Science diplomacy is the use of scientific collaborations among nations to address common problems and to build constructive international partnerships. Science diplomacy has become an umbrella term to describe a number of formal or informal technical, research-based, academic or engineering exchange.

  • Science is a source of ‘soft power’.
  • The scientific community often works beyond national boundaries on problems of common interest, so is well placed to support emerging forms of diplomacy that require non-traditional alliances of nations, sectors and non-governmental organizations.
  • If aligned with wider foreign policy goals, these channels of scientific exchange can contribute to coalition building and conflict resolution.
Science and Technology (S&T)-led innovation collaboration offers an opportunity to address these multifaceted challenges such as the present challenge of Covid-19 Pandemic.

Motivations for science diplomacy

  1. Cooperation on the scientific aspects of sensitive issues—such as nuclear nonproliferation—can sometimes provide an effective route to other forms of political dialogue. Similarly the potential of science as an arena for building trust and understanding between countries is gaining traction, particularly in the Middle East and wider Islamic world
  2. Science diplomacy seeks to strengthen the symbiosis between the interests and motivations of the scientific and foreign policy communities.
  3. Science offers useful networks and channels of communication that can be used to support wider policy goals.
  4. Confidence building and nuclear disarmament: It is timely to consider how cooperation on the scientific aspects of nuclear disarmament could support the wider diplomatic process.
  5. Governance of international spaces: International spaces beyond national jurisdictions—including Antarctica, the high seas, the deep sea and outer space—cannot be managed through conventional models of governance and diplomacy, and will require flexible approaches to international cooperation, informed by scientific evidence and underpinned by practical scientific partnerships

Role of UNESCOUNESCO plays an important role in the field of science diplomacy, built on three comparative advantages:

  1. Legitimacy
    UNESCO’s universal mandate for science for peace and development ever since its inception in 1946, has made the Organization the cradle of modern science diplomacy. One of its first success stories was the creation of CERN in the early 1950s.
  1. Credibility
    UNESCO has extensive institutional expertise and a longstanding history of launching and implementing ground-breaking initiatives and projects that have gained international recognition. One of the most high-profile initiatives of this century concerns the SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East).
  1. Universality
    UNESCO can promote science diplomacy based on its universal mandate and, through its vast network of partners, bring diverse stakeholders, scientists, decision makers, and diplomats, from around the world together.

Mechanisms to help promote Scientific Diplomacy

  1. Incorporating science policy training into induction courses and training for foreign ministry staff, and specialist diplomatic training for dedicated science officers;
  2. Involving more scientists in foreign ministries to advise at senior and strategic levels;
  3. Encouraging pairing between diplomats and scientists;
  4. Encouraging independent scientific bodies to provide science policy briefings for foreign ministry and embassy staff.
  5. Scientific organizations, including national academies, also have an important role to play in science diplomacy, particularly when formal political relationships are weak or strained.
  6. The scientific community may be able to broker new or different types of partnerships. The range of actors involved in these efforts should expand to include non-governmental organizations, multilateral agencies and other informal networks.
  7. There need to be more effective mechanisms and spaces for dialogue between policymakers, academics and researchers working in the foreign policy and scientific communities, to identify projects and processes that can further the interests of both communities.
  8. Fostering science diplomats: Encouraging the recruitment of science graduates as part of the general intake to the Foreign Service. Younger scientists need to have opportunities and career incentives to engage with policy processes from the earliest stage of their careers.

The constraints to science diplomacy include:Regulatory barriers, such as visa restrictions and security controls.

Security controls also prevent collaboration on certain scientific subjects, such as nuclear physics and microbiology.

Recent Indian initiatives to promote Science Diplomacy

Global Innovation and Technology Alliance (GITA)

  • The Global Innovation and Technology Alliance (GITA) was launched by India a few years ago and has provided an enabling platform for frontline techno-economic alliances.
  • Enterprises from India are tying up with their counterparts from partnering countries including Canada, Finland, Italy, Sweden, Spain, and the UK.
  • This industry-led collaboration, with the government as an equal partner, is aimed at supporting the last phase of technology-based high-end, affordable product development — which can connect to both global and domestic markets.

International Solar Alliance (ISA)

  • The India-led International Solar Alliance (ISA), with more than 79 sunshine countries as signatories and nearly 121 prospective countries as partners, is another excellent example of modern-day science diplomacy.
  • The vision and mission of the ISA is to provide a dedicated platform for cooperation among solar resource-rich countries.
  • Such a platform can make a positive contribution towards achieving the common goals of increasing the use of solar energy in meeting the energy needs of member countries in a safe, affordable, equitable and sustainable manner.

Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI)

  • The global Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) was recently announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York.
  • The CDRI is yet another example of international partnership piloted by India in consultation with 35 countries that will support developed and developing nations in their efforts to build climate and disaster-resilient infrastructure, required to face the vagaries of climate change.
  • The CDRI will provide member countries technical support and capacity development, research and knowledge management, and advocacy and partnerships.
  • It is aimed at risk identification and assessment, urban risk and planning, and disaster risk management.
  • The coalition aims to have a positive three-fold impact — in the member countries’ policy frameworks, future infrastructure investments and endeavors towards a reduction of economic losses from climate-related events and natural disasters across sectors.
  • Through this international coalition, we can mitigate the fallout of earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and storm by ensuring that affordable housing, schools, health facilities and public utilities are built in line with the robust standards required to survive natural or man-made hazards.

Way forward

It is evident that international collaborations in S&T innovation is a necessity.

  • The importance of S&T innovations in achieving the 2030 Agenda for UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — to which most nations, including India, are committed — points towards a new opportunities for cross-border collaboration in scientific research and development.
  • No nation alone has the capacity, infrastructure and human resources to address the massive challenges that the earth and mankind faces, threatening our very existence.
  • It is inevitable, therefore, that science, technology and innovation should increasingly become an intrinsic diplomatic tool for India.
  • This will require proactive engagement of the scientific and technological community with stakeholders — including the polity, the diplomatic corps and the knowledge enterprises — in order to design and develop effective tools for international engagement through S&T.
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