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AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy Connects Scientists and Diplomats

Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud (right) and Dr. Sudip Parikh (left)
Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud (right) and Dr. Sudip Parikh (left) at the Swiss Ambassador’s residence in Washington, DC in August 2021. Credit: Estefania Ortiz Calva (AAAS).

What is science diplomacy?

Established in 2008, the Washington-D.C.-based AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy aims to build bridges between the science and foreign affairs communities so they can form tighter connections and more effectively solve global problems. This includes outreach to societies where politics — and other issues — may have led to strained or severed official relationships.

“For AAAS, science diplomacy is a key part of what we do,” says Sudip Parikh, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of the Science family of journals. “There is no facet of society that is not touched by science, technology and engineering. As the years go by and we try and build relationships amongst countries that have not had relationships in the past, or countries where the relationships have become frayed, the thing we have in common is the need for scientific progress to benefit all of our people.”

Developing closer connections with the diplomatic community is part of a larger strategic priority of AAAS of integrating science into decision-making by building trust with societal influencers, Kim Montgomery, the Center’s director explains. Diplomats represent a nation state and are at the center of international agreements, treaties, and conventions, as well as the managing of international organizations.

“If we want science to be at the forefront of the decisions, we need to develop stronger relationships with the diplomatic community,” Montgomery says.

Ambassador Martin Weiss (left) and Dr. Kim Montgomery (right)
Ambassador Martin Weiss (left) and Dr. Kim Montgomery (right) at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, DC in June 2021. Credit: Estefania Ortiz Calva (AAAS).

One new initiative of the Center is its Ambassador Interview Series. Launched in 2021, the series gives the AAAS community insights into the role science plays in diplomacy. In these interviews, the Center asks foreign ambassadors posted to the United States about the bilateral scientific relationship and science diplomacy, including their experiences with bilateral and multilateral negotiations focused on global scientific issues like climate change and public health.

In 2021, the Center interviewed seven ambassadors from Australia, Austria, Chile, China, Cuba, South Korea, and Switzerland. So far in 2022, the Center has interviewed the French and British Ambassadors, and are working to increase the regional diversity of ambassadors in the series as well as considering expanding to other diplomatic positions.

The Ambassador Interview Series has been a crucial opportunity for the Center to connect to other countries, learn more about their priorities for science and technology, and how those fit with the broader international scientific community, says Estefania Ortiz Calva, the Center’s program associate.

The Center is also working to foster a community where major science diplomacy issues can be discussed. In March, for example, the Center published a special issue of its online policy journal Science & Diplomacy that explored the intersection of emerging technologies and diplomacy. Along with the issue, the Center hosted a webinar to foster discussion on the topics that featured authors from the issue.

More recently, about a week after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Center interviewed four U.S. scientists and former diplomats about how U.S. scientists and the U.S. government can best help Ukrainian scientists, Russian scientists who are protesting, as well as Russian and Ukrainian scientific institutions. The Center published the interviews in Science & Diplomacy.

Another goal of the Center is demonstrating the unique role that scientific exchange and collaboration can play between nations and regions. Throughout its history, the Center has led or facilitated scientific engagements with other countries, even during challenging geopolitical circumstances.

For instance, AAAS was a member of the U.S. – DPRK Scientific Engagement Consortium, led delegations to North Korea, and supported American and British scientists working on a research project focused on Mount Paektu, a volcano on the Chinese-North Korean border. Before the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic ties in 2015, AAAS had been working with scientific organizations in Cuba and leading delegations to Cuba. Although slowed by the diplomatic changes and the COVID-19 pandemic, Montgomery is working to relaunch its activities in Cuba, including re-engaging with scientific partners and discussing future activities.  

“Since these projects are centered on relationships, they take time to develop and maintain, especially if there are not good diplomatic relations,” Montgomery says, adding that the Center hopes to expand these efforts into other regions.

Looking forward, science will continue to play an important role in diplomacy. To that end, the Center remains dedicated to developing stronger relationships and connections between the scientific and foreign affairs communities. Its main focuses for the future: fostering a diverse science diplomacy community, empowering future leaders at the intersection of science and diplomacy, and highlighting the role for science in building relationships across borders.