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Science Diplomacy at the Czech MFA


The Danube Academies Conference took place in Prague,on 30-31 October, 2019. It was organized by Czech Academy of Sciences together with European Academy of Sciences and Arts under the auspices of Hon. Tomáš Petříček, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Special Envoy for Science Diplomacy, Dr. Petr Kaiser addressed the meeting during the opening session outlining current main goals and strategies of the Czech science diplomacy.

                                                                      Science Diplomacy: Building on Soft Skills  

                                                    Petr Kaiser, Special Envoy for Science Diplomacy, Czech MFA

                                                 10thDanube Academies Conference (October 30 - 31, 2019, Prague)

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A diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip", reads a famous pleasantry about diplomacy. Obviously, there is no human being with such magic skills. However, this humorous and intentionally exaggerated expression of expectations people associate with diplomatic efforts refers, in fact, to something very important.  Diplomacy in general, and science diplomacy (SD) in particular, is based on an ability to communicate, establish and maintain contacts and build mutual trust in the long run. Such skills are usually called “soft”. However, in a more and more complex and more and more contradictory world of today, these “soft skills” are needed more than ever before.

Therefore, the description of SD as a “soft instrument” should not be understood in anyway as degrading SD to something of a minor importance, of a lower status or just subordinated to other policies deployed in international relations. On the contrary, there is a broad consensus, and I believe this conference will confirm that once again, that over recent years the role of SD has grown considerably. Newly emerged challenges to our common security and prosperity such as the climate change, management of scarce global resources and other major issues with global repercussions have an important element of science. Against the background of shaken structures of global governance the so called “soft power” of science and evidence-based knowledge has become a useful mechanism that can create frameworks for discussions and provide advice how to reconcile divergent, often rather contradicting, interests.

In the past, SD was understood as the aspiration of superpowers to project their influence. However, also smaller countries have learned to utilize tools of SD in asserting their positions and interests on regional and global stages. At the same time, it is broadly recognized that for all nations to stay in the forefront in science and innovation (in order for them to ensure a sustainable prosperity and growth) requires engagement with the best scientists and facilities throughout the world.

I assume that we will speak today a lot about significance of SD for multilateral discussions and policy making. Experience shows that science-based arguments are extremely useful to provide new insights and lay foundations for commonly acceptable solutions. Moreover, they are instrumental in garnering attention and subsequently engagement of the broad public. It was, actually, the public support that has proved to be a game changer in some difficult international negotiations. A well-known example is the climate change and the role scientific evidence played in shaping the international response to this unprecedented challenge. Let me in this context just briefly refer to UN 2030 Agenda, the most ambitious agenda in the whole history of the only universal organization. It relies heavily upon scientific inputs. In fact, full implementation of some key Sustainable Development Goals is not achievable without research and new technologies.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me underline that Czech diplomacy has always been a strong advocate of multilateral mechanisms that respect principles of inclusiveness, equitability, transparency and openness. So it is very natural that Czech foreign policy endorses the intention of the EU to utilize international cooperation in research and innovation also as an instrument of soft power, namely for improving relations with our key partners, and our neighbors in particular, thus strengthening the global governance. This objective is, nevertheless, achievable only if decision-making processes on both national and international levels are based on reliable data and verifiable knowledge. Certainly, we need to uphold and defend them namely today, in the era of “fake news”, “alternative facts”, and manipulations of different kind that have, unfortunately, proved to be so efficient in their disruptive impacts.

I believe that everybody in this room is familiar with the famous taxonomy of SD: science in diplomacy, science for diplomacy, and diplomacy for science. These categories are certainly useful in debates on the core missions and objectives of SD. Nevertheless, in real life this semantics may be often blurred as activities usually serve multiple purposes. In other words, the instruments used in a particular case should be tailor-made to concrete objectives.

Mindful of the importance of SD, the Czech diplomatic service is ready to assist in supporting international collaboration in science with the involvement of Czech researchers (diplomacy for science). We can build on unique qualities of the Czech research (exceptional knowledge potential, developed human resources, state-of-the art facilities etc.) We are utilizing capabilities of specialized scientific diplomats deployed in some priority destinations thanks to resources provided by the R&D&I Council and the Office of the Government. Two experts have been already sent to Israel and the U.S. and the third one is about to start her mission in the East Asia. However, let me point out in this contexts that there is a number of diplomats working at Czech embassies also in other developed countries and permanent missions to relevant international organizations who are charged with SD related tasks (who are, nevertheless, responsible also for other agendas).  Diplomats involved in SD organize specialized missions, seminars and workshops. They support networking at the level of research teams, facilitate negotiations of various memoranda of understanding and agreements between funding agencies and institutions. They also can   identify new opportunities for collaboration, report on major developments related to research and technology etc.

The involvement of the MFA in SD is based on close collaboration with other partners. To ensure that is the task of the MFA Special Envoy or Science Diplomacy. The role of diplomacy vis-à-vis our partners is to provide a professional service in supporting activities aimed at implementing objectives and benchmarks elaborated together by relevant stakeholders. In the field of SD, it is clearly an imperative for everyone involved to work as a member of a team. Some important steps to strengthen such collaboration have been made recently, including creation of inter-ministerial and inter-institutional platform. Let me provide two examples how such collaboration can look like in reality:

  • First: The MFA—together with the Ministry of industry and trade and the Embassy of Israel in Prague (and with support of some research institutes, namely IOCB and CIIRC)—organized a two-day Czech-Israeli Innovation Forum in June. This event brought together some 200 high-ranking officials, leading researchers and innovative entrepreneurs. It provided an important boost to CZ-IL bilateral R&D co-operation.
  • Second: In February, the Czech government adopted an Innovation strategy of the Czech Republic that stipulates a bold ambition to promote our country as one of Europe's innovation leaders by 2030. Against that background the MFA, has committed itself to elaborate—together with all relevant stakeholders—a concise document that will summarize programs and instruments supporting international collaboration made available by Czech ministries, agencies and other providers.

Dar colleagues, in my intervention, I have tried to underline that although the instruments of SD might be described as “soft”, they are very serious and important tools in a foreign policy tool box. However, there is one important prerequisite for full exploitation of this “soft power” potential: a flexible mechanism must be in place that encompasses not only promotion of international science, but also pays due attention to foreign policy issues and interests. Officials, scientists and innovators need to understand each other and recognize that the SD is a specific expertise. It goes without saying that they need to work even more closely together in the future.