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.

Leave a Comment