Science diplomacy: speaking a common language
Science diplomacy describes the interaction between international politics making and science. When international policy making is based on scientific evidence – for example, to tackle climate change – but also when the world of policy creates framework conditions for cross-border research cooperation or scientific partnerships exist in tense diplomatic situations, we talk about science diplomacy. Especially with regard to the latter aspect, various voices have declared science diplomacy a failure after Russia's attack on Ukraine. Do you share this opinion?
Simone Weske: No, on the contrary. Of course, science diplomacy cannot stop an aggressor. However, from our point of view, it is realistic to believe that international science cooperation can contribute to confidence building and thus have a balancing effect to a certain extent. One must not be naïve about this, but should always question the extent to which scientific cooperation strengthens authoritarian regimes or endangers one's own political interests. There are clearly limits beyond which cooperation at state level is no longer an option. But even then we should bear in mind that neither states, nor the science of individual states, are monolithic blocks. Even in repressive political systems, there is opposition to the official line and courageous researchers who openly speak out against war, oppression and for international understanding and cooperation. Supporting these individuals – that is also science diplomacy.
Maria Josten: Indeed, nowadays more than ever it is also important to consider the risks of international scientific cooperation. Fundamental principles of international cooperation in science and research, such as academic freedom, are increasingly under threat. It is also a matter of protecting these principles. We need partners with whom we can cooperate in a spirit of trust, especially in sensitive areas such as security of supply and questions of technological sovereignty. System rivalries, such as with China, play an increasing role in considering cooperation. A continuous exchange between science and policy on the sensible design of research and development cooperation is indispensable in this regard.
Nadia Meyer: Is there any alternative to science diplomacy, anyway? All current global challenges such as COVID-19, climate change or plastic pollution of the oceans have three things in common:. They contain scientific, technological and social components, they are highly complex, and they have a transboundary, often worldwide and thus also political dimension. It is precisely at this interface that science diplomacy comes into play. International policy needs data and facts from science, and science needs politically set frameworks and orientation.
Science diplomacy at DLR Projektträger
DLR Projektträger plays an important role in science diplomacy. With its Science Diplomacy Academy for example, which was founded in 2021, it offers independent and needs-based trainings, courses and coaching worldwide – both for staff from ministries and from research and intermediary organisations. With the "European Union Science Diplomacy Alliance", which it chaired in the second half of 2021, it advises the European Commission on the development of an EU science diplomacy agenda, among other things. The Brussels office's new series of events, "Brussels: FutureTalk", promotes the exchange of experts from politics, science and diplomacy. And the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) Prize for Education and Science Diplomacy, which DLR Projektträger helped to develop on behalf of the ministry, was awarded to three science diplomacy initiatives across the world in 2021.
What prime example comes to mind of how science diplomacy works?
Nadia Meyer: Let's take the example of the Mediterranean region: in 2018, the international funding initiative PRIMA (Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area) , which DLR Projektträger helped to initiate on behalf of the BMBF, was launched. PRIMA aims to address challenges such as food security and water scarcity in the Mediterranean region through research and innovation. The political actors involved built bridges between the partners – for example between the Arab countries and Israel – and developed the framework for cooperation between the scientists. The research results, in turn, can serve as an evidence base for political decisions in the region. Besides Germany, a total of 19 countries in Europe and the southern and eastern Mediterranean region as well as the European Commission are involved in PRIMA.
With DLR Projektträger's Science Diplomacy Academy, you repeatedly bring people from policy and science into conversation on the topic of science diplomacy and also offer training in the area. Where exactly do you see the need?
Simone Weske: The need starts with a common understanding of the opportunities and challenges of science diplomacy. In some cases, science is concerned that it could be instrumentalised for diplomatic purposes. Or politicians despair of the polyphony of science. Awareness of possible security aspects in science cooperation must also be strengthened as part of science diplomacy. We offer targeted training to sensitise the people involved in these aspects.
Maria Josten: We must not forget that there is neither a job title nor training for "science diplomats". Scientists are rarely familiar with the political decision-making processes and often do not reach the politicians, who, in turn, sometimes do not understand the language of science. In order to know how to successfully implement science diplomacy initiatives, the actors involved need to be specially trained – which is exactly what we are doing within the framework of our Science Diplomacy Academy.