and methods encourage openness and transparency (through the publication of research findings), merit (through peer review), civic values and citizen empowerment (through the expression of critical and diverse perspectives). Science offers a methodology and approach which produces the closest thing we have to proof and truth. These attributes are desirable and there are no substitutes.
  4. S&T offers the opportunity to turn adversity into opportunity by fostering solidarity, cooperation and action in concert among all peoples and nations. Science is inherently collaborative; its focus on mutuality and common cause is a pre-requisite to managing the global commons (polar regions, high seas, outer space, etc.) and bridging digital divides. Science diplomacy, for its part, serves as an important, and sometimes critical medium of international political communication when regular diplomatic channels are strained, blocked, or non-existent, as was the case between the US and USSR during the Cold War, or between the US and Russia or Iran today. Although I would not put them on my A-list of threats, I would add that S&T can also provide a tonic political extremism and religious violence by addressing the root causes which generate anger, alienation and resentment. Invasion, occupation, special operations, bombing and drone warfare serve mainly to make matters worse and to generate blowback, as Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq have so painfully and indelibly demonstrated. S&T engagement represents a vastly preferable alternative.
  5. Science diplomacy combines S&T content with the strategy, tools and tactics of public diplomacy. As a result, SD, when properly designed and delivered, can be a highly supple, versatile, and adaptable instrument in the management of international relations. S&T also functions admirably as a vector of soft power – the power of attraction. But not all science diplomacy is undertaken in support of peace and development. For instance, the secret collaboration between Pakistan, North Korea in pursuit of nuclear explosive and missile propulsion technology was SD, but was widely condemned. S&T, therefore, is a double-edged sword: it supports and underpins development and security, yet it can also exacerbate underdevelopment and insecurity. S&T can be the keys to peace and prosperity, but they can also bring war and devastation. However ironic that may seem, one of the (few) mature pleasures of adulthood involves learning to live with ambiguity and uncertainty. In that regard, S&T is best understood as not good or bad but good and It cannot be viewed in simplistic, binary, Manichean, or black and white terms. It can only be apprehended as consisting of over 50, often very subtle shades of grey.

That said, taken together these five clusters strike me as powerful testament in favour of mobilizing support for international S&T in general, and for science diplomacy in particular. There is, however a crucial disconnect, and here’s the rub. Although treating the drivers of suffering and poverty contributes to development, and development is a precondition to security, S&T capacity is largely alien to, and almost invisible within most institutions of global governance. Foreign ministries, development agencies, and indeed most multilateral organizations are without the scientific expertise, technological savvy, cultural pre-disposition or R&D network access required to manage S&T-based issues effectively.

Bridging the Chasm: Why science and technology must become priorities for diplomacy and international policy – Part I

Blogger’s note: The following article represents a partial reconstruction of remarks delivered at the second AAAS/TWAS short course on science diplomacy in Trieste, Italy on June 8th, 2015. For purposes of illustration, that address featured several rather elaborate stories. One spoke of Albert Einstein highlighting the distinction between timeless questions and evolving answers while invigilating a first year physics exam at Humboldt University in Berlin in the early 1920’s. Another set out the tale of fearless, innovative Scheherazade speaking truth to power in ancient Persia, and in so doing providing us with important insights for diplomacy and science. A third referred to Eleanor Roosevelt’s eloquent meditation on the gift of life. Those stories have been omitted here, but other sections of the address will be elaborated in greater detail.

 

 

Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity and is the torch which illuminates the world.

Louis Pasteur

 

Today, headlines in the mainstream media are filled with lurid tales of the campaign against the Islamic State (ISIL), suicide bombings, violence in Ukraine, earthquakes and tornadoes, mass shootings, and all manner of sensational reportage. In the face of such a barrage – if it bleeds, it leads – it is very easy to become distracted, and to allow the shocking or the urgent to trump the essential or the important.

Policy and decision makers most everywhere have become preoccupied with apparent threats at the expense of responding to more profound challenges, including those which – unlike terrorism, religious extremism or political violence – actually imperil the future of the planet.

In this article I will argue that in the 21st century our collective security and prosperity – the globe’s shared prospects for peace and development – depend increasingly on diplomacy rather than defence. In that regard, science diplomacy has never mattered more, but it has become something of an orphan in international relations, sidelined, among other things, by the militarization of international policy.

Science diplomacy (SD) is relevant, effective, and potentially transformative. It can play a key role in responding to some of the most elemental challenges facing the international community. Yet relative to other international policy instruments it receives little notice and is being starved of resources.

To remedy those problems, science and technology (S&T) must be brought from the margins into the mainstream of diplomatic institutions, training and practice, worldwide. In foreign ministries and international organizations everywhere, S&T capacity and performance must be radically improved if the world is to avoid plunging over some still undefined tipping point and human survival is to be ensured.

Canada and the Asia Pacific: Unsteady interest and opportunities lost

It is now the received wisdom the dynamic centre of the global political economy is migrating from the North Atlantic to the Asia Pacific. Emblematic of this dramatic example of shifting power and influence is the likelihood of China’s economy surpassing that of both the US and the EU within the next decade or two.

And what might be said of Canada’s current approach to the countries and institutions of the Asia Pacific in the midst of this tectonic re-alignment?

Surprisingly little.

This country has been mainly watching from the sidelines, spurned by key players, sometimes clapping, often pouting… and always hectoring.

This is not the stuff upon which durable relationships are constructed.

What went wrong?

A debilitating combination of bad luck, dismal timing, and serial misjudgement.

If could be characterized, it might be seen as a winding and bumpy road, leading mainly downhill.

Read more…

Digital diplomacy: All sweetness and light?

Blogger’s note: Since early April I have been on the road almost constantly – teaching at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, visiting my son in Greece, speaking at a digital diplomacy conference in Yerevan, traveling in Armenia, Ngorno Karabakh and Georgia, participating in a “Diplohack ” session in Ottawa, and now winding up a science diplomacy workshop in Trieste prior to undertaking some travel in NE Italy, Slovenia and Croatia until the end of the month. All of that has conspired to distract me from my customary habit of regular postings – but it has also furnished me with some new ideas and much useful material for future posts.

That will resume shortly.  In the meantime following is a slightly edited summary (full report here) of the remarks I delivered last month in Yerevan as prepared by the event organizers.

Daryl Copeland, Senior Fellow, Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, broadened the perspective by suggesting a variety of ways in which digital technologies are fundamentally changing the ways that foreign ministries do business, not just in social media but in their core functions as well. For instance, Copeland discussed the unappreciated potential for the creation of  “virtual desks,” which which would be enabled by the Internet, serve a diverse variety of functions, and would feature lateral connectivity in order to address  the challenges of bureaucratic process and hierarchic, authoritarian . These could exist in contrast to traditional country desks, which are typically organized vertically, with a focus on a specific function. virtual desks would allow individuals to become empowered because the top-down  totem pole would no longer matter – what matters is the node in the network, such as the virtual desk. This would lead to outcomes where, as Copeland argued, “it’s about clicks, not bricks.” On the other hand, Copeland was also quick to point out limitations of digital technology in diplomacy. Copeland argued that social media is ephemeral and impersonal in nature, highly vulnerable to manipulation and disruption and not conducive to relationship building based on confidence, trust, and respect. These are, of course, precisely the types of relationships that states normally seek to nurture through diplomacy. In the end, networks and technological tools do not in themselves build relationships. Networks are necessary but not sufficient. Diplomacy is  ultimately a contact sport. There is no substitute for face-to-face contact and genuine, interersonal dialogue. Platitudes about digital technologies may be fashionable, but in the end cannot change diplomacy’s core essence.

 

 

 

Rebuilding Canada’s international capacity: Diplomatic reform in the age of globalization – Part II

Editor`s note: This article is the second part of a feature  co-authored with my CDFAI colleague and friend Colin Robertson. We served together in the Canadian foreign service for 30 years.

 

The new diplomatic dialectic

The days of designated envoys speaking only with each other about the business of government have gone forever. Diplomats now have to engage with whole societies, creating partnerships and exchanging meaningfully not just with the usual suspects, but with strange bedfellows as well.

In short, public diplomacy has in important respects become the new diplomacy. In consequence, the epicentre of diplomatic practice must move out of the shadows and into the light.
That said, no amount of Twiplomacy, virtuality, digital dexterity or technological savvy will ever be able to substitute for face to face contact, cross-cultural communications, and the ability to cultivate relationships based on confidence, trust and respect.

At its core, diplomacy will remain a contact sport.

A cultural, but also a substantive revolution

Even by comparative bureaucratic measure, foreign ministries are conservative, rganizationally silohed institutions. With their faces to the world but backs to their own citizens, they are friendless and isolated. Social relations are hierarchic, communications are vertical, authority is unquestioned and risk is averted.

In the 21st century that combination represents a dead end, a fast track to irrelevance.

Risk must be managed, innovation relentlessly pursued, and failure treated as a learning experience, all within an institution that values and provides continuous learning – again, something the modern military does very well.

In terms of content, political and multilateral relations will remain central features of diplomacy, but the articulation of sound trade, commercial and investment policies are equally important as keys to a prosperous and peaceful future.

There is also a need to reach international agreement on rules governing cyber and space – both enable globalization, but they also offer terrible possibilities for chaos and destruction.

Finding effective ways to pursue the just and joint management of the global commons has become job one.

Read more…

Rebuilding Canada’s international capacity: Diplomatic reform in the age of globalization – Part I

Editor`s note: This article was co-authored with my CDFAI colleague and friend Colin Robertson. We served together in the Canadian foreign service for 30 years.

 

The world is an ever more complicated place and diplomacy, the world’s second oldest profession, matters more than ever before. But it is a different form of diplomacy – embracing the tools of technology and recognizing that globalization has both flattened the old hierarchies and added new complexities.

For Canada, diplomacy is more than a tool of statecraft. As a country that still puts a premium on attracting immigrants from abroad, a part of our identity is dependent on how we behave and how we are seen internationally.

For those reasons and more, Canadian diplomacy is and must be a manifestation of our values, policies and interests.

Joining the Foreign Service over three decades ago was to enter what was still mostly a brotherhood. Women were few, and the atmosphere was almost clubby. Indeed, the hallmarks resembled in some respects those of a religious order, if perhaps more Jesuitical than Dominican.

Contemporary foreign service is not a priesthood, nor is the foreign ministry a cathedral.

And diplomacy is not liturgy.

In Chapters and Indigo bookstores across the country, shoppers are encouraged to believe that: “The world needs more Canada.” To deliver on that promise, a thoroughgoing process of secular diplomatic reform will be essential.

The approaching election is a good time to consider our international policies, diplomatic practice and the foreign service itself.

Read more…

Learning from experience? The case against Canadian military engagement in Iraq/Syria

The government has announced that it will table a motion in Parliament to extend and expand the bombing, training and special operations mission in Iraq. Syria may now also be included.

Joining this mission was unnecessary; continuing and expanding it will compound the costs.

Canada need not participate in this campaign. Following are five reasons why the application of armed force is ill-advised:

It doesn’t work. Look no further than the disastrous results of recent Western military interventions. Afghanistan, where support for the Mujahidin gave way to the creation of al-Qaeda, is fractured and failing. Libya, where conditions of life once topped the African continent on the UNDP’s Human Development Index, is imploding. In Iraq, the current problem with ISIL is a direct result of the security, governance and justice vacuum engendered by the ruinous US-led invasion and occupation 2003-11.

Blowback, big time.

Read more…

A better way forward? High hopes for the Independent Commission on Multilateralism

Last August I attended a conference in entitled 1814, 1914, 2014: Lessons from the Past, Visions for the Future, organized jointly by the International Peace Institute (IPI) and the Salzburg Global Seminar. Over the course of that event, and despite whatever else may have been learned about the nature and impact of industrial-scale violence, it became clear that there is a fundamental problem. The multilateral institutions crafted in the middle of the 20th century are underperforming and largely unfit for purpose in the 21st. Absent some sort of significant transformation, peace and prosperity will therefore remain elusive. Or worse.

Thus arose the idea of undertaking a comprehensive review of the institutions which, writ large, comprise the “international system” with a view to formulating proposals for change. The UN and its specialized agencies will figure centrally, but the role of regional bodies such as ASEAN the OAS, SCO and AU, as well as non-traditional actors, including NGOs, philanthropic foundations, and multinational business will also be evaluated.

Christened the Independent Commission of Multilateralism, or ICM, this initiative is supported by the governments of Norway, the United Arab Emirates, and – somewhat surprisingly – Canada. It was launched in September by its Chair, former Australian PM Kevin Rudd, and will be co-chaired by the Foreign Ministers of Canada and Norway, as well as the former President and Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, José Ramos-Horta. India’s former Ambassador to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri, will serve as Secretary General.

However important, political and bureaucratic machinations of this sort rarely fire the public imagination; the ICM has to date flown largely below the radar. An initial round of international consultations with experts and stakeholders will be held this weekend in New York. Discussions will focus on an examination of new global challenges, the evolution of organized violence, the current multilateral architecture, and recommendations for reform. A final report will be released in 2016.

Read more…

For Canada’s new Foreign Minister? A three point plan

As the dust settles in the wake of John Baird’s abrupt departure from the Foreign Affairs portfolio, little has been ventured about his successor, former Defence Minister Rob Nicholson. Given the new minister’s long record in government, we might reliably anticipate a steady, if somewhat slow hand on the tiller at Fort Pearson, and the quiet, if unquestioning execution of the PM’s ideologically-driven agenda.

My former colleague Paul Heinbecker recently offered Mr. Nicholson some useful advice on repairing the damage associated with Mr. Baird’s controversial legacy. These proposals are related mainly to specific foreign policy issues, and I have no particular qualms with the priorities set forth.

That said, the challenges associated with the restoration of this country’s place in the world are profound and far-reaching. Addressing them will require remedial action affecting all elements of the diplomatic ecosystem – the foreign ministry, foreign service, and diplomatic practice – as well as grand strategy and the Canadian brand.

Read more…

Out of Afghanistan? Still counting the costs

Thirteen years after the campaign began, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) formally ended combat operations in Afghanistan on 28 December. A residual foreign military presence of about 18,000 troops, the Resolute Support Mission, will stay on for counter-terrorism purposes and provide training and logistical assistance to Afghan police and security forces.

With rising Afghan civilian and military casualties, and Taliban gains amidst generally deteriorating conditions, there was little to celebrate at the secret handover ceremony. That event received only passing media attention – surprising given the exceptional human and financial costs associated with this intervention.

As coalition members rush for the exits, there have been many attempts to explain what went wrong, which by my reckoning includes just about everything. That said, few in positions of authority are admitting failure. Clearly, among responsible senior officials, more than a few of whom managed to eke a promotion or two out of the war, there is no appetite for a searching retrospective.

While awaiting the attribution of some form of culpability for the wilful blindness which plagued the ISAF mission, it may be useful to look ahead with a view to identifying some of the main winners and losers.

Read more…

US – Cuba rapprochement: The implications behind the headlines

Reporting on the historic resumption of diplomatic ties between the USA and Cuba has tended to focus on the details of the agreement and the likely impact on domestic politics and bilateral relations. Beyond the spectacle of longstanding political and ideological adversaries coming to terms after a hiatus of over fifty years, there are a number of additional implications which deserve examination.

Read more…

Canada and the world today: Cold comfort, little joy

As Christmas approaches and 2014 winds down, a survey of major political and economic developments suggests that the prospects for a more peaceful and prosperous world are receding.

Thanks to the emergence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the much-maligned Global War on Terror (GWOT), which only a year ago seemed to be waning, has received an enormous boost. The name may have changed, but terrorism and radical Islam remain at the top of the threat list for most Western governments. While large scale invasions and occupations have – for now – fallen into well-deserved disrepute, that space has been filled by a combination of drone and air strikes, special operations, cyber attacks and mass surveillance.

Torture and abduction – a.k.a. enhanced interrogation and extraordinary rendition – have been curbed, but not forgotten. Guantanamo Bay still festers like an open sore, a poster for jihadi recruiters everywhere. Occasional episodes of Islamist-inspired domestic violence, however vaguely motivated, receive saturation coverage in the Western media and ensure that the politics of fear and social control remain the order of the day.

Such circumstances have eroded the foundations of freedom and democracy and permitted the imposition of constraints on civil liberties, constitutional rights and the rule of law.

Read more…

A time of remembrance… and of forgetting

For those with an interest in foreign policy, military history, and geopolitics, this month has been rich.

Canadians marked a pair of significant commemorations – November 9th, the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and November 11th, Remembrance (or Armistice) Day, which in 2014 fell during 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One.

Much has been made of these events. The festivities in Berlin punctuated a quarter century of European transformation. A few days later at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, an unusually large crowd gathered to honour all those who have served in the Canadian military, and in particular those whose names alone ‘liveth for evermore”.

Late October’s tragic killings in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa heightened Canadians’ shared sense of both empathy and loss.

What larger implications might be drawn?

The Great War reminds us of what can happen when citizens and politicians “sleepwalk” over the precipice, defer critical decision-making to generals and admirals, or otherwise invite the sort of conflagration which ensues when obsolete doctrines fail and industrial processes are harnessed in service of mass violence. Less appreciated, but at least as debilitating as was the 1918-20 Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed many times the number of the war’s 8.5 million dead.

The problem of inattention to the management of non-traditional security threats, from climate change to resource scarcity, remains acute.

Berlin’s re-emergence as the dynamic capital of Europe’s most powerful country is in some respects even more consequential, signifying the end of the Cold War, German re-unification, and the eastward expansion of NATO and the EU. If the “end of history” has not quite delivered a knock-out punch in favour of markets and neoliberalism, Berlin’s ascent nonetheless stands as a powerful symbol of peace and prosperity.

Despite its annexation of Crimea and meddling in Ukraine, today Russia threatens few beyond its “near abroad”. And while the financial crisis and colossal strategic miscalculation in Iraq resulted in the premature eclipse of the USA’s unipolar moment, broader Western prospects remain reasonably bright, even in the face of a rising Asia-Pacific. At minimum, the Doomsday Clock, though still ticking, no longer hangs over a world mere moments away from the possibility of nuclear Armageddon.

The “international system”, in other words, though in flux and not functioning especially well, faces few fundamental challenges to its survival. The religious extremism and political violence used with such effect by the Islamic State, however horrifying, do not compare to the hazards of world war.

Still, this November, on the occasion of two particularly poignant anniversaries, Canadians have ample reason to reflect. The question might be put: from these many acts of remembrance, what, if anything, has been learned?

Perhaps even more to the point, what elements previously associated with this country’s global engagement might have been lost or forgotten?

Read more…

Countering domestic political violence and the Islamic State: Canada needs a strategy

In the wake of last week’s disturbing events in Saint-Jean-sur-Richileau and Ottawa, Canadian policy and decision-makers are turning their attention to remedial action. So far, rather than a rigorous re-assessment and course correction, indications are that we are headed for more of the same, but possibly worse.

By way of alternatives, what would constitute an effective response to the combined threats posed by ISIS abroad and political violence at home?  Changes will be required in both domestic and international policy, but the best defence will have little to do with the application of armed force or the imposition of more stringent security measures.

A coherent strategy could give expression to five recommendations:

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