Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Science, Technology and Diplomacy A NIAS Talk



Science, Technology and Diplomacy.
By T.P.Sreenivasan

The bewildering developments in the recent past have brought international affairs to a standstill at a cross roads of history. A definite shift towards the right, increasing xenophobia, nativism, irrational antipathy towards established norms, readiness to leap into the unknown and reliance on post-truth for judgments are clearly identifiable as the trends of the times. Democratically elected leaders tend to remain loyal to their voters and not to the entire electorate, thus casting aspersions on democracy itself. An uncertain and volatile world is paralyzed by some ill-conceived policies of some leaders. Indications of impending withdrawal of the US inwards and its inattention to world affairs have already encouraged Chinese expansionism. The world is waiting breathlessly to see what turns and twists the new US Administration will take.
I speculate that the disruptive tendencies in political life of the world may have their roots in the disruptive innovations in science and technology. Innovate or perish is the call of the times. The unprecedented technological upheaval without an owners’ manual or restraining radars may transform the way the society is organized. Immanuel Kant had observed in 1784, “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another.” The question today is whether democracy will survive big data and artificial intelligence, as automated societies will acquire totalitarian features. It appears that the genie of innovation may have to be put back into the bottle to give its growth some guidance. China is already considering “institutional surveillance” and “persuasive computing” to apply restraints on technology. For China, such controls are instinctive, but the rest of the world too has to think of preserving social cohesion and protecting the basic rights of citizens.
Long ago, when I was on my first posting in Tokyo, I was told that a time would come when we would print our newspapers at home, a prospect which could not even be imagined. Today, we can print the New Yok Times before the New Yorkers wake up to see their print edition stacked up at the door. Today, we are close to replacing manufacturing by 3-D printing. Children born in 2017 will never hold a steering wheel or own a driving license as driverless cars will be in use by the time they grow up. The fourth industrial revolution is upon us. We need more diplomats with scientific training, but we also need rational scientists to preserve and protect human values.
The most sensational development in war, the event that changed the course of history, the dropping of nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki was proclaimed by Robert Oppenheimer, a scientist, not a politician. He quoted from the Bhagavad Gita:
“If the radiance of a thousand suns
Were to burst at once into the sky
That would be like the splendor of the Mighty One..
I am become Death,
The shatterer of worlds.”
Such is the grip of science and technology on politics and diplomacy. In fact, every twist and turn in global affairs can be attributed to a particular scientific advancement. Maritime development brought colonialism in its wake, the invention of the steam engine engendered the industrial revolution, the transportation revolution created the global village, the atom transformed war and peace and the internet changed everything. Like all other professions, diplomacy, caught in the world wide web. has changed beyond recognition.
Science and technology have become key drivers in international relations and knowledge of trends in advancement in various fields is an essential prerequisite to effective international negotiations. Increasingly specialized expertise has become essential as negotiations today deal with specialization and integration. Major powers have realized that promotion of values and foreign aid will not generate gratitude and that their strength lies in the global acceptance of their contribution to science. Nixon’s visit to China and the Chinese embrace of American technology set off bilateral cooperation between the two countries and established bilateral mechanisms, which have grown ever since. Soviet influence in India stemmed from the scientific training received in the Soviet Union by generations of Indian students. It is the dominance of its fundamental research that will ensure US dominance in the world for a long time to come.
The United Nations was created to rid the succeeding generations of the scourge of war, but on its seventieth anniversary, the Secretary General of the UN claimed that the greatest accomplishment of the UN was that it had immunized the world’s children against infectious diseases. Most of the present preoccupations of the UN were not anticipated in 1945. Infectious diseases, environmental degradation, electronic crimes and weapons of mass destruction and HIV/AIDS cannot be eliminated without international cooperation in science and technology. Tapping into the growing science base beyond a nation’s borders has become imperative for the pursuit of the truth and promotion of trust among nations. Diplomats cannot lie abroad for the good of their country any more as science is the business of establishing truth. Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein had exhorted the scientists, not diplomats to address the threat posed by nuclear weapons.
According to the Royal Society of London for improving Natural Knowledge, science diplomacy has emerged as the use of scientific interactions among nations to address the common problems facing humanity and to build constructive and knowledge based international partnership. In Joseph Nye’s concept of soft power, science and technology is a primary ingredient. The concept of science diplomacy is gaining increasing currency in the US, UK, Japan and elsewhere. It is still a fluid concept, but can usefully be applied to the role of science, technology and innovation in three related areas:
·       informing foreign policy objectives with scientific advice (science in diplomacy);
·       facilitating international science cooperation (diplomacy for science);
·       using science cooperation to improve international relations between countries (science for diplomacy).
Scientific values of rationality, transparency and universality are the same the world over. They can help to underpin good governance and build trust between nations. Science provides a non-ideological environment for the participation and free exchange of ideas between people, regardless of cultural, national or religious backgrounds.
Science diplomacy seeks to strengthen the symbiosis between the interests and motivations of the scientific and foreign policy communities. For the former, international cooperation is often driven by a desire to access the best people, research facilities or new sources of funding. For the latter, science offers useful networks and channels of communication that can be used to support wider policy goals. Foreign ministries should place greater emphasis on science within their strategies, and draw more extensively on scientific advice in the formation and delivery of policy objectives.
The constraints to science diplomacy include regulatory barriers, such as visa restrictions and security controls. Immediately after September 11 2001, more stringent travel and visa regimes in countries like the US and the UK severely limited the opportunities for visiting scientists and scholars, particularly from Islamic countries. Although efforts have been made to relax some of these strict controls, there are still significant problems with the free mobility of scientists from certain countries. Such policies shut out talented scientists and hinder opportunities. Security controls can also prevent collaboration on certain scientific subjects, such as nuclear physics and microbiology. Although these policies are based on legitimate concerns over the dual use potential of some scientific knowledge, they should also take into consideration the diplomatic value of scientific partnerships in sensitive areas to help rebuild trust between nations.
Coincidentally, the trend today is for engineers, doctors and scientists to join the diplomatic service. This has changed the character of the service from a generalist dominated service to a technologist oriented service. The emphasis is shifting from political and trade issues to technological issues. Many problems of the global commons such as climate change, epidemics and disasters need a combination of management of resources and technical understanding. More than any time before, science, technology and diplomacy combine to find solutions to global problems.
Thank you.