Science Diplomacy for the Age of Globalization

Blogger’s Note:   This short take appears in the current edition of Options magazine.

The planet is facing a bevy of “wicked” problems, which threaten global destabilization. Issues such as climate change, food and water, biodiversity preservation, and pandemic disease cut across disciplines and borders and affect people at all levels of society.

This new threat set requires cooperation between countries, but such challenges cannot be resolved by the same type of diplomacy that characterized the 20th century. During the Cold War international diplomacy focused on ideological competition and territorial ambition, on maintaining conventional peace and security. In contrast, today’s issues require diplomacy that is focused on human‑centered security and development, something best achieved through dialogue, negotiation, and compromise. There are no military solutions to the complex problems of globalization. To find the answers, we need new knowledge and research. As Einstein once said, “No problem can be solved by the same kind of thinking that created it.”

It is very difficult to navigate through the unpredictable eddies and currents of globalization, but I see science and technology as a beacon that can help illuminate the way forward.

Science diplomacy can mean different things: Science for diplomacy occurs when science serves to advance the goals of foreign policy and international relations. This kind of science diplomacy had its heyday during the Cold War, but today it is both less practiced and less successful, not least because of an absence of resources.

Diplomacy for science is the reverse: that’s when diplomats gather to advance scientific objectives. The climate negotiations are a good example of that, or the Montreal Protocol which addressed the issue of the ozone hole.

The concept of science in diplomacy is a third dimension. By this I mean expert science advice being injected directly into the policy and decision‑making process, for example by appointing a chief science advisor. Such positions are becoming more common and feature centrally in models of good governance.

Each of these activities is necessary, and together I think there is major potential for a new type of problem solving. Yet for the combination of science and diplomacy to achieve its potential, there remains much work to be done. How often are diplomats trained in science? And how often do scientists study international affairs? How can you expect foreign ministries and international organizations to manage these daunting issues if those with the relevant knowledge and experience don’t work there? You can’t, and that helps explain the current—debilitating—performance gap.

Scientists and diplomats have different training, and ways of thinking. Diplomats are risk averse, change resistant, practical, and focused on argumentation, persuasion, and influence. Scientists are risk tolerant, they value experimentation, trial and error, discovery and change. You can understand why scientists and diplomats make strange bedfellows, and why they might have trouble communicating. But there are shared objectives that the two worlds might build on. Both science and diplomacy seek to use reason to bring order and understanding to otherwise disorderly realms. Perhaps that is a basis for improved collaboration.

IIASA, with its capacity to bring together leading nations from the north and south, east and west, just might provide the elusive sweet spot where the worlds of science and diplomacy can intersect. That’s the kind of shared space in which we all need to spend more time.

1 thought on “Science Diplomacy for the Age of Globalization”

  1. Hi Daryl,

    I heard the end of your interview on CBC Sunday Edition, July 3.

    “You can’t call in an air strike on a warming climate…There are no military solutions to the most profound problems that are imperilling the planet. It’s got to be diplomacy,” says former diplomat Daryl Copeland.

    I am new to your work, look forward to reading it.

    Michael Enright questioned the idea of working with countries like North Korea.

    I emailed the Sunday Edition and posted on my blog to effect YES! Daryl Copeland is right and here’s an example to illustrate,

    You may or may not know about the International Crane Foundation’s (ICF’s) very successful project in North Korea, began in 2008. Without diplomacy and a wise appreciation of the lives of people, it would not have been possible. It obviously contributes to solutions for environmental, species-extinction problems. It less-obviously contributes to the empowerment and fulfillment of North Koreans, the building of relationships between countries.

    It is the story of George Archibald, the Canadian behind the ICF, the amazing story of the rescue-from-extinction of the whooping cranes, which became an international effort on behalf of other species of cranes, the environment, and humans.

    There was not room in the message to The Sunday Edition, to elaborate on a similar story from Bhutan. Through serendipity I was able to travel there with a group led by George. I stayed a couple extra days, had pre-arranged to meet with The Bhutan-Canada Foundation. That Foundation had been helping to bring education to people in remote and almost inaccessible villages in mountain valleys. You may know how welcome I was as a Canadian – – the people were so grateful for the help Canadians had been bringing, since the 1970s. On a shoestring budget. The bit of assistance provided by the Govt of Canada through the years was abruptly ended by the Conservatives under Harper.

    It was senseless strategy, especially when those cuts are offset a billion times over by increases in the purchases of weapons of war like the F-35 stealth or other bombers at a price tag upwards of $30 billion. Not to mention the money that will go into ships that are equipped for and with killer technology. We have been sucked into the American military-industrial-government-university complex. Overtaken by corporate values and really stupid economic indicators (I am a graduate of a College of Commerce.)

    While in Bhutan I was incredibly fortunate to also make a small foray into my motivating interest to get to Bhutan: work initiated by former King Jigme at the national and U.N. level, to replace faulty economic indicators used by the West with indicators based on outcomes like the health and happiness of the population and the environment – – identification and measurement of the factors that contribute to the outcomes they want as a society.

    Canada has played a role: people from the Vancouver Island Health District went to Bhutan some years ago, to help them establish the baseline data for the project.

    I was invited to a meal. Among the guests were two deputy ministers (Economy and Education) and a Government employee in Environment. George’s “from the beginning” relationship with Bhutan is through a brother of these officials.

    Hishey invited us to a family dinner. In my case, so I could pursue conversations about what are very destructive economic indicators in the West (in our ignorance). I wanted to hear a bit about the experience of the Bhutanese in changing course.

    Anyhow, there it is. Bless you for your work, your wisdom, and for speaking out.

    Best wishes,

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