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

Blogger’s note: The following article represents a partial reconstruction of remarks delivered at the second AAAS/TWAS short course on science diplomacy in Trieste, Italy on June 8th, 2015. For purposes of illustration, that address featured several rather elaborate stories. One spoke of Albert Einstein highlighting the distinction between timeless questions and evolving answers while invigilating a first year physics exam at Humboldt University in Berlin in the early 1920’s. Another set out the tale of fearless, innovative Scheherazade speaking truth to power in ancient Persia, and in so doing providing us with important insights for diplomacy and science. A third referred to Eleanor Roosevelt’s eloquent meditation on the gift of life. Those stories have been omitted here, but other sections of the address will be elaborated in greater detail.



Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity and is the torch which illuminates the world.

Louis Pasteur


Today, headlines in the mainstream media are filled with lurid tales of the campaign against the Islamic State (ISIL), suicide bombings, violence in Ukraine, earthquakes and tornadoes, mass shootings, and all manner of sensational reportage. In the face of such a barrage – if it bleeds, it leads – it is very easy to become distracted, and to allow the shocking or the urgent to trump the essential or the important.

Policy and decision makers most everywhere have become preoccupied with apparent threats at the expense of responding to more profound challenges, including those which – unlike terrorism, religious extremism or political violence – actually imperil the future of the planet.

In this article I will argue that in the 21st century our collective security and prosperity – the globe’s shared prospects for peace and development – depend increasingly on diplomacy rather than defence. In that regard, science diplomacy has never mattered more, but it has become something of an orphan in international relations, sidelined, among other things, by the militarization of international policy.

Science diplomacy (SD) is relevant, effective, and potentially transformative. It can play a key role in responding to some of the most elemental challenges facing the international community. Yet relative to other international policy instruments it receives little notice and is being starved of resources.

To remedy those problems, science and technology (S&T) must be brought from the margins into the mainstream of diplomatic institutions, training and practice, worldwide. In foreign ministries and international organizations everywhere, S&T capacity and performance must be radically improved if the world is to avoid plunging over some still undefined tipping point and human survival is to be ensured.