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Science & Diplomacy: Concepts and Real-World Examples to Guide Success

The new issue of Science & Diplomacy, AAAS’s quarterly publication, offers a framework for nations seeking to pursue science diplomacy and articles exploring a range of promising initiatives undertaken in Africa, the Middle East, and even in orbit above Earth.

In an issue marking completion of the publication’s first year, an array of high-level, highly experienced authors describe projects that have worked to advance science while breaking down mistrust: a synchrotron particle accelerator in Jordan, for example, or a 16-nation network that cooperated to study the effect of aerosol and trace gas emissions on climate and ecosystems across Southern Africa.

Vaughan C. Turekian, the editor in chief of Science & Diplomacy, offers an overarching view of the strategic steps that nations can take to initiate or develop their capacity for science diplomacy.

“It is important to consider that science and technology-based issues, such as climate change and global health, are growing more important in the conduct and execution of a robust policy in an increasingly connected and less polarized world,” Turekian wrote in an editorial. “…As more countries begin to experiment with science diplomacy, an often-asked question is, what steps are needed to develop and implement a science diplomacy strategy?”

Vaughan C. Turekian

In Building a National Science Diplomacy System, Turekian posits that nations pursue science diplomacy with three goals—“The Three E’s”—in mind: expressing national power or influence, equipping decision-makers with information to support policy, and enhancing bilateral and multilateral relations.

A variety of steps can be taken toward successful pursuit of science diplomacy strategy, he said, including creation of mechanisms to encourage interaction between the science and foreign policy communities and increasing the capacity of foreign ministries to pursue science-related issues.

“The fundamentals of foreign policy continue to change,” Turekian concluded in his editorial. “Technology revolutions and the emergence of more civil society groups in international relations make diplomacy more dynamic and decentralized….Into this world, scientists and science (and its applications) are becoming ever more relevant to diplomacy. Individual countries can determine the best way to achieve their own strategic objectives. As national leaders begin grappling with these realities, science diplomacy will become an increasingly large part of the diplomacy tool kit, requiring new approaches.”

A valuable tool for advancing both science and diplomacy is the bi-lateral or multi-lateral science & technology agreement, writes Bridget M. Dolan, a recent research scholar at AAAS. In the 1960s, for example, the United States signed an agreement with Japan as part of an effort to build a new relationship in the aftermath of World War II; a second agreement was signed with China in the midst of the Cold War.

In Science and Technology Agreements as Tools for Science Diplomacy, Dolan also describes a number of more recent S&T agreements—with Libya, Pakistan and India, for example. There are various motivations, she explains, ranging from promoting public diplomacy to protecting national security.

But all of the agreements have the intention of being transformational. In striking agreements with China and Japan, for example, “the use of S&T agreements…seeks to signal a shift in relations,” Dolan explained. “By expressing the desire to enter into an agreement, the United States indicates its intentions to build bridges using science as a tool of diplomacy.” Further, she added: “An S&T agreement can lay a foundation for cooperation in areas meant to connect societies and benefit all people, such as public health, water resources, environmental protection, and education.”

Other articles in the December 2012 issue of Science & Diplomacy:

SAFARI 2000—a Southern African Example of Science Diplomacy, explores how a remote-sensing project designed to understand local and regional land-atmosphere interactions and biogeochemical functioning proved to be an exercise in transformational science diplomacy.

The authors, Harold J. Annegarn at the University of Johannesburg and Robert J. Swap at the University of Virginia, said that cooperative science projects between the developed and the developing world have the worrisome potential to be exploitive. But with SAFARI 2000, some 200 scientists from 16 nations worked between 1998 and 2003 to negotiate a range of challenges, from research objectives and organizational structures to multinational funding, in order to achieve a productive research outcome.

“In addition to a wealth of scientific productivity, SAFARI 2000 produced powerful outcomes for science diplomacy,” Annegarn and Swap write. “There is a legacy of skilled professional scientists who have remained in the region, in academia, government, and the private sector. These scientists are inculcated with the knowledge and spirit of transformative collaborative international science and the modalities for making this happen.”

Development Science and Science Diplomacy, offers a similar perspective by focusing on USAID’s Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program. Authors E. William Colglazier, the S&T adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Alex Dehgan, S&T adviser to the USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, say that the strongest opportunity for effective science diplomacy occurs when substantive projects are undertaken in a non-political environment, with clear benefits for all countries involved.

PEER, administered by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, promotes cooperation between U.S. scientists and the developing country investigators. Separate PEER programs in health and science offer grants to researchers in 87 nations to work with U.S. colleagues who receive federal research funds. Peer-reviewed applications assess the scientific merit of the proposal, its potential development impact, and the degree of interaction between researchers from the U.S. and the developing country.

The program “addresses global development challenges through collaborative research, builds capacity in developing countries by directly funding the local investigators, and creates partnerships that will endure past the life of the research grant,” Colglazier and Dehgan write. “PEER is based on the premise that there is tremendous talent everywhere, but not always opportunity.”

Synchrotron Light and the Middle East, details the promising progress of the SESAME particle accelerator under construction in Amman, Jordan. The project seeks not only to advance research in the turbulent Middle East, but to build valuable partnerships and promote “a culture of peace through scientific collaboration,” writes Chris Llewellyn Smith, president of the SESAME Council.

Indeed, SESAME has attracted backing from a remarkable set of members: Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, and Turkey. And while funding challenges must be addressed to keep SESAME on target for commissioning in late 2015, several of those nations plus the European Union have agreed to provide additional funding; Egypt and the United States also are considering significant investments, Smith writes.

Meanwhile, the project has allowed more than 400 scientists and engineers to participate in SESAME users’ meetings, workshops, and schools in the Middle East and elsewhere on the use of synchrotron light in biology, materials science, and other fields, as well as on accelerator technology. About 75 of them spent time at synchrotron-radiation facilities in Europe, the United States, Asia, and Latin America, Smith said, an experience that advanced training and fostered global research relationships.


International Space Station Expedition 27 crew (l-r): NASA astronaut Ron Garan; European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli of Italy; Russian cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyaev; NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman; Russian cosmonaut Andre Borisenko; and Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev, commander. | Credit: NASA

 Research and Diplomacy 350 Kilometers above the Earth, by former Canadian astronaut Julie Payette, studies the International Space Station (ISS) through a foreign policy lens.

“The ISS’s tour de force is not simply in engineering and R&D, it is in the unprecedented collaboration, synergy, and entente the partners have displayed through its planning, construction, and, now, utilization phase,” Payette writes. Other “big science” projects such as the Large Hadron Collider; ITER, the advanced experimental nuclear fusion reactor; and the Atacama Large Millimetre/sub-millimetre Array in Chile offer similar examples of science merging with diplomacy, she said.

“From Berdsk to Burma”: Lessons (and Adventures) in Global Health Diplomacy offers a more personal look at on-the-ground experience—and success—in science diplomacy ventures.

Author Jason Rao describes in sometimes wry detail how, three days after he started a fellowship at the U.S. State Department in 2002, he was sent to Siberia as part of the “BioIndustry Initiative” (BII). The goal was to engage scientists who had formerly worked in the Soviet Union’s secretive bioweapons program and to build partnerships in health and other constructive areas.

On-the-ground conditions—the secrecy, and the sometimes frosty reception, and the cold weather—were daunting. Initial efforts to work with colleagues at the important Berdsk bioweapons plants were deflected, but finally a social occasion led to an invitation to visit the center. Rao and his colleagues found that it had fallen on hard times after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

As the project blossomed, BII stressed its transparency. “The approach of addressing a realistically defined biological threat, one we shared with Russia, instead of making Russia part of the threat, resonated with all,” Rao said. “Our secret was to make the programs mutually beneficial.”

With help from BII and other Russian partners, the old bio-weapons buildings were gutted and the scientists retrained, says Rao, now director for international affairs at the American Society for Microbiology. “New collaborations with the United States, leading to new products and expanded regional markets, naturally grew from the modernization of the plant, and today the plant at Berdsk is a profitable enterprise.”

Science & Diplomacy, which published its first issue in March, is an open access quarterly published by AAAS. It was developed by the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy as a means for bringing together the communities of science and engineering research and foreign policy; it has broad value for foreign policy-makers and analysts, scientists and research administrators, and educators and students.

Turekian also serves as director of the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy. Tom C. Wang is the center’s deputy director and the publication’s executive editor.


Read Science & Diplomacy, the open-access quarterly publication from the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy.

Learn more about the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy.



Edward W. Lempinen

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