this is a guest post by Yasmin Khan
In a recent blog entry I alluded to the prospect of utilizing science diplomacy to help promote world peace. Following President Barack Obama’s ground-breaking speech in Cairo, it now seems that dormant rhetoric will soon be put into imminent action.
Intentions to support scientific initiatives in the Islamic world as part of Obama’s vision for promoting peaceful relations between the United States and countries with a Muslim majority were revealed, as highlighted in David Bruggeman’s recent blog entry on Science Diplomacy and the Cairo Address.
It seemed too good to be true a couple of months ago when Dr. Vaughan Turekian, Chief International Officer for AAAS and Director for the Center for Science Diplomacy, foretold in his talk at Harvard how a new era of science diplomacy might be afoot.
Turekian had defined science diplomacy as:
the use of international science cooperation with the goal of building or establishing relationships between and among societies.
Just prior to that, The Times reported that Dr Harold Varmus, Noble Laureate and co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology had asserted that American diplomacy had previously undervalued the role of medicine and science in fostering friendly relations with developing nations. Varmus argued that US investment in fighting tropical infections and chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes in poor countries would transform international perceptions of the US.
When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year, no one was sure how much of what she promised would really transpire when she claimed that the new vanguard of foreign policy rests in the deployment of diplomacy as encapsulated in the phrase she helped to coin: ‘smart power’.
Smart power is a balance of hard military power with the soft power of diplomacy, development, cultural exchanges, education and science. One of the most promising of the smart power tools is science diplomacy, the practice of supporting and promoting scientific exchanges, cooperation and research between the United States and other nations, sometimes nations that have no other diplomatic relations with the United States.
A U.S. delegation was recently sent to Damascus to meet
But what is most unique is Obama’s shrewd tactic to reference historical contributions made by other civilizations in order to give the present full context. This approach is both courageous and eye opening:
it was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation.
Obama has now given a new edge to science diplomacy – combining it with a sort of ‘heritage diplomacy’, he knows he can take things much further. Since then, John Esposito amongst others has also observed that by focusing on our interdependence, shared values and common interests, Obama has generated a new mindset and paradigm for U.S.-Muslim World relations. In the mean time, administration officials are working to elucidate the fuzzy spots in Obama’s science diplomacy as summarised in a recent State Department factsheet ‘A NEW BEGINNING: THE U.S. AND MUSLIM COMMUNITIES AROUND THE WORLD‘.
So what next? Obama’s speech was a watershed moment in history that raised expectations and has left us all in anticipation. We have yet to see his all pledges for action fully materialise but as Obama’s incisive words continue to reverberate, the future looks brighter.
This was first published on Prometheus, a blog run from the Centre for Science and Technology Policy Research in the University of Colorado, USA.
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Filed in: Culture,Current affairs,Middle East,Science