Science Diplomacy

Summarized by Alex Laverty

Beginning in the summer of 2009, the United States government took a new interest in the use of science diplomacy, the exchange of science and technology across borders. By encouraging cooperation and development in scientific research, not only would American national security and economic prosperity improve it was hoped, but the new technologies and intellectual property would strengthen the United States’ scientific progress. The benefits of new research and partnerships were enumerated by Representative Brian Baird (D-WA) in the U.S. Congress when he submitted the International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2009 (H.R. 1736) for consideration. H.R. 1736 recreated a committee under the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) that would coordinate science diplomacy activities across the federal government.

A bill that was passed in conjunction with H.R. 1736 was the STEM Education Coordination Act of 2009 (H.R. 1709) which elevated an existing committee in the NSTC to coordinate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education activities across the U.S. government including agencies such as NASA, the Department of Energy, the DOD, and the Department of Education.

These bills that passed in the House of Representatives followed the passage of a bill in the U.S. Senate that provided for the appointment of the Science Envoys on behalf of the United States. The Senate bill capitalizes on U.S. expertise and innovation in science and technology by creating the position of Scientific Envoy to collaborate with other nations to advance these growing fields surrounding issues of shared interest. This public diplomacy activity would enhance relationships between participating countries; display the United States’ commitment to improving lives throughout the world; and improve the nation’s image through scientist exchanges.

This bill from the Senate Foreign Relations committee was eventually taken up in a bill in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Introduced by Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA) in March of 2010, the bill was to enhance the ability of the United States to share one of its greatest resources, the intellectual and creative capacity of Americans through science. H.R. 4801, The Global Science Program for Security and Competitiveness, and Diplomacy Act would establish grants for American and foreign scientists in order to foster exchanges, strengthen research infrastructure, and encourage cheaper access to scientific journals online. While the bill was meant to formalize the Obama Administration’s intent to facilitate international cooperation through science, it was referred to the subcommittee in March of 2010 and has not seen movement since.

This bill was originally lauded for following up the appointment of Science Envoys by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Science diplomacy was said to be a piece of Clinton’s “Smart Power” approach as it would leverage the United States’ strength in science and research with alliances and collaborations that would be strengthened through partnership in science. The legislation also followed up President Obama’s address in Cairo that incorporated science diplomacy as part of the Administration’s outreach to the Islamic world. 

The failure of the bill to pass in the U.S. House of Representatives must cause concern among those that called the legislation an “important first step in realizing the opportunities that lie ahead”. The ability to restore the United States’ leadership in scientific and technological research may now be hindered as a result. To encourage public diplomacy through science, public diplomacy scholars and practitioners agree that this bill and others should be implemented.

Technological Exchange
Summarized by Rachel Chan

Technological exchange is an important platform for countries looking to create better connections with the publics of other nations, and to establish and strengthen relationships. Technological exchanges can be particularly effective between developed and developing nations. With multiple scientific challenges like sustainability, pandemics, climate change, environmental disasters and overpopulation faced by the world today, technological exchanges are effective platforms for states and scientists to cooperate and share knowledge, expertise and resources. In turn, this can promote economic and social progress, and contribute to peace and security. Such exchanges can also be a means for developed countries to boost their soft power and international image with developing nations. This form of exchange diplomacy is enhanced by the fact that science diplomacy as a whole is better funded than cultural diplomacy, especially since it has the capacity to deliver tangible results in a shorter period of time.

There are many avenues in which technological exchange can take place. One primary way is through education. On July 25, 2011, the U.S. government announced that it was committing $15 million towards a new five-year Fulbright Indonesia Research, Science, and Technology Program – or FIRST Program – which would support American and Indonesian students in the study, teaching and research of science and technology.

Next, technological exchange can also take place in the traditional sense of the word, where delegations travel to each other’s countries to share ideas on science, innovation and technology. The U.S. has several such exchanges with India, with the government playing a key role in setting the stage for businesses, scientists, laboratories and institutions in both countries to collaborate with each other. These strategic public-private exchanges will not only develop India’s infrastructure and research capabilities, they offer a possible route for countering China’s rise by allying the United States with one of Beijing’s main rivals.

Conferences are another form of technological exchange. The France-Israel Foundation, established in 2005, has brought together scientists from both countries at a yearly conference, with the objectives of shaping the respective images of France and Israel and cultivating deeper ties in science, as well as culture, economy and the media. The scientists are funded by the European Research Council, an independent organization which funds research in the European Union. This example also further attests to the role that multilateral institutions can play as instruments of soft power. 

Technological exchanges can also enable countries to overcome a negative image in parts of the world. While America’s international image, for example, has faced a sharp decline since 9/11, its expertise in science and technology has always been held in high regard.  Science is not as value-laden as culture or ideology and thus it can function as a more meaningful platform to build cooperation and understanding of different countries. At the same time, it receives better funding than culture as it has a more direct impact given the wide array of scientific issues common to countries around the world. The U.S. has used science diplomacy to reach out to Muslim countries, no doubt to repair strained relations following its unpopularity in the aftermath of 9/11.  In 2009, the U.S. announced the appointment of three Science and Technology Envoys to Muslim communities around the world to make connections with local scientists there. With U.S. scientists and engineers included in the process, the envoys will establish partnerships with multilateral institutions, non-governmental organizations and private sector partners to work towards key scientific challenges.

For developing countries that share similar problems, technological exchanges can facilitate efforts towards solutions. India and South Africa, for example, have common HIV strains, and have launched a
joint research project backed by the requisite infrastructure and talent. With industrialized countries showing little interest in this area, developing countries can take the lead by carrying out technological exchanges of their own, boosted by their shared experiences.

One common thread running through technological exchanges is their focus on less-controversial issues. Nuclear power, for example, is rarely, if ever, on the agenda. Rather, topics like the environment, health and agriculture regularly feature in such exchanges, possibly since these do not stray into the political realm in which case countries would be more wary and skeptical, making it harder for public diplomacy to succeed.

Another limitation of technological exchanges is that aside from academic ones, they typically exclude large swaths of the population. Scientists, researchers, and institutions are included alongside governments, but this comprises a small group and does not have the depth of outreach at which public diplomacy aims.

Conducting technological exchanges on common scientific issues and challenges of key concern to countries across the globe, governments are in a better position to improve their country’s image and influence in the eyes of their target audience. With science diplomacy delivering more direct and tangible results, funding in most cases is not as critical a problem as it is with its cultural counterpart as governments are more than willing to step in. Although there are many various platforms for which technological exchanges can take place, countries prefer to stick to non-controversial topics that are less likely to offend. Yet, the effectiveness of such technological exchanges as a tool for public diplomacy is ambiguous as it reaches out to only a small proportion of a population.

Conflict Prevention
Summarized by Molly Krasnodebska

Science diplomacy can function as a tool for conflict prevention and be understood as fostering cooperation between the scientific communities of hostile countries. Cooperation in the field of scientific research can help bridge the gap between the countries by creating a forum of mutual support and common interests.

In recent years, there have been numerous examples of scientific cooperation between countries that otherwise have no official diplomatic relations. One such example is the “inter-Korean cooperation” in the chemistry, biotech and nano-science arenas, which was first proposed in March 2010. Science diplomacy between the two Koreas is also exemplified by the foundation of the first privately funded university in communist North Korea, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology by Dr. Kim Chin-Kyung, a former war prisoner in North Korea. “Educating people is a way to share what they love, and share their values,” said the South Korean in an interview.

Another example is the earthquake research cooperation between China and Taiwan initiated in January 2010. Chen Cheng-hung, vice chairman of the National Science Council in Taipei calls the initiative the “biggest scientific cooperation program between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits so far.”

The United States launched a science diplomacy campaign toward Iran. The two countries, which have had no formal relations since 1980, have re-launched their ‘broken dialogue” though science. In the summer of 2009, the American Association for the Advancement of Science established a new Center for Science Diplomacy in Iran. According to Miller-McCune, this “scientist-to scientist exchange” is more effective that governmental public diplomacy initiatives. The two countries instead of trying to “influence each other’s behavior…will learn something in the process.”

In addition, science diplomacy for conflict prevention can also be understood as the use of science and technology to enhance global or regional security. Solving regional problems and advancing peoples’ well-being though technology by providing them with access to water, clean energy, food, and information can prevent the rise of conflicts.
The United States had been the leading country in the use of science and technology diplomacy for the purpose of advancing security. This kind of public diplomacy is particularly directed towards the Muslim world. One example of this is “vaccine diplomacy.” In an interview for SciDevNet in March 2010, Peter J. Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington D.C. stated: “the United States could help reduce the burden of neglected diseases and promote peace by engaging Islamic nations in collaborative vaccine research and development.” This would “improve vaccine development for neglected diseases” in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan where vaccine diplomacy is currently being implemented.

In January 2010, Ahmed Zewail - America’s first science envoy to the Middle East – travelled to Egypt, Turkey and Qatar on a diplomatic tour.  By defining “a coherent and comprehensive policy for pursuing science diplomacy with Muslim-majority countries”, he states that the United States can enhance its soft power, and promote a more positive image of itself in the Muslim world. At the same time “improving education and fostering the scientific and technological infrastructure will bring about genuine economic gains and social and political progress” in the targeted countries.

In The Mark, Daryl Copeland, author of Guerilla Diplomacy, writes that science and technology can provide “remedies that contribute materially to the achievement of security and development, for instance through remote sensing, agronomy, or the introduction of game changing information and communication technologies.”

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