In our troubled world, why does the demand for science diplomacy so drastically exceed the supply?
In our troubled world, why does the demand for science diplomacy so drastically exceed the supply?
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 globalization, SD 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?
Journal of Wild Culture
Chris Lowry’s richly textured photographic retrospective, Afghanistan Before the Rain of Fire, is dazzling, evocative… and disturbing.
The World Academy of Sciences
Can we tap the skills of refugee scientists to benefit their new countries – and, someday, increase lost capacity in their homelands? It’s an appealing idea, but it will take intensive science diplomacy.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
“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.
I would describe this book as dazzling.
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.
Canada is adrift in a turbulent world and its international policy machinery has rusted out. Here is some advice for the 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.
Canadian Science Policy Conference 2016 – Video Interview
Why does the global demand for science diplomacy so far outstrip the supply?
What could one hope might constitute a best case – if slightly out of body – US diplomatic and international policy scenario?
The largely unanticipated accession of Donald Trump to the American presidency has occasioned an explosive reaction from the commentariat.
Let us suspend disbelief and assume, if only for purposes of discussion, that civility and rationality will somehow re-assert themselves south of the border. In that spirit of impossible optimism, I offer the following five recommendations for the new administration:
This sweeping array of S&T-driven, transnational issues together constitute the new threat set, a distinctive group of complex and vexing problems for which there are no military solutions.
Expeditionary forces cannot occupy the alternatives to a carbon economy. Pandemic disease can overwhelm any garrison. Air strikes cannot save a warming planet.
Armed force is both too sharp, and too dull an international policy instrument with which to engage the swirling currents of globalization. The enduring lesson of the Cold War is that the military works best when it is not used. Evidence-based policy and decision making is the only way forward.
It would send a re-assuring signal to the planet if President-elect Trump actively supported an accelerated and intensified commitment on the part of the USA to knowledge-based, technologically-enabled problem-solving. The place to start would be to endorse whatever progress emerges from the COP 22 climate change negotiations which have just concluded in Marrakesh.
The argument in favour of concerted attention to the central challenge of our times is unassailable, and, unlike pipeline approvals, would be strongly advocated by the Trudeau government.
Trump seems given to rapid course corrections… but this is slender recompense for a jittery world. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a climate science epiphany in post-Obama Washington.
Canadian Science Policy Centre
Do terrorism, religious violence and political extremism really imperil life on the planet?
The capability to generate, absorb and use S&T should play a crucial role in addressing the new threat set by resolving differences, reducing inequality and improving security and development prospects. With few exceptions, however, the individuals and institutions charged with the responsibility for managing global issues are unprepared and ill-equipped to deliver. The thinking of most leaders remains mired in outdated, Cold War era convictions – that security is best achieved through defence rather than by addressing human needs; that the state, not the person is the primary referent; that armed force is the ultimate arbiter in international relations.
The world’s foreign ministries, development agencies, and indeed most multilateral organizations have not kept pace with the transformative impact of globalization. These institutions are without the scientific expertise, technological savvy, cultural predisposition or research and development (R&D) network access required to manage S&T-based issues effectively. How many diplomats are trained in science? How many scientists are found in diplomatic services? How often do diplomats and scientists meet, and, when they do, can they communicate effectively?
Scientists are for the most part an insular group, and prefer the lab to the polis. Diplomats tend to view science as dense and impenetrable, the subject that they could not wait to drop in high school. Diplomacy (stability, risk aversion, compromise) and science (change, experimentation, empiricism) are founded upon very different values, and effectively constitute two solitudes. The alienation of science and technology from the mainstream of diplomacy and international policy represents perhaps the greatest sleeper issue of our times.