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…

Trump’s Up: An International Policy Wish List

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:

 

  1. Launch a comprehensive international policy assessment, rolling in defence and development, and including politics, commerce and immigration. Engage Americans, who so evidently long to be heard, in a national conversation about grand strategy, identifying areas of both capacity and constraint.  In the quest to chart where the USA is going – particularly in the wake of disastrous interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – propose  concrete measures on how it might get there.
  2. Re-invest in diplomacy and development. Target inequality and polarization – and the tendency of globalization to privatize benefits while socializing costs –  by assisting with governance, public administration, the rule of law, democratic institution-building and human rights support. Achieve this by getting back into public diplomacy.  Multilaterally, find a way to salvage the US position on climate change and focus on the achievement of the UN SDGs.
  3. Recast the mandate, mission and structure of the State Department to create a central agency for the integration of international policy across government and the management of globalization. Functioning at a higher level will require some fundamental re-engineering,  legislative action, and a more sophisticated approach to the use of social and digital media. To better generate intelligence and to take full advantage of the vital connection to place, the reform package should feature a more flexible approach towards overseas representation, and a more prominent role for US missions abroad. The State department is a singularly underutilized asset. Use it or lose it.
  4. Re-energize the “pivot” by accepting the inevitability of shifting power and re-building and reinforcing relationships in the Asia Pacific, which is re-emerging as the dynamic centre of the global political economy. America’s connection to this vital region has been mismanaged and neglected, not only with giants China and India, but also with the promising ASEAN countries.  Jump start the reconnection by making better use of the USA’s large Asian diaspora communities. A variety of think tanks have produced some useful new thinking on future American strategy;  a decision to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank would help to anchor a larger regional reset.
  5. Champion international science and technology. Today, the planet’s most pressing perils are rooted in science, driven by technology and have little to do with ideological rivalry, territorial ambition, religious extremism or political violence. Think climate change, diminishing biodiversity, pandemic disease, management of the global commons, and genomics, to name a few. Little is known about the Trump government’s approach to science advice or its commitment to science diplomacy.  Both  should be accorded a central role in American diplomatic activity.

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.

No Military Solutions: Science, Technology, Diplomacy and the New Threat Set – Part II

Two solitudes

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.

Read more…

No Military Solutions: Science, Technology, Diplomacy and the New Threat Set – Part I

 

In February 2016, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences hosted a meeting that was convened by the Science and Technology Advisers to the Foreign Ministers from Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Although the observation was not new, during this meeting the importance of increasing the capacity and capability of Foreign Ministries to broach the ever increasing number of issues at the interface of science, technology and innovation was identified as urgent.

On 18-19 October 2016, a small group of about 30 international policy experts and practitioners  will gather in Laxenburg, Austria to discuss the  vital – if largely unappreciated –  relationship between science and diplomacy. The meeting is being convened by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in collaboration with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the International Network of Government Science Advice (INGSA) and the Global Network of Science and Technology Advisors in Foreign Ministries.

The purpose of this high-level international dialogue on science-diplomacy is to explore opportunities for delivering on national foreign policy priorities by increasing the quality and quantity of science and technology advice into policy development and implementation process.

Principle objectives of the dialogue will include:

  • Highlighting areas where science and technology are impacting the work of foreign ministries
  • Sharing experiences and best practices in providing scientific advice to Ministers
  • Identifying practical issues, such as how best to engage with scientific institutions
  • Developing a global network of practitioners.

I will be attending the conference at IIASA and will be chairing a panel on Mechanisms for Delivering Science Advice in Foreign Ministries”.

Sound boring and bureaucratic? It’s not.

In fact, when it comes to the relationship between science and diplomacy the prospects for human survival may hang in the balance. That said, don’t expect to read about the Laxenburg meeting in the mainstream media.

Read more…

Accumulating clouds may threaten Trudeau’s “sunny ways”

Hot on the heels of his high profile visit to China and attendance at the G-20 summit in Hangzhou, PM Justin  Trudeau last week successfully hosted the Global Fund replenishment conference in Montreal and will  address  the UN General Assembly in New York today or tomorrow. Amidst this whirlwind of activity, Canada’s peripatetic PM will undoubtedly attract renewed domestic and international attention.

Not unlike their treatment of fellow celebrities Bill Gates and Bono,  an adoring media is almost certain to dole out continued exultation.

While such adulation is not entirely unwarranted, a closer look at the government’s first year in office suggests that a more critical assessment of its diplomatic and international policy performance may be in order.

Read more…

“Canada’s Back” Can the Trudeau Government Resuscitate Canadian Diplomacy?

Blogger’s Note: The Liberal government headed by PM Justin Trudeau has launched defence and development reviews, but little is known of its intentions regarding diplomacy, international policy or grand strategy.  This is the final installment in a three part series on Canada’s role and place in a changing world – where we were, where we are, and where we may be going.

 

Part III:

Looking forward – What a changing world means for Canadian diplomacy and international policy

The first installment in this series set out the defining features of the transition from the Cold War to the globalization age. The second explored the implications of shifting power in an increasingly globalized and  heteropolar world order.

Since the last burst of Canadian international activism – the rolling out of Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy’s Human Security Agenda 1996 – 2000,   the operating environment for diplomacy has continued to evolve. Moreover, it has been a long time since Canadian leadership helped bring to fruition the Land Mine Ban Treaty, International Criminal Court, the Kimberly Process to curb trafficking in “blood diamonds”, and efforts to regulate the trade in small arms and address the problem of children in conflict.  The Canadian-convened International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty produced its influential Responsibility to Protect report in 2001, but in subsequent years this country has been largely absent from the world stage. With the exception of the Harper government’s controversial foray into maternal, newborn and child health and participation in ill-starred military interventions in Afghanistan and Libya, Canada’s once ubiquitous presence in the international arena became spectral.

The Trudeau government is fond of proclaiming that “Canada’s back”, and has taken some significant steps, both symbolic and substantive, to modify this country’s international engagement. That said, apart from the questionable involvement in Syria/Iraq and provocative deployments to the Baltic states, much of the heavy lifting has yet to begin.

Read more…

“Canada’s Back” Can the Trudeau Government Resuscitate Canadian Diplomacy?

Blogger’s Note: The Liberal government headed by PM Justin Trudeau has launched defence and development reviews, but little is known of its intentions regarding diplomacy, international policy or grand strategy.  This is the second installment in a three part series on Canada’s role and place in a changing world – where we were, where we are, and where we may be going.

 

Part II:

Globalization, Power Shift and Heteropolarity –  The Way Things Are

 

In the last posting, I made the case that during the Cold War period, whatever its many hazards, Canadians were able to find ample room for diplomatic manoeuvre.

Are opportunities still available today?

Perhaps, but, navigation is difficult. World order has given way to a whirled order, with many of the old distinctions and assumptions, as if placed in a blender, either blurred or erased.  There is less political or ideological conviction, and more volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. In the 25 years since the Soviet Union imploded and the icy grip of Cold War constraint melted away, much has changed. The Great Thaw has transformed the operating environment, freeing up virulent strains of ethno-nationalism, nourishing religious fundamentalism, and gestating a  new threat set.

Read more…

“Canada’s Back”: Can the Trudeau Government Resuscitate Canadian Diplomatic Leadership?

Blogger’s Note: The Liberal government headed by PM Justin Trudeau has launched defence and development reviews, but little is known of its intentions regarding diplomacy, international policy or grand strategy.  This is the first of a three part series on Canada’s role and place in a changing world – where we were, where we are, and where we may be going.

Part I:

Cold War Comfort  – The Way We Were

In the wake of a series of disturbing events which have left many fearing a generalized descent into chaos, it all seems so long ago and far away. Yet surviving baby boomers and most Gen-xers will remember the elegant simplicity and terrifying symmetry of the Cold War years, 1947-91. Best understood as a binary construction, the Cold War featured a planet divided neatly between the the Free (First) and the Communist (Second) Worlds, each with their respective client states and spheres of influence (in the Third World).  Competing  blocs were led by a metropolitan centre – the USA or USSR – and he world atlas of the day was dominated by large swathes of red and blue.

With its purges, parades and powerful, iconic imagery, the Cold War occupied vast tracts of the collective imagination. There were air raid sirens, basement and backyard bomb shelters, “duck and cover” exercises in public schools and regular headlines warning us of the ubiquitous  Communist threat. Rabid finger-pointing reached an apogee during the McCarthy hearings, and fear-mongering attained levels not to be seen again until after 9/11.

Beneath the gleaming surface of missiles, warheads, and intercontinental bombers on 24-hour standby, deterrence, containment and Mutually Assured Destruction ensured that the “Red Menace” and the “Capitalist Imperialists” remained at bay, albeit with daggers drawn. First strike, throw weight, launch on warning… power was measured in the kilotonnage of warheads and influence calibrated in numbers of hardened silos and submarine launched ballistic missiles. Terrifying prospects – ranging from urban incineration to radioactive clouds and black rain, to endless nuclear winter – made it difficult for  most people to “stop worrying and love the bomb”.

Ironically, that heavily armed peace provided the basis for almost a half century of Cold War comfort.  The apocalypse was averted. International relations, if  dumbed down and punctuated by proxy wars and occasional near catastrophes such as the  Berlin Blockade or Cuban Missile Crisis, were for the most part stable and orderly, patterned and predictable. Then as now, military establishments thrived, demonstrating convincingly that they work best when not used.

Read more…

Science Diplomacy for the Age of Globalization

Blogger’s Note:   This short take appears in the current edition of Options magazine.

The planet is facing a bevy of “wicked” problems, which threaten global destabilization. Issues such as climate change, food and water, biodiversity preservation, and pandemic disease cut across disciplines and borders and affect people at all levels of society.

This new threat set requires cooperation between countries, but such challenges cannot be resolved by the same type of diplomacy that characterized the 20th century. During the Cold War international diplomacy focused on ideological competition and territorial ambition, on maintaining conventional peace and security. In contrast, today’s issues require diplomacy that is focused on human‑centered security and development, something best achieved through dialogue, negotiation, and compromise. There are no military solutions to the complex problems of globalization. To find the answers, we need new knowledge and research. As Einstein once said, “No problem can be solved by the same kind of thinking that created it.”

It is very difficult to navigate through the unpredictable eddies and currents of globalization, but I see science and technology as a beacon that can help illuminate the way forward.

Science diplomacy can mean different things: Science for diplomacy occurs when science serves to advance the goals of foreign policy and international relations. This kind of science diplomacy had its heyday during the Cold War, but today it is both less practiced and less successful, not least because of an absence of resources.

Diplomacy for science is the reverse: that’s when diplomats gather to advance scientific objectives. The climate negotiations are a good example of that, or the Montreal Protocol which addressed the issue of the ozone hole.

The concept of science in diplomacy is a third dimension. By this I mean expert science advice being injected directly into the policy and decision‑making process, for example by appointing a chief science advisor. Such positions are becoming more common and feature centrally in models of good governance.

Each of these activities is necessary, and together I think there is major potential for a new type of problem solving. Yet for the combination of science and diplomacy to achieve its potential, there remains much work to be done. How often are diplomats trained in science? And how often do scientists study international affairs? How can you expect foreign ministries and international organizations to manage these daunting issues if those with the relevant knowledge and experience don’t work there? You can’t, and that helps explain the current—debilitating—performance gap.

Scientists and diplomats have different training, and ways of thinking. Diplomats are risk averse, change resistant, practical, and focused on argumentation, persuasion, and influence. Scientists are risk tolerant, they value experimentation, trial and error, discovery and change. You can understand why scientists and diplomats make strange bedfellows, and why they might have trouble communicating. But there are shared objectives that the two worlds might build on. Both science and diplomacy seek to use reason to bring order and understanding to otherwise disorderly realms. Perhaps that is a basis for improved collaboration.

IIASA, with its capacity to bring together leading nations from the north and south, east and west, just might provide the elusive sweet spot where the worlds of science and diplomacy can intersect. That’s the kind of shared space in which we all need to spend more time.

Read more…