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.

Rebuilding Canada – and its place in the world: Science and diplomacy after the decade of darkness

We cannot solve the problems we have created with the same thinking we used in creating them.

Albert Einstein


During the recent federal electoral campaign, little was said about the state of science in Canada.

That’s unfortunate, because science policy matters, and in that respect, as the electoral dust settles, it will become clear that the new Liberal government has inherited some daunting challenges. Years of resource reductions and the centralized political control and manipulation of all scientific and public communications have deeply corroded Canadian democracy, governance and public administration.

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.

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…

In Defense of DFAIT: Why Diminished Diplomatic Capacity Damages Canadian Interests

These are not the best of days at DFAIT.

According to an article on p.1 of this week’s of Embassy magazine, Canada will be moving to a “hub and spoke” model for its diplomatic network in Europe, centralizing resources at a few larger missions while reducing the Canadian presence elsewhere in the region.

A box on p. 9 in the same edition reports that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade will lose about $170 million from its budget over the next three years. As a result, and among other things, the Department will:

• Review Canada’s participation in some international organizations

• Close five US missions in Anchorage, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Raleigh-Durham, and one satellite office in Princeton

• Introduce five new regional clusters in the United States: West Coast, Midwest,Great Lakes, South East, North East, and the South Rocky Mountain corridor

• Phase out the international Canadian studies program

• Reduce the funding and geographic scope of the International Scholarships Program

• Change DFAIT’s domestic network to have five regional hubs (Vancouver, Calgary,Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax) and close offices in Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon,Winnipeg, St. John’s, Charlottetown, and Moncton

• Eliminate 35 Commerce Officer positions

• Reduce the vehicle fleet at missions

• Update allowances for diplomats

• Extend the length of postings

• Sell some official residences abroad

Working smarter?

Readers may well be thinking… Hub and spoke in the EU? A bit of trimming here and there?

Under the prevailing circumstances in public finance, these measures seem modest, sensible, and perhaps timely if not overdue.


With a few exceptions, that has certainly been the reaction across the Canadian mainstream.

As with so much received wisdom, however, a closer examination is necessary.

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Heteropolarity, Globalization and the New Threat Set

In the last two posts I have tried to develop the concept and content of heteropolarity, which I  believe has some value as a heuristic tool for describing and analyzing contemporary world order. In part three of the trilogy, I assess the implications for grand strategy and the work of foreign ministries.

The most profound threats which imperil the heteropolis – and religious extremism and political violence do not make the A-list – are not amenable to military solutions. The best army cannot stop pandemic disease. Air strikes are useless against climate change. Alternatives to the carbon economy cannot be occupied by expeditionary forces. You can’t capture, kill, or garrison against these kinds of threats.  As instruments of international policy, defence departments are both too sharp, and too dull to provide the kinds of responses required.

Still, militaries continue to command the lion’s share of international policy funding, while foreign ministries struggle on the sidelines. Not only does this give rise to serious inefficiencies, distortions and misallocations, but Western governments have failed to apprehend the main lesson of the Cold War, namely, that force works best when it is not used. Take the sword out of the scabbard – think Iraq, Afghanistan – and it makes a dreadful mess.

Recalling the dismal experience of two world wars and a Cold War, the products of failed attempts at “managing” the emergence of new powers in the 20th century, this time around an alternative approach will be required. In the heteropolar world under construction, security will flow not from defence, but from development and diplomacy.

Read more…

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.

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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.


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.

Read more…

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

Readers of Guerrilla Diplomacy will know that in that volume I argue that if development is the new security in the age of globalization, then diplomacy must displace defence at the centre of international policy.

Were policy-makers to accept this formulation, then diplomacy, and in particular public diplomacy (PD), would be placed front and centre in international relations. Science diplomacy (SD), a term which encompasses both the use of international scientific cooperation to advance foreign policy objectives and the use of diplomacy to achieve scientific ends,  represents a critical component within the broader public diplomacy ambit.  Science diplomacy is an expression of soft power. It is perhaps best understood as a way to liberate scientific and technological (S&T) knowledge from its rigid national and institutional enclosures and to unleash its progressive potential through collaboration and sharing with interested partners world-wide.

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