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.

For instance, the Foreign Ministry, DFAIT, should be centrally placed as the Canada’s globalization entrepot, an international docking mechanism and whole-of-government catalyst for the high level management of cross-cutting, inter-sectoral issues. These issues could range from the promotion of human rights or the rule of law to the pursuit of international security. None would be the responsibility of any single line department; the management of globalization is nobody else’s job.

Yet is DFAIT moving to re-invent itself as a central agency for ensuring the coordination and coherence of all aspects of international policy?


Instead, Foreign Ministry is being starved of resources and generally sidelined, marginalized and ignored.

Are diplomats being empowered  serve as  globalization managers, using their access to the Global Political Economy of Knowledge to address transnational issues? Again, no, despite the fact that engaging in S&T knowledge-based problem solving has become a critical diplomatic competence in the emerging heteropolar world.

Regrettably, science diplomacy is almost completely absent from the diplomatic mix, S&T knowledge is not considered a key competence in foreign service  recruitment. S&T partnerships – even basic S&T relationships – with universities, NGOs, think tanks and business are few to non-existent.

In other words, it is not just that the dots are not connected.

Typically, there are no dots.

What would be required to build bridges between the largely disconnected worlds of S&T and diplomacy?

Canada needs a grand strategy with a major S&T component. DFAIT needs to articulate a comprehensive international S&T policy, and establish a responsibility centre for the implementation of an action plan which will give legs (and performance benchmarks, and a time line) to the strategy and policy.

Clearly, some significant personnel and institutional changes will be necessary. As this is largely the stuff of public administration rather than international policy, I offer these recommendations in point form only:

Within DFAIT:

  • Appoint an International S&T Advisor to Deputy Minister. Creation of such a position has been frequently recommended – the US and UK have long had such advisors – but never acted upon.
  • Create new Bureau, under a Director General, for International S&T affairs. Unlike the current, trade-centred S&T enterprise, this larger entity would straddle both the international commerce and political sides of the Department, and a include robust policy development/analysis capability.
  • Intensify ties with the International Development Research Centre; National Research Council; Industry Canada and other science-based departments and research councils; universities; think tanks; NGOs.
  • Increase resident bench strength by bringing the outside in and turning inside out through a targeted program of secondments, exchanges, and internships.
  • Enlarge S&T training and professional development opportunities.
  • Add International S&T courses and learning modules to the curriculum of the Canadian Foreign Service Institute.
  • Develop a Canadian International S&T strategy,  policy, and action plan, focusing on points where Canadian capacity, national interests and global needs intersect.

At the national level:

  • Rescind the extraordinary controls on scientific and diplomatic communications (MEPs, etc.).
  • Restore the position of Science Advisor to the Prime Minister and house that function  in the Privy Council Office (it was downgraded and moved to Industry Canada after the 2006 election).
  • Consider re-creating a Ministry of State for Science and Technology as a stand alone entity with a mandate to improve linkages between those with S&T knowledge and those with responsibility for public policy, administration and management, and; to serve as a clearing house for S&T research and intelligence.

There is much to be done to equip Canada for the successful practice of science diplomacy. But if the will could be found to express Canada’s abundant soft power through imaginative policy-making and enlightened institutions vested with resource suffiency, then this country might once again be positioned to make a real difference in the world.