Science Diplomacy – Research as a Political Bridge

"The tools, techniques and tactics of foreign policy need to adapt to a world of increasing scientific and technical complexity."

"The tools, techniques and tactics of foreign policy need to adapt to a world of increasing scientific and technical complexity"

There is much being said lately about the importance and the value of international cooperation in achieving scientific and technological goals.  And todays´s international agenda certainly drives organizations and researchers to work together on important scientific questions related to key global challenges such as food security, poverty reduction, climate change, sustainable energy, among many others. 

The Labex concept, developed by Embrapa over a decade ago, anticipated the need for more international connectedness not only for the Embrapa Network but also for the whole Brazilian S&T system.  The foresight and the action that followed, created multiple opportunities for monitoring scientific and technological advances in leading countries, for identifying trends and opportunities, for implementing R&D activities in partnership with multiple international organizations, as well as  for dialogue in important international fora related to agricultural research and development. 

However, there is a new trend emerging under the umbrella term of “science diplomacy”, and it goes beyond negotiation of large S&T international projects or cooperative R&D enterprises.  It embraces issues of foreign policy at the interface with science and technology.  Since the growing scientific and innovation capacity of emerging powers create not only competition but also new opportunities for synergies, countries realize that they must put in place more effective mechanisms for mobilizing their capacity across international networks.  Even those that are resistant to such ideas will soon realize that there is no other way to tackle the complex problems of today, let alone those that will arise in the future.  Again, challenges related to global climate change, energy security, sustainable agricultural production, biological security, among many others will be around for years to come and no single country is able to tackle them working in isolation.

The Royal Society of the UK has recently published an interesting study on this subject .   It is  titled “New Frontiers in Science Diplomacy” and was developed in partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  The study investigated the valuable role that science can play in international policy making and diplomacy.  It argues that “the scientific values of rationality, transparency and universality are the same the world over and so can be used to underpin good governance and build trust between nations. Science provides a non-ideological environment for the participation and free exchange of ideas between people, regardless of cultural, national or religious backgrounds.”  The report covers issues related to the role of science, technology and innovation in informing foreign policy objectives, in facilitating international science cooperation and in improving international relations between countries. 

The Seed Magazine also touched the subject in a recent article titled “Spotlight on Science Diplomacy“. Their analysis on the “soft power” of science and its contributions to foreign policy is interesting:  “scientists can uniquely contribute to diplomatic efforts on issues like climate change and biodiversity by informing policymakers with the latest evidence and data on the Earth’s natural and social systems. But science is also increasingly recognized by its less direct contributions to foreign policy, its ´soft power´. The scientific community often works beyond national boundaries on problems of common interest, so channels of scientific exchange can contribute to coalition-building. Cooperation on the scientific aspects of sensitive issues can sometimes provide a route to other forms of political dialogue.”

The article also quotes UK´s Foreign Secretary David Miliband who spoke at a recent InterAcademy Panel, hosted by the Royal Society as part of its 350th anniversary celebrations.  According to him “the scientific world is fast becoming interdisciplinary, but the biggest interdisciplinary leap needed is to connect the worlds of science and politics.”

Access the full report “New Frontiers in Science Diplomacy” here.
Access the Seed Magazine article here.

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