Friday, May 3, 2013

Joining Science and Diplomacy to Enhance Security

by Whitney Taylor

Often, a distinction has been levied between “hard” and “soft” sciences as well as “hard” and “soft” diplomacy. Yet, what if we decided to merge and reformulate these distinctions? What type of political and social environment would emerge? Furthermore, which problems could we solve across countries if we shifted our perspective to incorporate a blending of disciplines and ideas on how to combat modern security and ecological issues? I would suggest that if we begin to think outside of the box and work in areas outside of our purview, great things can happen.

These are some of the thoughts that Dr. Charles Ferguson, President of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), brought to the University of Illinois campus on Thursday, March 7th. A diverse audience convened at the Spurlock Museum for an intimate evening that joined together scholars from sciences and humanities to discuss how we may best leverage science and diplomacy together to address security risks existing today.

The University of Illinois is not new to using its wealth of knowledge to bolster social welfare; with student-lead programs such as Alternative Spring Break to Engineers Without Borders, our campus is engaged and actively looking to employ its resources to help local and international communities. However helpful these programs and activities can be, they are better suited to create a lasting impression when supplemented by activities that address tangential problems in a holistic manner.

In his discussion on the linkages that tie science and security, Dr. Ferguson outlined what the FAS hopes to be their pilot “International Scientific Partnership” program; an endeavor that would bring together a variety of specialists across industries and academia to work in Yemen with their local counterparts. Ideally, the program would foster a dialogue towards developing solutions to ecological issues and the FAS hopes that such a dialogue will spur a forging of working relationships between scientists here and abroad. With the ultimate goal of exchanging and utilizing best practices in their fields and with development projects, the FAS hopes its program will be able to adequately address ecological issues that have a material impact on generating greater security in regions of concern.

However in order for the FAS to be successful in its efforts, Dr. Ferguson highlighted the need for an interdisciplinary approach. Science need not be thought of as merely a stopgap measure, but instead a proactive segue toward initiating long lasting solutions that fit communities suffering from security instability. Projects must take into consideration local culture and types of community partnerships that will be ideal in addressing broader conditions impacting an ecological issue and its proposed remedy.

These are puzzle pieces that should be evaluated and can affect whether or not an International Scientific Partnership project can yield deliverable and sustainable results. Whether or not this will happen has yet to be seen since the project is still being developed, however the will to use science as a positive, diplomatic tool exists. If we continue to engage in critical conversations that address the complexity of security and ecological issues today, we will move a step closer towards outlining a working model for a program that has the potential to be a constructive tool to develop diplomatic partnerships between US and foreign companies and professionals all linked by common goals.

For more on science diplomacy, the U.S. Department of State blog posted an informative piece on their efforts to promote diplomacy through science. “Promoting Science and Technology as Tools of Diplomacy” by Larry Gumbiner, July 29, 2010. 

Whitney Taylor is a Master's Candidate in European Union Studies at Illinois where she is also pursuing a graduate minor in Corporate Governance and International Business. Her research interests include monetary policy, corporate social responsibility and trade.  

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