Leveraging science for European foreign policy: Bare necessities, global challenges and soft power


In our flat world of the 21st century, ever more key policy challenges are embedded in a broader global context while S&T underpin their cause or cure. For knowledge-intensive economies, to effectively engage with S&T in their foreign policy has become a bare necessity to enhance their capacities, science base, outreach, and power. Hence they are well advised to deploy strategies how to best leverage these assets. At the same time, global challenges like climate change and migration, food security and pandemics, to name but a few, call for highly effective international collaboration in S&T to address and hopefully alleviate the many problems that come along with them. S&T have become a crucial part of the global scramble for competitiveness, innovation and excellence, but they also necessitate international cooperation, which offers a wide array of opportunities for resolving conflicts, easing gridlocked relations, and build international understanding.


Science for diplomacy (S4D) and diplomacy for science (D4S) have become inseparable. While S&T are employed to inform a nation’s foreign policy and to supply technical information, expertise, and tools to monitor compliance with international agreements or keep track with crisis management, more and more countries take to strengthen S&T capabilities, competencies, and portfolios in their foreign services and to gear up staff and programs that deal with international S&I and global challenges. Yet for the EU, linkages between international S&T cooperation and FP until recently have remained unsystematic at best.


It was only in 2012 that the Commission called for “a strategic approach” to enhance and focus the Union’s international cooperation activities in research and innovation (COM (2012) 497). In another communication from 2014, it suggested the EEAS should “develop a genuine and ambitious science diplomacy” to enhance and complement the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (COM (2014) 339). Last June, Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for RS&I, stressed it were important “to embed science in EU diplomacy” and to harness its soft power for European foreign policy. So the EU is about to follow suit to fit in an ever-growing range of actors and arenas engaging in SD and in ongoing discussions about the global governance of S&T. The field clearly is on the move, gaining more and more attention and recognition, and the EU seems keen to find her place in it.


In the wake of this development a still slow, yet remarkable shift has occurred toward a new “inclusive” SD. Less than a year ago, in its elaborate memorandum “Diplomacy for the 21st Century: Embedding a Culture of S&T throughout the Department of State”, the U.S. National Research Council deemed it necessary to follow a new “Whole-of-Society Approach” in incorporating S&T in diplomacy and addressing global issues. The new diplomacy should not only be willing, but eager to tap the capabilities, and cooperation, of non-governmental entities like research organisations, foundations, NGOs, the academy, private organisations and companies deeply invested in S&T for overall national interests and actions in the FP of the U.S.


SD is what one may call an emerging practice, but also widely under-researched as a topic and practice. There is no map or atlas of SD features and programs, tools or best practices, and accordingly no such thing like a “science of SD”. Objectives, targets, concepts and methods of SD vary widely. One obstacle for conceptualising the field lies in the fact that science, while said to be international in its scope and methods, follows a decentralised and highly idiosyncratic decision-making. The political interests of states or institutions do not really matter for researchers or the academy. A smart SD would have to factor in these things and try to bring together expertise and involvement from the S&T community with professional experience in FP.


Similar tensions result from the Janus face of SD in IR: On the one hand, it serves as a lubricant for multi-actor, inter-state and non-governmental cooperation, on the other it is a site to garner national competitiveness and prowess. SD has to accommodate a large variety of institutional interests, actors, epistemic communities, matters and political concerns. Hence it needs to focus its goals and objectives plus a high degree of political and administrative coordination. First and foremost, this calls for a thorough review of the international scene, strategies and interests, strengths and weaknesses of different initiatives and actors in order to find out what prime issues and “selling points” of a distinctive European SD could be that would fit in with individual member states’ activities and other international powers or organisations.


We are looking for a coherent, balanced, and comprehensive approach to SD that could serve economic interests (to stir competitiveness, leverage complementarities, build smart partnerships, tap global innovations and resources) and security issues and help promote European R&D as “a global brand for excellence” in research, smart technologies and innovations. As a “natural extension of European values”, European SD should seek to foster international collaboration and international researcher-mobility, market the ERA as a stellar model for international R&D, and push for human rights, good governance and conflict resolution by peaceful means all across the world.


With the advent of Horizon 2020, significant external dimensions of Europe’s R&I policy were made explicit for the first time. So all’s well that ends well? Not quite. Apart from a strong rhetoric the EU not yet commands well-tried and tested policies and tools for SD. National imperatives of the member states still happen to override common interests and to thwart common policies. If it wants to kick-start a SD agenda custom-tailored to serve its prime objectives in the light of its capacities, the EU would be well-advised to rigorously review and weigh the respective interests, main objectives and policies of its member states that already have a stance in that field but also those of its main competitors, in particular from East Asia and the U.S., to fathom if the EU’s portfolio could represent an aliud or a plus to these.


This is where EL-CSID comes in. One of its work packages is to map the field of D4S and S4D by examining main R&I objectives, strategies, policies, and resources major countries and international organisations deploy in their foreign policy. This should provide us with a better picture of what is going on out there already and what any European SD, for better or for worse, has to take into account. Another WP will zoom in the numerous intersections between national trajectories for SD and the global marketing of the EU as both a role model for peaceful cooperation and an innovation union. This should help flesh out a distinctive rationale for a European SID using sound criteria for the selection of targeted regions, main concerns and, accordingly, the design of preferable policies and actions. EL-CSID aims to be more than just research of the highest quality; rather it seeks to provide valuable expert-advice and policy-analyses for a well-designed European SD. By doing so, it becomes part of what one may call an ongoing “transformative science” endeavour.


Recent blog messages
Archive