Published 24 October 2016 by Stephanie Hanel

A Driving Force Towards Peace: Scientific Cooperation

Picture: Ltd
Picture: Ltd

Can science build bridges between the nations of the world? This is, at least, the hope behind the idea of ‘science diplomacy’. Science diplomacy refers to both the scientific expertise required by politics and the diplomatic efforts to promote international scientific cooperation. Even if the improvements in international relations achieved through science diplomacy only arise at a secondary stage, this is considered a success on the part of science diplomacy.

Professor Felicitas Pauss, a particle physicist at the ETH Zurich and former Head of International Relations at CERN, is a passionate advocate of large-scale collaborative scientific ventures like CERN. In an interview held in 2010 she said: “We have colleagues from all over the world and this enables me to live out my passion for the fact that scientific language and scientific cooperation go beyond political borders.”

When it comes to a large research facility like CERN, whose CMS project alone involves around 3,000 scientists from 200 institutions in 40 countries, it is entirely accurate to speak of two-way multinational exchange. In addition to the staff working on-site and the permanent member states, the collaboration also involves International Cooperation Agreements and, according to Professor Pauss, these benefit over 10,000 scientists from 70 countries as they can avail of the scientific infrastructure for their research.

The establishment of such a large research facility clearly requires countless political negotiations and diplomatic efforts. “Obtaining a long-term and binding financial commitment from so many countries is a huge challenge. It took over 20 years to progress from the emergence of the initial concept to the start-up of the LHC particle accelerator in 2008,” says Prof Pauss. The ratification of the convention that officially established CERN took place over 60 years ago in 1954.

Live link to CERN with General Director Fabiola Gianotti and colleagues at this year’s LNLM – Steven Chu, David Gross, Takaaki Kajita and Carlo Rubbia participated in the panel discussion of Glimpses Beyond the Standard Model”, chaired by Felicitas Pauss.

After the Second World War, the former enemy states had to re-establish scientific relations which had been broken off due to the conflict – and Germany had to overcome its complete isolation from the global scientific community.

In the USA, John F. Kennedy established a corresponding cooperation agreement with Japan in 1961. In Germany, two doctors based in Lindau, Dr. Franz Karl Hein and Prof. Gustav Parade, had the idea of bringing Nobel laureates in the scientific disciplines of chemistry, physics and medicine together in 1951, and found an ideal sponsor and host for their project in Count Lennart Bernadotte. The idea was developed further over the years: the invitation to young scientists from all over the world to apply to participate in the Lindau Meetings was added to the mix and made a major contribution to fulfilling the motto of the event to “Educate, Inspire, Connect”. The impetus generated by the meetings was in evidence last year, in particular, when the majority of the Nobel laureates in attendance signed the Mainau Declaration 2015 on Climate Change.

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, here signing the Mainau Declaration on Climate Change, recently published an articel against nuclear weapons. Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

The German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, DAAD) was also re-established in the early 1950s in Bonn. The DAAD is now one of the biggest organisations for the promotion of the international exchange of academics in the world. It also implements the European Union’s very popular Erasmus Programme. This international understanding at academic level broadened Germany’s horizons and improved its scientific performance. The same applies to its partner organisations throughout the world.

Science diplomacy is an established concept in the USA and is used as the calling card for a modern policy approach. The concept became particularly popular under Barack Obama’s leadership. Obama’s efforts to bring the American scientific community and scientists from predominantly Muslim countries closer through scientific and technical innovations during the incipient Arab Spring are an example of this. Given the current political situation, it is painful to look back on the hopes and expectations that prevailed at the time. Nobel laureate Peter Agre gave an account of the efforts made by the US government in an article, while also warning that the efforts would have to be further intensified.

Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
Photo: Ch. Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Irrespective of the particular context in which it was expressed, Agre’s description of science diplomacy, as he understands it, is timeless:

“Science is a wide-ranging effort that naturally crosses borders, and so scientist-to-scientist collaboration can promote goodwill at the grass roots.”

And the argument for science diplomacy, irrespective of current political events, is irrefutable – complex global problems and conflicts can only be resolved through a global approach, and science is predestined to play a role in this process. No medical research team aims to heal only the sick within its own country. And what does ‘own country’ mean, anyway, when the scientists involved may well have found a place on a team located very far away from their countries of origin?

The International Space Station ISS , a joint project between the American space organisation NASA, the Russian space agency Roskosmos, the European Space Agency ESA, and the Canadian and Japanese space agencies is considered a positive venture and is always a good source of corresponding headlines. The fact that it nonetheless rests on thin diplomatic ice is demonstrated by the discussion about ending the operation of the ISS, which was fuelled by the conflict in eastern Ukraine but has been successfully defused for the time being. Moreover, it was not possible for China to participate in the development and operation of the station due to the USA’s veto.

The large fusion experiment ITER in France is an example of a project whose physical materialization was hindered for years due to political machinations. The turning point was achieved thanks to a leaked internal report. The clients involved in the construction of this project included the EU, Russia, the USA, China, Japan, India and South Korea. And, of course, it was national interests in relation to the awarding of contracts for the construction work that brought the venture to the brink of collapse.

The difficulty posed by balancing national interests and the investment in a peaceful community of states is the great challenge facing all participants. In view of the worrying nationalist movements and government policy in some countries today, many countries and many achievements which we already took for granted, are now under threat again.

Stephanie Hanel

Stephanie Hanel is a journalist and author. Her enthusiasm for the people behind science grew out of her work as an online editor for AcademiaNet, an international portal that publishes profiles of excellent female scientists. She is an interested observer of new communication channels and narrative forms as well as a dedicated social media user and science slam fan.