science diplomacy

Science for Society – via Science Diplomacy

It is a matter of debate whether scientific enquiry is an end in itself or whether it should be a means to an end. The discussion often leads to conflicting views about relative merits of ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ research. Historically, the systematic study of natural phenomenon based on observations and reasoning was indeed a curiosity driven activity. Fundamentally, the motive of any research in natural sciences is still the same – a need to solve the puzzles about matter and the forces that dictate its behaviour. However, it became obvious as far back as Middle Ages that scientific knowledge is utilitarian in nature and that it could lead to great advantages in trade and warfare. After the industrial revolution of 18th century, there never has been a doubt that the science and the resulting technologies based on it have a strong influence over the lives and livelihoods of common people. Subsequent developments increasingly manifested a clear nexus between S&T capacity and socio-economic progress of a society. Europe, and later on North America, was able to gain unprecedented political and military influence over the rest of the world because of their leadership in S&T. Over the course of last one hundred years a clear and consistent pattern has emerged whereby any nation that embarks on a course of mastering modern technology becomes powerful and prosperous as evidenced by the economic strengths of countries like Japan, Korea and China. So, why is it that countries like Pakistan don’t realize the importance of using a well-tested formula for development? Could it be because of lack of interactivity between scientific community and decision makers? If so, then the remedy lies in Science Diplomacy.

The idea of using the services of wise men by kings and queens goes back to the times of Alexander the great. In modern parlance advisers with specialised knowledge are considered necessary for well-informed decisions to run the affairs of State and to conduct inter-state affairs. In 1999, the US National Research Council (NRC) published a report that emphasized the need to depute a senior scientist as advisor to the Secretary of State in view of the pervasive role of science in foreign relations. In 2010 the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Royal Society of UK jointly codified an approach for embedding science in all aspects of state matters and dubbed it ‘Science Diplomacy’. Much of what goes under the rubric of Science Diplomacy is not new, but what is new is a clear understanding about the need to focus on scientific inputs in all level of decision making at national and international level. This is but natural, given that there is hardly an issue related to public welfare which does not require scientific and technological resources.

The classification of what constitutes ‘Science Diplomacy’ and how it works is no doubt a useful instrument for framing public policies.

Domains of Science Diplomacy

According to the prevalent understanding, ‘Science Diplomacy’ has the following three domains.

  1. ‘Science in Diplomacy’: It recognises that the input from scientists is crucial for conducting foreign relations, and that is what was the basis of 1999 NRC report. There is a broad spectrum of trans-boundary issues with strong scientific underpinnings. It makes sense if there is an institutionalised mechanism for making expert scientific knowledge readily available to diplomats, who are responsible for safeguarding national interests at international forums. Therefore, a mechanism or arrangement that makes the services of scientists available to diplomats is indispensible, and that is what is classified as ‘Science in Diplomacy’.
  2. ‘Diplomacy for Science’: This may be considered as a ‘quid pro quo’ i.e if scientists are expected to make their services available to diplomats, the diplomats too are expected to facilitate scientists in their international collaborations and participation in capacity building events by using resources of Foreign Office. Alternatively, it may be viewed as a matter of self-interest for Foreign Office to enhance the expertise of that very group of people who are then engaged to provide technical advice. This too requires well-defined protocols and procedures, which should be put in place and scientific community made aware of these.
  3. ‘Science for Diplomacy’: This is a classical approach whereby any specific field of common interest is harnessed to achieve foreign policy objectives. In that sense it is at par with nomenclatures such as ‘cricket diplomacy’ or ‘oil diplomacy’ etc. Any two countries or group of countries can always strengthen their relations by opening channels of people-to-people interactions whether through cultural exchanges, sports events, literary festivals or scientific collaborations. Science is the best instrument in this regard because of its value-neutral nature, universality and common utility. It works even in circumstances when diplomatic relations are otherwise strained.

Sectors of Science Diplomacy

Science Diplomacy is most needed in sectors of global commons and shared threats. It is also required to realize the aspirations of peace and prosperity by all nations. Humanity is divided into countries and communities, but they all share the same atmosphere, oceans, and outer space. Availing the rights and fulfilling international obligations with respect to such global commons is not possible without participation of national experts. Any dependence on external advice can compromise vital national interests. Similarly, all humanity faces common threats such as energy deficiency, food insecurity, water scarcity, disease burden and natural calamities. To be part of international efforts to avert these threats and mitigate their effects, it is inconceivable that decision makers do not rely on knowledge and wisdom of those who are adept in sciences of health, environment, energy and food. International peace and security depends on international treaties for averting war, limiting arms and prescribing rules of military operations. No nation can afford to put its strategic interests at stake by ignoring technical input from people of relevant competence.

Examples of outstanding Science Diplomacy

As mentioned earlier, the terminology of Science Diplomacy was not explicitly ascribed to certain actions in the past, which are now better understood in terms of domains of Science Diplomacy. For example, the rendezvous of Apollo (USA) and Soyuz (former Soviet Union) spaceships in deep space opened a vista of hope for detente at the height of cold war in 1975. This was evidently a fine example of ‘Science for Diplomacy’. Then again, the US and Soviet scientists collaborated closely to work out the technical procedures that made it possible for two sides to sign Comprehensive (nuclear) Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996. That was a brilliant case of Science in Diplomacy. In European continent, after the devastation of WW-II, it was science that united warring countries at the platform of CERN (the European Nuclear Research Organization), founded in 1954. This move played the dual role of ‘Diplomacy for Science’ and ‘Science for Diplomacy’. Some countries have chosen specific disciplines of science to achieve objectives identified in ‘Science for Diplomacy’, such as Cuban ‘health diplomacy’ and Brazilian ‘agro diplomacy’. Both these countries use their strengths in respective areas to create political good will and trade opportunities. The ‘Diplomacy for Science’ in developing countries has led to creation of such organizations as AS-ICTP, COMSATS, ECO-SF, NM-AIST, ESCWA etc.

Pakistan scene 

Pakistan, like many other developing countries, has mixed bag of successes and failures in capitalizing on science as bedrock of domestic and foreign policies. A number of examples can be quoted in this connection, however, what is obvious is that these actions or lack of actions were because of routine practices, rather than a paradigm shift in linking scientific and diplomatic communities. The codification of what Science Diplomacy is and how it can be put into practice is a good opportunity to transcend the ethos of business-as-usual. It is high time to embrace global trends in order to survive in a rapidly changing world. All state institutions must recognize the currents and undercurrents of technology-driven world-order and methodically integrate competent scientist, engineers, computer specialists and people of other technical skills in their work force. Senior scientists can provide invaluable advice in framing public policies, undertaking long-term planning and making informed decisions for public good. It is too risky to leave State craft solely in the hands of non-scientists.

By Web Team

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