Diplomacy Needs More Scientists in the Room

By Meredith Watkins

The dawn of the Biden-Harris administration has raised Transatlantic confidence that American leadership—and American scientific leadership—on the world stage can be restored.

“Fortunately, the Biden-Harris administration is prioritizing the implementation of fact-based, science-oriented policymaking as central to its global engagement. Making good on this commitment is more pressing than ever given all of the issues that we face today…such as addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change,” Benjamin L. Schmitt said in his lecture titled, Moving Science from a “Nice to Have” to a “Must Have” in U.S. Foreign Policy: Chatting with an Astrophysicist on the Front Lines of Transatlantic Security Policy.

Schmitt, Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Project Development Scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and DUCIGS Rethinking Development Fellow, joined Giovanni Zanalda, Director of DUCIGS, and Duke Alumna Amrita Banerjee, AAAS Congressional Science & Engineering Fellowand Vice-Chair of the National Science Policy Network Science Diplomacy Committee, for a for a timely discussion on the vital need for science and technology as a central component to reshape U.S. diplomatic strategy, particularly as transnational issues become increasingly complex.

“You really need to have practitioners of science and technology in the room who can answer questions that may not be being asked in the room,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt and Banerjee also advocated for inspiring a new generation of young scientists to look towards diplomacy as a career path. “I optimistically think that this is a growing field, a place where people are recognizing the importance of including these experts and these voices in political and diplomatic challenges,” Banerjee said.

This lecture was the first event in the new “Multi-Stakeholder Framework Series” organized by the DUCIGS/Rethinking Diplomacy program. The next event in this series will be held on Tuesday, March 16 at 5pm and is titled: “What Future for Track 2 Diplomacy?” and will feature T2 Diplomacy* expert, Professor Peter Jones, Executive Director of the Ottawa Dialogue (University of Ottawa).

*T2 Diplomacy is often referred to as back channel diplomacy.

Watch the full video of “Moving Science from a “Nice to Have” to a “Must Have” in U.S. Foreign Policy” webinar:


ON THE PRIORITIZATION OF SCIENCE-BASED POLICYMAKING IN THE BIDEN-HARRIS ADMINISTRATION

Benjamin L. Schmitt

“Fortunately, the Biden-Harris administration is prioritizing the implementation of fact-based, science-oriented policymaking as central to its global engagement. Making good on this commitment is more pressing than ever given all of the issues that we face today and this goes on the broad spectrum from traditional science policy areas, such as addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. These are rightly the main areas of focus when it comes to science policy and science diplomacy, but science and technology analysis really needs to go further than these areas, given the growing number of cross-cutting threats we face, including the traditional areas of U.S. diplomacy or civil security.”

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ON THE IMPORTANCE OF EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF SCIENCE PRACTITIONERS IN THE GOVERNMENT

Benjamin L. Schmitt

“We need to continue to strategize how to better address some of these pressing transnational issues by getting practitioners of science and technology more equitably distributed throughout the government, in particular in the State Department and National Security Council.”

ON THE CRITICAL NEED FOR SCIENTISTS IN PUBLIC DISCOURSE

Amrita Banerjee

“Especially now with the situation with the pandemic, with so much unrest that is happening in this county, and with issues of vaccine hesitancy and vaccine nationalism, I think that there is a greater appreciation for the role of scientists in public space. I know that a lot of my peers, and perhaps I’m coming from a biased pool, they are aware of the necessity for being active in these political spaces.”

ON THE HIGH EXPECTATIONS AROUND THE WORLD FOR THE BIDEN-HARRIS ADMINISTRATION

Benjamin L. Schmitt

“We’re at the dawn of the Biden Harris administration. We have fresh expectations and hopes for another four years. This has raised transatlantic confidence and global confidence that American leadership on the world stage can be restored. That goes from addressing political, economic, and racial division here at home to leading the fight against creeping authoritarianism, kleptocracy, economic issues, trade, and other transnational threats abroad. The challenges and the expectations, as I think we all know, our high right now.”

ON ADDRESSING VACCINE HESITANCY DURING COVID-19

Amrita Banerjee

“Some of the folks that I hear from, their suspicion or their concerns about vaccine hesitancy are based in a lot of the times historical and sociological challenges. One of the tools is, of course, having scientific expertise and having the data and the facts there. But then also recognizing that sometimes you might need a different messenger, so making sure that the right messengers are armed with that right kind of knowledge.”

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ON TAKING A MULTIDISCIPLINARY APPROACH TO TRANSATLANTIC SECURITY ISSUES

Benjamin L. Schmitt

“It’s vital to develop a multi-disciplinary policy response that includes pairing traditional economic and political analysis, such as we often see in the both academic and the policy world when it comes to foreign policy, with the use of science and technology analysis to better understand the true nature of these threats and to develop countermeasures.”

ON BROADENING THE INVOLVEMENT OF SCIENTISTS IN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ROLES

Benjamin L. Schmitt

“The State Department needs more scientists. The National Security Council needs more scientists. There is a long tradition of science being a priority in the traditional national security space. The Department of Defense has a tremendous focus on this, the Department of Energy does as well. But it doesn’t really help you in diplomatic issues if you don’t know where to go, if you don’t have folks who are reminding people on the front lines of diplomacy or participating themselves that there are tremendous national resources.”

ON ARMING YOUNG SCIENTIFIC RESEARCHERS WITH DIPLOMACY SKILLS

Amrita Banerjee

“Having people in those rooms is absolutely critical and I also think…with early career researchers, making sure that they have the tools and they have the exposure early in their career to be successful and to navigate those kinds of diplomatic spaces.”

ON SPACE DIPLOMACY

Benjamin L. Schmitt

“…in terms of deep space, we have the United Arab Emirates, the People’s Republic of China, and the United States all arriving in Martian orbit as we speak. Over the course of several months we’ll see three different continents represented in the orbit of another planet all arriving at the same time for the first time in history, two of which, the US and China have landers that are going to be on Martian surface. Establishing rules of the road in both the low orbit and off planet is very important…”  


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