For those new to – and perhaps baffled by – the term “science diplomacy”, a quick guide was offered to this week’s Royal Society meeting by Jun Yanagi, director of the International Science Cooperation Division of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Yanagi has closer familiarity with the term than most. Last year, the Japanese government passed a new initiative in “science and technology diplomacy” that embraces a range of activities. One of Yanagi’s tasks has been to put this new political commitment into effect.
This has given him experience of what he described as the “four dimensions of science diplomacy”, which he suggested as a useful approach to unpacking the ways that the term can be used.
“The first dimension is the use of science and technology for diplomatic purposes, which means looking on science and technology as diplomatic tools and assets,” Yanagi told the meeting.
As an example, he quoted Japanese collaboration with developing countries in addressing global issues such as climate change, or US efforts – backed by Japan – to find new tasks for nuclear scientists employed by the Soviet Union on weapons development programmes.
“Secondly, there is diplomacy for science and technology,” said Yanagi. Here he quoted the diplomacy needed both to set up bilateral projects and to engage in international “megascience” projects. (Although Yanagi did not mention it, some see this as a response to criticism in Japan of the government’s failure to win a bid to host the international fusion facility, ITER).
“Then there is diplomacy based on science“. Here he pointed to the growing amount of scientific input into making and implementing policy. “Science can increase the credibility and legitimacy of diplomatic policies,” said Yanagi, referring for example to the impact of the IPCC on climate change negotiations (but making no mention of the contested use of scientific arguments to defend Japan’s widely-criticised whaling policies).
Finally he quoted the use of the term to cover science and technology “as a source of soft power”. Here he described how Japan’s national image could benefit from its many scientific and technological achievements, from remote sensing satellites to the ‘paro’, an electronic toy for sick kids described as both ” the world’s most therapeutic robot” and being suitable for “those who love animals but hate pets”.
Japan’s increasing willingness to open up its scientific programmes to foreign partners, to collaborate in the construction of international research facilities (such as ITER) or projects aimed at global problems, and to sponsor genuinely collaborative partnerships with scientific teams in developing countries, have each been welcomed.
But however effective it may have been in generating political support in Tokyo, the value of putting all these together under the label of “science diplomacy” – given the reservations that others still attach to this term – has yet to be fully proven.
David Dickson, SciDev.Net