Rahul Sharma

Science diplomacy

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Science diplomacy is the use of scientific collaborations among nations to address common problems and to build constructive international partnerships. Many experts and groups use a variety of definitions for science diplomacy. However, science diplomacy has become an umbrella term to describe a number of formal or informal technical, research-based, academic or engineering exchanges.


Types of activities

In January 2010, the Royal Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science noted that "science diplomacy" refers to three main types of activities:

  • “Science in diplomacy”: Science can provide advice to inform and support foreign policy objectives.
  • “Diplomacy for science”: Diplomacy can facilitate international scientific cooperation.
  • "Science for diplomacy”: Scientific cooperation can improve international relations.

  • Before the term science diplomacy was coined, such initiatives—-in the United States—were often called “smart power” or “soft power” by those in the field. The term, “soft power,” was coined by Joseph Nye of Harvard University in a 1990 book, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. In an editorial in the Washington Post that he cowrote with Richard Armitage, he said, "In a changing world, the United States should become a smarter power by once again investing in the global good -- by providing things that people and governments want but cannot attain without U.S. leadership. By complementing U.S. military and economic strength with greater investments in soft power, Washington can build the framework to tackle tough global challenges." His notion of "smart power" became popular with the term’s use by members of the Clinton administration, and more recently the Obama Administration. However, the Obama Administration also uses the term science diplomacy.

    Bridging the World through Science

    Science as a tool for diplomacy has been used for several decades and by many countries around the world.

    One of the earliest ventures in joint scientific cooperation was in 1931 with the creation of the International Council of Scientific Unions, now the International Council of Science (ICSU). Through partnerships with international science unions and national science members, the ICSU focuses resources and tools towards the further development of scientific solutions to the world’s challenges such as climate change, sustainable development, polar research, and the universality of science.

    The civilian scientific exchanges between the United States and the then Soviet Union throughout the Cold War provide another example of science diplomacy. These collaborations linked the two countries when official diplomatic connections were stalled. Today, the U.S. and Russia work together on the International Space Station.

    Another example is European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Following a series of meetings, UNESCO hearings and a formal ratification by 12 member nations—Belgium, Denmark, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Yugoslavia— CERN was created. At present, CERN is run by 20 European member states, but many non-European countries are also involved in different ways. Scientists from some 608 institutes and universities around the world use CERN’s facilities.

    Individuals who are not connected with the government have also practiced science diplomacy. For example, in 1957, American philanthropist Cyrus Eaton hosted a meeting of 22 scientists (seven from the United States, three each from the Soviet Union and Japan, two each from the United Kingdom and Canada, and one each from Australia, Austria, China, France, and Poland) in the village of Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada. The stimulus for the gathering was a Manifesto issued in 1955 by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein—and signed by Max Born, Percy Bridgman, Leopold Infeld, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Herman Muller, Linus Pauling, Cecil Powell, Joseph Rotblat and Hideki Yukawa—which called upon scientists of all political persuasions to assemble to discuss the threat posed to civilization by the advent of thermonuclear weapons. The meetings eventually grew and gathered the attention of high level government officials. Since then, scientists have continued to gather at the Pugwash Conferences.

    In 1967, the African Scientific Institute was created to help African scientists reach others through published materials, conferences, seminars and provide tools for those who lack them. And in 1996, countries with interests in the Arctic came together to form the Arctic Council to discuss sustainable development and environmental protection.

    In the latter half of the century, the term "science diplomacy" gained popularity during the Obama administration. In 2009, President Barack Obama called for partnership during his “A New Beginning” speech in Cairo, Egypt. These partnerships would include a greater focus on engagement of the Muslim world through science, technology, and innovation building and connecting scientists from the United States to scientists in Muslim-majority countries.

    Implementing science diplomacy

    John F. Kennedy established a science and technology cooperation agreement with Japan in 1961 following appeals to repair the “broken dialogue” between the two countries’ intellectual communities after World War II. That agreement helped round out a tenuous relationship at the time rooted only in security concerns.

    In the 1970s, Henry Kissinger requested, and took, several science initiatives to his talks with China. These initiatives focused on areas in which both countries could participate; as evidenced in the Shanghai Communiqués. In 1979, when official diplomatic ties were established between China and the U.S., science played a big role in the shaping of renewed efforts. December 2010 marked the 30th anniversary of normalized relations between the United States and China.

    In the years following the end of the Cold War, U.S. Congressman George E. Brown Jr. was an outspoken champion of science and technology issues, particularly in international relations. As Chairman of the House Science Committee, Rep. Brown promoted conservation and renewable energy sources, technology transfer, sustainable development, environmental degradation, and an agency devoted to civilian technology when there were few listeners, and even fewer converts. Consistent with his long-held conviction that the nation needed a coherent technology policy, Brown articulated his concept of a partnership between the public and private sectors to improve the nation’s competitiveness. His concern for demonstrating the practical applications of advances in science and technology laid the foundation for what became the U.S. Civilian Research & Development Foundation, later CRDF Global—a private non-profit organization initially established to promote bilateral science and technology collaborations between the U.S. and newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. Brown also helped establish the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the (now defunct) Office of Technology Assessment and the first federal climate change research program in the Federal Climate Program Act of 1978.

    Several U.S. Government agencies, including the White House the State Department, and USAID have science and technology offices and advisors to aid with developing and creating S&T outreach policy. These advisors are regular speakers (e.g., J. Holdren, E.W. Colglazier, A. Dehgan, in 2010 and 2011) at meetings of the Science Diplomats Club of Washington, to strengthen links with foreign "science diplomats". E.W Colglazier and Alex Dehgan have also contributed to Science & Diplomacy.

    On March 12, 2010, Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA) and Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) introduced the Global Science Program for Security, Competitiveness, and Diplomacy Act, which proposed an increase in the application of science and scientific engagement in America’s foreign policy.

    Additionally, several non-profit organizations in the United States have continued science diplomacy practices in their work. CRDF Global, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, launched the Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) initiative in 2010 in Egypt with follow-up meetings in Malaysia and Morocco in 2011. In addition to the GIST Initiative, CRDF Global has been active in both the United States and in the Middle East on promoting science diplomacy through conferences, panel discussions and programs including the Iraqi Virtual Science Library, Maghreb Virtual Science Library, and the Afghanistan Virtual Science Library.

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) established the Center for Science Diplomacy whose goal is to use science and scientific cooperation to promote international understanding. “It approaches this goal by providing a forum for scientists, policy analysts, and policy-makers through whom they can share information and explore collaborative opportunities”. In March 2012, the center launched the quarterly publication Science & Diplomacy Additionally, CRDF Global, the Partnership for a Secure America and AAAS have worked together on science diplomacy initiatives and events. Others, such as the Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net) have dedicated an entire portion of their website for science diplomacy related articles, events and op-ed pieces.

    Malta Conferences Foundation - a bridge to peace in the Middle East through Science Diplomacy

    Starting in 2001, Dr. Zafra Lerman began working with the American Chemical Society Subcommittee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights to develop a scientific conference that would bring together researchers from many different, often mutually hostile, nations in the Middle East so they could cooperatively work toward solving problems facing the region. With support from the American Chemical Society (ACS), International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC - England), and the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker, the first conference was held on the island of Malta from December 6 to 11, 2003. Attendees included six Nobel Laureates and scientists from 15 Middle Eastern Countries (Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates). The conference included five workshops to foster cross-border collaborations:

  • Nanotechnology and material science
  • Medicinal chemistry and natural products
  • Alternative energy
  • Science education for all levels
  • Environment - Air and water quality
  • The organizers followed up by hosting a second meeting two years later, Malta II.

    The meeting was honored by United States Senator Dick Durbin in a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate entitled "Chemists Working Cooperatively".

    Lerman led the initiative to continue with the conferences and founded the Malta Conferences Foundation to support them. She secured the support of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

    List of Malta Conferences

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science awarded Zafra Lerman the 2014 Award for Science Diplomacy.

    Why science diplomacy is important

    In a speech at the 2008 Davos World Economic Forum, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, called for a new form of capitalism, that goes beyond traditional philanthropy and government aid. Citing examples ranging from the development of software for people who cannot read to developing vaccines at a price that Africans can afford, Gates noted that such projects “...provide a hint of what we can accomplish if people who are experts on needs in the developing world meet with scientists who understand what the breakthroughs are, whether it’s in software or drugs.” He suggested that we need to develop a new business model that would allow a combination of the motivation to help humanity and the profit motive to drive development. He called it “creative capitalism,” capitalism leavened by a pinch of idealism and altruistic desire to better the lot of others.

    Scientists and engineers have an important role to play in creating what New York Times columnist Tom Friedman calls a “flat world,” a world of economic opportunity made equal through electronic communication technologies.

    UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said, during the 2010 InterAcademy Panel of the British Royal Society, “The scientific world is fast becoming interdisciplinary, but the biggest interdisciplinary leap needed is to connect the worlds of science and politics.”

    CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Rush D. Holt, Jr. wrote, in his article published in Science & Diplomacy “Scientific Drivers for Diplomacy”: “Beyond providing knowledge and applications to benefit human welfare, scientific cooperation is a useful part of diplomacy—scientific cooperation to work on problems across borders and without boundaries, cooperation made possible by the international language and methodology of science, cooperation in examining evidence that allows scientists to get beyond ideologies and form relationships that allow diplomats to defuse politically explosive situations.” Holt was the U.S. Representative for New Jersey's 12th congressional district from 1999 to 2015, and has a PhD in Physics from New York University.

    Many of the global challenges related to health, economic growth, and climate change lay at the intersection of science and international relations.


    Science diplomacy Wikipedia

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