Science and technology have become increasingly influential in the realm of international relations over the past few decades. There is a growing consensus among policymakers, researchers, and scientists that policymakers need to work together to solve increasingly complex global problems. Over the years, this is where the term “science diplomacy” has really come into its own. Since many nations are dealing with these complex issues at once, it is clear that international cooperation and scientific evidence are essential if these problems are to be resolved. Then, science diplomacy is supposed to bridge the gap by offering a cutting-edge strategy for solving international problems. The presence of science in diplomacy holds two promising prospects: (1) scientific advice and networks that could aid in world building amidst the complexity of transnational issues, and (2) leverage that international actors can use to bolster their foreign policy.
However, these two guarantees are at odds with one another because investing political power in science makes it biassed. By employing science diplomacy, nations will be forced to choose between using science to better people’s lives and using science to advance their own national interests. This article will delve deeper into this conundrum, exploring why science and technology are essential for fixing the world’s problems. However, its very existence becomes one of the sources of power that spark competition among nations.
How Far Science Can Go in Diplomacy
Improving our scientific knowledge and technological capacities is essential for addressing global problems that affect people everywhere. But before they can be useful in overcoming global challenges, innovative inventions resulting from scientific evolution need to be acknowledged by policymakers and put into policy implementation. Science diplomacy, in this context, refers to the use of scientific knowledge and methods in international relations as a means to solve international problems and as a bargaining chip for domestic gain by individual states. Science diplomacy, in its most basic definition, is the practise of fostering international cooperation through scientific cooperation between nations in order to solve global challenges facing humanity in the twenty-first century. According to Legrand and Stone, the practise of science diplomacy has expanded to have global policy implications beyond simple exchanges between states.
Researchers have become increasingly visible as transnational actors in public policy and global governance over the past 15 years, having a measurable impact in social, political, and economic spheres. There are primarily three causes for the growing intertwining of science and diplomacy:
- The spread of international problems. Recent international issues have a tendency to cross borders and become global in scope. Cyber security, disease transmission, labour migration, and online communities are all examples of areas where states have become increasingly dependent on one another. Every one of these problems calls for the application of cutting-edge scientific understanding.
- The breaking up of global policymaking. Non-state actors’ emergence as influential players in managing policy challenges began to gain traction even as powerful sovereign actors remained the most important actors in the international arena. Therefore, this opens the door for the introduction of new topics into transnational relations, most notably science and technology.
- An increased emphasis on science-based diplomatic efforts. When disagreements arise over international issues, the scientific paradigm is rarely challenged. When rationalist public policy traditions rose to prominence, things began to change. Therefore, policy responses to issues like economic inequality, social unrest, and resource depletion depend on scientific advice in understanding these challenges.
Science diplomacy’s impact on international relations spans a wide variety of critical areas. From gene-edited plants with the potential to survive climate change to the identification of SARS Coronavirus and the formulation of its vaccines in less than two years, significant scientific discovery has been made possible by cross-border partnerships and multinational research networks. The recent integration of scientific expertise into diplomatic efforts has had a profound effect on enhancing global health. Some public health crises, including HIV/AIDS, the spread of the infectious Ebola Virus and MERS, and the management of swine flu, were met with success thanks to a coordinated global response facilitated by cooperation between government and non-government public health experts with diplomats and political leaders.
In addition, science diplomacy has been having an effect in the realm of economics. The United Nations and other international organisations have used technology in their anti-poverty initiatives to great effect. Lucky for the people of the world’s poorest nations, the exponential expansion of digital technologies also creates new avenues for them to pursue. When it comes to the environment, the Paris Agreement was a major step forward in the fight against climate change that was aided by science diplomacy. The aforementioned examples of triumph demonstrate how scientific inquiry has the potential to solve intractable problems and save lives on a global scale. The importance of combining science and diplomacy as a means of bettering humanity is undeniable.
Conflict Generation through Diplomatic Science
Not only can science help address some of the world’s most pressing problems, but it may also provide the kind of influence that can be used to influence international politics. The Royal Society argues that “science for diplomacy” encourages actors to view science as a tool for developing and strengthening diplomatic ties between nations. However, scientific research and development in diplomatic relations could not be divorced from political goals. This fits with the logic of Nye’s argument, according to which the strategy of using science is pursued with genuine scientific interest, yet strategic political goals clearly champion the approach. Since the only way to make use of science in international political affairs to further national interests, science in and for diplomacy inevitably drew a paradox.
Generally speaking, people view scientific inquiry as a positive and unbiased endeavour. The Royal Society argued that the scientific community welcomes people of all backgrounds, including those from different cultures, countries, and religions, and provides a safe space for open discussion and the exchange of ideas. Since science is now involved in policymaking, their objectivity is called into question and they are no longer immune to political influence. However, science can become a potent tool to leverage the bargaining power of states if it is endowed with political objectives. Here, scientific knowledge itself becomes a source of competitive power. During the Cold War, this was evident as the United States and the Uni Soviet Union competed to develop nuclear weapons and space travel.
In a similar vein, when science and technology are developing at such a rapid rate, the current trajectory of science in international relations is internalised. Examines how the United States and China are competing to become more technologically advanced in the scientific arena. The Xi Jinping Administration is becoming more influential in international politics as China continues to make strides in the technological realm. As a crucial player in establishing an advanced information infrastructure, its presence is increasingly appreciated in the Global South. In fact, the United States views China as a systemic threat due to its growing technological superiority. This story revealed how scientific knowledge evolved into a source of contention that states could use to their advantage in the global arena. As such, science diplomacy shouldn’t be seen as a modern means of addressing the global issue’s complexity. It is also important to address because it contributes to competition between nations.