New CGAI Policy Paper on the prospects for science and diplomacy under the new federal government

Blogger’s Note: Following is a summary of the subject report which sets out in more complete detail the arguments which have underpinned my last several postings.

In the twenty-first century, Canada’s security and prosperity – and the shared prospects for peace and development globally – depend increasingly on diplomacy rather than defence. In that regard, not least because there are no military solutions for the most pressing problems facing the planet, science diplomacy, and international science and technology more generally, have never mattered more. Yet rather than building a capability to join in collaborative efforts to find and deliver effective responses to complex global issues, under the Conservative Government key Canadian policy instruments were run down. Preoccupied with foreign wars, Islamist terrorism and related fear-inducing threats, Canada’s political decision-makers shunned science, disdained diplomacy and dismissed multilateralism. That record diminished this country’s international reputation and influence while leaving the population vulnerable and exposed to a wide range of S&T-based threats. If Canada is to face the future with confidence, the new government must reallocate priorities and resources in support of science and diplomacy, and move immediately to address performance issues. Specific policy recommendations conclude this analysis.

Advancing Insecurity: How the Conservative Government’s “War on Science” has Undermined Canada – and Our Place in the World

Foreign policy issues rarely figure centrally in electoral politics, and in the public and media mainstream science is an even more distant outlier.

That’s unfortunate, because science policy matters. Years of resource reductions, and the centralized political control and manipulation of all public communications have deeply corroded Canadian democracy, governance and public administration.

Less visible – yet of at least equal consequence – has been the damage to Canada’s global brand wrought by the government’s ill-conceived war on science and rejection of evidence-based policy and decision-making.

Among the warrior nation wannabes in Ottawa, spin rules.

Ideology has displaced rationality.

Read more…

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

What is to be done?

The problems faced by the world can be remedied, but not easily, and certainly not quickly – enough. As long as international policy makers remain so heavily addicted to the use of force, any gains will be modest at best.

  1. Security is not just a martial art, yet militaries around the world continue the receive the lion’s share of international policy resources. This misallocation has resulted in serious domestic costs and distortions, and has wrought untold damage abroad. If that is to change, publics must insist on breaking the influential stranglehold of what President Eisenhower, in his now famous 1961 farewell address, referred to as the Military Industrial Complex. Legions of lobbyists, think tanks, special interest groups and the right wing media have joined with the defence industries, uniformed armed services and congressional interests to stifle any kind of meaningful reform. Yet of this there can be no doubt. Absent a shift in emphasis in international relations from defence to diplomacy and development, and a decisive move away from defence research in favour of public and civic applications (for instance health, agriculture, alternative energy, conservation, urbanization, etc), progress will remain largely out of reach.
  2. Diplomacy and international policy, on one hand, and science and technology, on the other, represent two solitudes, floating worlds which rarely intersect. How many diplomats are scientists? How many scientists are diplomats? Why is there no Venn diagram showing shared space and functional overlap? Insularity on the part of the scientific community, and anxiety over the unknown on the part of the diplomats must give way to a pattern of cross-fertilization and regular interaction and exchange. The two solitudes must be eliminated, in part through the creation of networks, connections, and collaborative commons. Rigid hierarchy and authoritarian social relations must give way to the lateral and the unorthodox. Think Silicon Valley style skunkworks. During the Cold War, science was more deeply embedded in diplomacy; that characteristic requires re-instatement, but on a larger scale; today the challenges are more diverse and the needs enormous. Back to the future.
  3. S&T capacity in diplomatic and multilateral institutions must be broadened, deepened, and, where it does not exist, constructed from scratch. This outcome could be encouraged through promotion and recruitment processes and career specialization. But a faster way to build capability would involve turning the inside out and bringing the outside in through training and professional development, secondments and exchanges, and the provision of incentives. In some cases (such as Canada) unnecessary obstacles and constraints would have to be removed, and replaced by a commitment to information sharing and critical thinking. Perhaps more easily achieved would be the injection of high level S&T advice into policy formulation and decision-making throughout government and the international governance process. High quality science advice , and more easily intelligible science communications are desperately needed.
  4. Public-private partnerships and institutional linkages – between governments, corporations, NGOs, universities and think tanks – need to be encouraged in order to leverage international S&T cooperation. To this end, it would be useful to go beyond tapping the usual suspects by embracing dynamic new forces, facilities and actors. Here I am thinking of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), private philanthropists and foundations, venture capital firms, and the like. Creative use could also be made of collaborative intelligence, global value chains, open source problem solving and web-based policy development. A little out of the box thinking about how best to engineer S&T teamwork could pay high dividends.
  5. Finally, any and all measures intended to improve performance in science diplomacy and international S&T must be rigorously benchmarked, monitored and evaluated. Re-investment cannot be justified in the absence of a convincing demonstration of value for money and results achieved. If you don’t know where you are, you can never be sure where you are going. And, as George Harrison once famously observed: “If don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”.

The wrap

Science and diplomacy do have one thing in common – problems with image and reputation in popular culture. Science is often recalled as a bewilderingly difficult subject which most people were keen to drop as soon as they could in high school. And although the WikiLeaks “Cablegate” episode helped to dispel some of the myths, diplomacy is still frequently associated with ineffectiveness, weakness and appeasement, with caving in to power, with pin stripes and pearls, receptions and exotic travel.

Putting the two together – science diplomacy – and raising the topic at a dinner party is usually sufficient to stop any conversation dead in its tracks.

The best way to counter popular misconceptions about science and diplomacy is through better advocacy and what Secretary Clinton referred to as “diplomacy of the deed”.

Notwithstanding the present spike in the incidence of armed conflict, there are no military solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. The path to peace and prosperity, security and development lies elsewhere. To that end, and as a response to the negative attributes of globalization – including polarization at all levels and the tendency to socialize costs while privatizing benefits – science diplomacy will be indispensable.

The very idea of science, as an evidence-based form of knowledge acquisition, underscores that all events are caused, that misery is not fated, and that poverty and suffering are not intrinsic to the human condition. Threat conjuring, issuing terror alerts, and fomenting the politics of fear – be afraid, very afraid – are part of the problem, not the solution. A more lasting and effective approach would be to genuinely address the needs of the poor by sustaining broadly-based development.

For these reasons and more, S&T must become a pre-occupation of both diplomacy and international policy. The case is clear, and it is long past time that governments and international organizations reconsidered their priorities and reallocated resources accordingly.

Rethinking Diplomacy, Security and Commerce in the Age of Heteropolarity

A few weeks ago I attended  an International Symposium on the the subject themes organized by the University of East Anglia’s London Academy of Diplomacy.  I was especially keen to participate because I had helped with the conceptualization and design of the conference.  Lately I have also been trying to develop the idea of heteropolarity as a tool for making better sense of world order in the 21st century.

Attendees were invited first to consider a fundamental question: “Does diplomacy still matter?”  The consensus was yes, increasingly so.  But most also agreed that diplomacy’s practices, practitioners and institutions have not adapted well contemporary circumstances, and in particular to the exigencies of the  globalization age.

It was observed that in the public mind diplomacy has suffered from its association with weakness and appeasement, and that diplomats have been caricatured as ditherers, drinking and dining off the public purse, lost in a haze of obsolescence. Western diplomacy especially is seen as having failed to deliver the expected peace dividend at the end of the Cold War, a problem compounded by the militarization of foreign policy after 9/11 and the prosecution of an undifferentiated and  ill-defined “war on terror”. The Cold War, it seems, simply morphed into the Long War, featuring “overseas contingency operations”, stabilization programmes and counter-insurgency campaigns world-wide.

In short, the conferees agreed that diplomacy – a non-violent approach to the management of international relations through dialogue, negotiation and compromise – has not delivered the goods. Most diplomats work for states, and these days states are of diminishing importance, only one actor among many on a world stage now crowded with multinational corporations, NGOs, think tanks and celebrities.  In recent years foreign ministries have lost much of their turf, with leadership passing increasingly upwards, into the hands of presidents and prime ministers, outwards, to other government departments and a host of new players, and downwards, to other levels of government. Tradition-bound and inherently change-resistant, diplomacy has been sidelined and become marginalized, displaced in government by a preference for the use of armed force.

Read more…

Heteropolis Rising: World Order in the 21st Century

In the previous post,  I argued that the short-lived era of unipolar American hegemony has given way to  a new international dispensation best characterized as heteropolar rather than multipolar. This metamorphosis may be attributed mainly to a series of colossal strategic misjudgements and the profusion of diverse sources of power and influence globally. The implications for security and diplomacy are profound.

To be sure, and as was the case with the multipolar world dominated by the European Empires from the 15th to 19th centuries, there are once again many poles. But this time the differences between them far outweigh the similarities. These players share little in common.  Unlike in previous eras, the heterogeneous nature of today’s competing actors renders comparison difficult and measurement even more so.

That said, and although this is very much a new order in the making, we can begin to trace the contours and discern the content of heteropolarity, a condition which I believe will increasingly define international relations. New poles are forming, and old poles are evolving. In terms of identifying the major heteropoles in the early years of the 21st century, the following thoughts come immediately to mind.

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Diplomacy in the Digital Age

Today the contributors to a recently released collection of essays assembled under this title and edited by Janice Stein will gather in Toronto to discuss the lifetime contribution to the diplomatic profession of  former Ambassador to the USA Allan Gotlieb.

It is encouraging to see attention of this nature being directed towards the study of diplomacy. Over my 30 years of diplomatic practice and scholarship, I could never understand why so many mainstream educators, senior officials and analysts spent so little time trying to understand or assess the inner workings of the world’s second oldest profession.

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Science Diplomacy: New Day or False Dawn?

A few weeks ago in Oslo, Norway, in the company of about 40 other invitees from around the world, I attended an OECD “experts” meeting, sponsored by the Norwegian and German Ministries of Education and Research, on the subject of Science, Technology, Innovation and Global Challenges.

The workshop was predicated upon the shared realization that if  international policy and decision-makers cannot be convinced that a radical course correction is needed, then in the not too distant future the planet may reach a tipping point. Beyond that point, recovery will be difficult, if not impossible.

Think climate change, diminishing biodiversity, food insecurity, resource scarcity, pandemic disease, and so forth.

So… we were talking about the principal threats imperilling life on the planet.

Not your standard bit of bureaucratic process.

Today, I am en route to Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand, to speak at a conference entitled Science Diplomacy: New Day or False Dawn. Among many other speakers are Murray McCully, the Foreign Minister of New Zealand, Vaughn Turekian, head of  the science diplomacy unit at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, and Dr. Jeffery Boutwell, from Pugwash USA.

Two global gatherings in two months on science, technology, diplomacy and international policy. Is it possible that something’s happening here, even if what is ain’t exactly clear?

Maybe.  I certainly hope so.

Read more…

The New Threat Set: Humanity’s Race Against Time

From May 18-20th in Oslo, Norway, along with participants from some 40 countries and organizations around the world, I attended an “experts workshop” on Science, Technology and Innovation to Address Global Challenges. The meeting was organized jointly under OECD auspices by the Norwegian and German Ministries of Education and Research

The agenda included presentations and discussions on issues such as priority setting, funding, capacity building, and…

Asleep yet?

Well, this is your wake up call.

The Oslo meeting was far from a garden variety bureaucratic encounter. The rubber really hit the road during the final substantive session, which was innocuously entitled “Delivering Benefits.” At that point in the proceedings a consensus began to develop around a single, somewhat terrifying realization: If  international policy and decision-makers cannot be convinced that a radical course correction is needed, then in the not too distant future the world may reach a tipping point beyond which recovery will be difficult, if not impossible.

The consequences could well be catastrophic.

To understand how a group assembled by such a respectable institution as the OECD could reach such a disturbing conclusion, some sense of the over-arching analytical narrative is required. My  interpretation of the fundamental line of argument goes something like this.

In the globalization era, the most profound challenges to human survival — climate change, public health, diminishing biodiversity, and resource scarcity, to name a few — are rooted in science and driven by technology. Moreover, underdevelopment and insecurity, far more than religious extremism or political violence, represent fundamental threats to world order. In this context, the capacity to generate, absorb and use science and technology (S&T) could play a crucial role in improving security and development prospects. Addressing the needs of the poor, and bridging the digital divide could similarly become a pre-occupation of diplomacy.

Although poverty reduction contributes to development, and development is the flip side of security, S&T issues are largely alien to, and almost invisible within most international policy institutions. National governments, foreign ministries, development agencies, and indeed most multilateral organizations are without the scientific expertise, technological savvy, cultural pre-disposition or research and development (R&D) network access required to manage effectively. If this is to change, and in order to examine the remedial possibilities, politicians, opinion leaders and senior officials must be critically aware of both the dynamic inter-relationships among principal actors and the key questions and issues at play.

Unfortunately, their preoccupations lie almost entirely elsewhere.

The lion’s share of international policy resources are at present devoted to the military, which according to the rationale outlined above represents a colossal, and extremely costly misallocation. With a dominant international policy focus in many industrialized countries on counter-terrorism and the struggle against religious extremism and political violence, the threats and challenges which most imperil the planet remain largely unaddressed.

All told, this tale amounts to one terribly disturbing disconnect.

Because not only are the dots not joined-up.

In  most cases, there are no dots.

Whatever comes out of the Oslo meeting, it clearly will not, in itself, be enough to save the world. But if the project contributes to a more acute and widely-shared awareness of the real threat set, then we may all emerge at least with something in rather short supply under the present circumstances.


Ferment in North Africa: A Guerrilla Diplomacy Take

Stand-off in Tunis.

Riots in Khartoum

Cairo burning.

In the erstwhile global village, which today looks more like an island patchwork of  heavily guarded, gated communities surrounded by an angry sea of seething shantytowns, the relentless forces of globalization continue to transform world politics. Cairo is the current, and increasingly turbulent epicentre, but many countries in the region are susceptible to similar rebellions.

In Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan and elsewhere, change is unfolding very rapidly. The reactions of the USA, EU, UN, and certainly Canada have positioned the international community well behind the curve. Developments on the ground have outpaced responses by a wide margin, and an anti-Western backlash, which could carry major economic and political implications, cannot be ruled out.

What, then, are the the broad strategic considerations which decision-makers could usefully take into account?

Read more…

A Role for Science Diplomacy? Soft Power and Global Challenges – Part III

Parts I and II of this series have examined the role and place – or lack thereof – of science and technology in diplomacy and international policy. How do those observations play out in reference to Canada, and, by extension, for members of the international community more generally?

The Canadian case brings many of these issues, and in particular the aspect of unfulfilled possibilities, into stark relief. Notwithstanding its humiliating electoral defeat at the UN, Canada retains a significant comparative advantage  vis-a-vis the global competition in terms of soft power.  A large part of this advantage may be attributed to default, that is, to the things which this country doesn’t  have or do, such as carry colonial baggage or harbor aggressive global ambitions. And however undeserved, Canada still enjoys a very positive international image and reputation. It’s brand was recently ranked the world’s best.

Unthreatening  and nice.

Cosmopolitan and approachable.

Open and welcoming.

The globalization nation.

Canada, moreover, has the capacity – educational, scientific and representational – necessary to make a substantial contribution to science diplomacy. Before that potential can be realized, however, significant reform will be required.

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A Role for Science Diplomacy? Soft Power and Global Challenges – Part II

Part I of this series examined the relationships – or lack thereof – between diplomacy, science and international policy, and noted the serious image problems which plague all three enterprises. These difficulties have hobbled the practice of science diplomacy, and are compounded by a host of substantial issues, which will be addressed presently. First, however, it may be useful to unpack the key terms.

Not unlike “intelligence” or  “policy”, “science” and “technology” are words frequently invoked in both conversation and writing. More often than not, however, the users have little more than an intuitive sense of what these terms actually mean.

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War and Diplomacy – Part IV

Two weeks after the shock of Canada’s UNSC debacle, discussions concerning the larger implications of that disaster continue. And so they should. Among the many possible messages, it is clearly time to turn the page on Pearsonian Internationalism and to get on with the job of rebranding this country as the globalization nation.

Where else but in Canada could a professor named Naheed Nenshi get elected as mayor in a place like Calgary? That happened only days after the electoral meltdown in the General Assembly, and the two events taken together represent a powerful symbolic combination – an epochal coda, and quite possibly a new beginning in the history in our national life.

So… Out with the old, in with the new.

But, in the meantime, back to some final thoughts on diplomacy and war.

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Guerrilla Diplomacy Revisited

It has now been a year since the release of Guerrilla Diplomacy. I have spent much of this time trying to promote the book’s main arguments in support of restoring the diplomatic ecosystem and de-militarizing international policy. Following are a few reflections on those efforts.

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Science, Technology and Diplomacy

In his typically excellent September 1 – 2 press and blog review of the burgeoning discourse on public diplomacy (PD), John Brown cites a quotation by Manuel Castells, author of the magisterial Information Age trilogy:

Public Diplomacy is the…projection in the international arena of the values and ideas of the public… The aim of the practice of public diplomacy is not to convince but to communicate, not to declare but to listen. Public diplomacy seeks to build a sphere in which diverse voices can be heard in spite of their various origins, distinct values, and often contradictory interests.

Among the almost infinite variety of subjects which might form the basis for that kind of conversation, science (because of its universality, inclusivity and relevance to almost everything) and technology (because of its power and ubiquity) represent one area which is is particularly well-suited to international ventilation.

For those reasons, among others, scientific exchanges, alongside similarly popular educational and cultural programs, were prolific during the Cold War. Although not necessarily considered an element of public diplomacy at the time, international S&T programming nonetheless played a prominent role in both the American and Soviet camps.  In those days, wide-ranging ideological, strategic and geopolitical competition provided the framing and context, both directly and through third parties whose allegiance was being sought. One of the sources of continuing Russian influence in places such as India, Syria and Iran, for instance, stems from the scientific training received in the Soviet Union by at least a generation of  students.

In the globalization era, however, world order has become more hetero– than bi- or even multi-polar, and the institutional memory of those Cold War activities is fading fast. Now, markets rule, and much of the scientific research and technological development has  been either moved out of government and privatized, or has remained focussed on defence-related objectives.

None of that, of course, makes S&T writ large any less relevant. But it does make it harder to understand why so little is said about it outside of a few specialized, and somewhat isloated and obscure circles.

Although many of the most pressing issues facing humanity are based in science and propelled by technology, with critical downstream implications for development and security, most governments have not made significant efforts to ramp up the level of scientific and technological interchange globally. Were this to become a priority, foreign ministries, as the primary points of contact between the national and international interests of states, would almost certainly have to become involved.

All of which brings me to offer an account of a session I attended recently on “The Foreign Ministry of the Future”. Senior officials spoke at some length about matters related to to the creation of an international platform for the efficient delivery of common services abroad to other federal government departments, about the need to transform various aspects of the bureaucratic process, and about a number of human resource initiatives.


It never came up.

In fact, the entire episode was suffused with a somewhat surreal air, not least because of the complete absence of any references to either diplomacy or foreign policy, which one might otherwise think would have to be germane to such a discussion. Nor did the acute shortage of resources, which is at present wreaking havoc upon operations at home and abroad, attract any commentary. All of which is quite surprising.

One dimension of S&T which might have come up regards the issue of virtuality and foreign ministries, by which I mean the application of information and communications technology (ICTs) and the use of the new media. Especially in OECD countries, and particularly in the USA and UK,  diplomatic methods and practices after a slow start have in fact have in fact adapted quite well to the possibilities inherent in the new media and ICTs. Ambassadors and foreign ministers are blogging, the web is being used interactively for the conduct of outreach and public diplomacy, foreign service officers in the field are being enabled through the issue of mobile communications devices such as Blackberries, and personnel departments are experimenting with telework and distance learning.

Among the many factors subversive of  the lingering elements of hierarchy, secrecy, cultural conservativism and top-down control still prominent in contemporary diplomatic institutions, these sorts of developments, and the revolution in S&T more generally, are likely to figure centrally.

In my view, that can’t happen too soon.

I began with a quotation from communications theorist Manuel Castells; let me conclude with a passage from Canada’s own Marshall McLuhan:

The vested interests of acquired knowledge and conventional wisdom have always been bypassed and engulfed by new media.

Enough said.