In The Media

Symbiosis between science and diplomacy in changing paradigm in international affairs

by Gamini Keerawellea (feat. Darly Copeland)

The Island
October 19, 2016

"The reality in international affairs has rapidly grown in complexity, pressuring the discipline of International Relations to engage with new phenomenon. International Relations scholarship thus has to address concerns and issue areas by translating them into innovative theorizing. Science and technology is the most prominent among these – it is hard to imagine any international or global issue that does not entail scientific or technological aspect".

Maximillian Mayer, Mariana Carpes and Ruth Knoblichin Global Politics of Science and Technology

With the emergence of the international public space, public diplomacy became a critical element of statecraft. Public diplomacy involves the use of dialogue, advocacy and interaction directly with the people across the borders to influence decision making in other states. In view of its versatility, science diplomacy becomes a convenient tool of public diplomacy. There are a number of formal and informal agencies of diplomacy functioning parallel, with and without interaction with each other in public diplomacy. By cultivating people to people connectivity across political borders, scientists, researches, academicians and artists who work in cultural reproduction process operate without borders. Institutional-level linkages between scientific and research bodies generate dynamism creating a new web of science diplomacy. The need to juxtapose traditional political and economic diplomacy with public diplomacy demands a revisit of conventional diplomatic modes operandi.Traditional sacrosanct citadels of foreign-policy making can no longer be preserved. Similarly, the concept of diplomacy has undergone a drastic transformation with the emergence of public international space and with the entry of non-state and sub-state actors in the complex web of relations in global politics. The exclusivity of diplomacy and state prerogative of itbecame a thing in the past. The conventional role of the diplomat is to represent the home country abroad and to pursue national interests in the international arena. In the context of international regime formation, the role of the diplomat as a change agent and a norm setter has come to thebforefront. In order to keep pace with these far-reaching changes in the dynamics and agencies in international politics, fresh perspectives, new diplomatic skills and innovative operational mechanisms are required.

The continuous advances in communication technologyalong with other propellants of globalization have contracted the time and space in international politics to an unprecedented level. Today people and societies are connected to each other intensely in myriad modes never before and people-to-people connectivity across states entered intoa different paradigm.It is true that international flow of finance, goods and services remained a key element of globalization. Similarly, the intense flow and interaction of people, images and ideasalso remainedan important part of globalization. It is not possible for a democratic state to block or control this flow of images interaction. It is true that people-to-people exchanges were used by traditional diplomacy as a tool of conflict management but people to people diplomacy acquired a new credential in the era of globalization and the role of science and technology in promoting people-to-people diplomacy is well documented. The globalization poses a new set of challenges to the states, economies and to people. Science diplomacy has become an international policy instrument in dealing with challenges emanating from the process of globalization. We should not forget that in the globalization process, science and technology can also generate insecurity, underdevelopment and misery. Prudent employment of science diplomacy is essential to meet challenges posed by the globalization.

In the changed global environment the perceptions of threat have also undergone profound changes. Threats we are facing today are not emanating solely from military strategic sources. In order to meet wide range of grave socio-economic threats and environmental challenges and threats require international collaboration and collective global action the foreign policy community needs to go beyond conventional parameters of state sovereignty.The collective effort to meet the challenges related tothe degradation of environment and ecosystem has brought science for diplomacy the center of international political discourse in the changed paradigm in world politics

In light of multi-level cross border connectivity in every aspect of social, economic and political life of the people, the traditional demarcation between international and domestic spheres can no longer be viable. International and domestic dimension are organically interwoven. Domestic issues at one point become international issues and international issues become a domestic one. Where domestic sphere ends and international sphere begins is not always clear. The emergence of ‘international regimes’ that came forward to play a critical regulatory role in relevant issue areas became an important development in international politics in the last few decades. As Stephen Krasner defines, international regimes present ‘sets of principles norms, rules and decision-making procedures around which actors’ expectations converge in a given area of international relations’. The organic linkage that exists between domestic and the international policy spheres force many states to become a part of numerous international regimes by opening domestic policy spheres to international regulatory procedures and reporting. Today, no country in the world remains impervious to the obligations set forth by international regimes. The Paris Agreement of Climate Change (UNFCCC) which Sri Lanka signed in April 2016 is the latest in the row. The need for well-planned and coordinated science diplomacy to fulfilling international obligations that Sri Lanka has been bestowed under these international regimes has brought science diplomacy to the center of statecraft.

Water resource management is a case in point. In the face of impending global water scarcity, water resource management has become an increasingly importance global issue. Similarly, the issue of water scarcity and access and equity to water resources in the face of ever-increasing demand of water made water resource management a priority issue in national development agenda of Sri Lanka. The Second World Water Forum in The Hague in March 2000, brought the world water crisis squarely on the international agenda.The Hague conference presented the concept of "water security", a goal to be achieved alongside food and environmental security. Following The Hague Forum, Sri Lanka undertook to developed a program of action for ‘Water Vision 2025’ under the auspices of the Global Water Partnership.

The change perceptions as to the references, sources and agents of threat contributed to view security from new perspective, security with a human face that emphasized the need to take the human dimension of security into consideration in security-building process. The alternative security paradigm to traditional state-centered national security, the ‘Human Security’ evolved to place human-beings rather than states at the focal point of security by integrating a wide array of issues that are essential for human survival, livelihood and dignity.The fact that hunger, diseases and natural disasters which kill far more people than violent conflicts.The idea of human security is closely related to two other equally important discourses of the day, namely, human development and human rights. The underlying premise of human development is that progress must ensure equity if it to be meaningful. The role that science and technology should play to ensure a high degree of human security and promote human developmentunderscore the importance of constant intercourse between science and policy making. Another key element of science diplomacy is to explore ways and means to achieve freedom from threat and fear emanating from diverse sources to ensure human security.

Science is a universal language and also a potent means of communication. When political relations are strained and formal diplomatic channels are strained or blocked, due to clash of interests between states, scientific partnerships offer an alternative form of engagement. As Daryl Copeland observed it explains the current focus in US policy on expanding science diplomacy in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Scientific organizations and national academies function as agent of diplomacy as they use non-ideological language to promote international connectivity.In 2008 Chinese Scientists group on Arms control and US National Academy of Science Committee on international Security and arms control carried out a collaborative project to prepare the first Chinese-English glossary of nuclear security terms ‘to remove barriers to progress in exchanges and diplomatic, cooperative, or other activities where unambiguous understanding is essential’.

Science and technology constitute a key source of ‘soft power’ in international politics. It is important to note that science had played a critical role in developing ‘hard power’ based on military and economic power and strength. The strength gained through the science and technological superiority will be used to coerce the behavior of other nations. In contrast to the hard power, the soft power is the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion.  According to Josh Nye, Jr., it arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals and politics. Soft power rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others. It is the ability to attract and soft power resources are the assets that provide such attraction. Science diplomacy is a well suited tool of soft power. Antonio Gramsci developed the concept of ‘hegemony’ in order to understand the historical dynamics of the modern state. Gramscian concept of hegemony can equally be employed to explain international politics too. Science diplomacy if properly employed could be a mode of building international hegemony.Last but not least, science and technology are not apolitical phenomenon. Frederick Engels, in the chapter titled Force Theory in his book Anti-Dühringdiscusses the politics of force, power and technology vividly. Science is a double edged weapon. Most important is how you use it. In order to make proper use of it, it is necessary to be clear of the politics behind it. When developing strategies for science diplomacy, these political elements should be given due consideration. Advances of science and technology in the last five decades have created unprecedented strategic assets in global commons. How to transform these strategic assets into a common heritage of the mankind with humanitarian application is the challengewe face today.

In conclusion, it should also be noted that science diplomacy does not make political diplomacy irrelevant. What has happened is that the very concept of international diplomacy has changed and it has now been located in a new space in the evolving paradigm of international politics. Hybridity of issues has invalidated the conventional categorizations of diplomacy. Accordingly, the concept of political diplomacy has also changed. From a broad perspective, to the term ‘political’, science diplomacy denotes another manifestation of political diplomacy. One of the problems in hermeneutics is that the names are more permanent than the contents described by them. While the contents change the name-tags linked with them remain the same. This is also true of diplomats and diplomacy.

The author is presently Deputy Chief of the Mission, Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington D.C, USA. The views expressed in the article represents only the personal views of the author. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs bears no responsibility of the views expressed in the article.


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