Experts propose ‘clearing house’ for science diplomacy

A new report in Sweden has proposed the establishment of a ‘strategic intelligence clearing house’ to serve as an independent forum for national discussions on science diplomacy and to coordinate diplomacy efforts.

The proposal is contained in a report, Science Diplomacy in and for Sweden, commissioned by the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT), which contains proposals highlighting the importance of science diplomacy in a world increasingly marked by polarisation.

Its authors, Professor Stefan Kuhlmann and Dr Ewert Aukes from the University of Twente in the Netherlands, suggest that while Sweden has a strong tradition of diplomatic initiatives (the so-called ‘Swedish Initiative’ in the United Nations that led to the UN Conference on the Human Environment first held in Stockholm in 1972, and now celebrating its 50-year anniversary, is one), the field of science diplomacy is highly “fragmented” and meaningful debates on the issue are lacking.

Inquiry on internationalisation of HE institutions

This is despite the Inquiry on Increased Internationalisation of Higher Education Institutions, also known as the ‘Internationalisation Inquiry’ which got underway in March 2017 and published its report in February 2018, highlighting the importance of science diplomacy for Sweden.

The proposal for a clearing house builds on plans, emanating from the earlier inquiry, to establish a Platform for Internationalisation, and acknowledges the growing importance of science diplomacy in a world marked by greater geopolitical tensions, increased interface between technological developments, the economy, politics, and security and foreign policy interests, as well as the pandemic-induced decrease in international mobility (of both researchers and students).

Insufficient attention

It is widely believed, particularly in academic and scientific circles and despite the government inquiry, that science diplomacy has received insufficient attention. While many activities in related organisations, agencies, and ministries would likely fit into the realm of science diplomacy, it remains largely uncharted territory in Sweden, both as a concept and as a topic of discussion around how it might be viewed or applied in a policy context.

Agneta Bladh, former secretary of state at the Ministry of Education and Research and chair of the Swedish Research Council who headed the Internationalisation Inquiry, told University World News the STINT report was important in a Swedish setting because the “issue is not much discussed” in the country.

War in Ukraine

“There are very few faculty willing to collaborate with colleagues in non-democratic countries. However, with the war in Ukraine, I believe the discussion on science diplomacy will hold on for some time. The report will hopefully be an asset over a longer term.”

The view was echoed by Professor Sylvia Schwaag Serger, chair of STINT’s board of directors, who told University World News while science diplomacy was not a new concept, it had not received sufficient attention in Sweden.

“Having worked in both policy-making and academia, I also observe a shortage of people who understand both science and diplomacy.”

This observation contributed towards the decision by STINT to host a seminar in Stockholm on 15 February, using the Kuhlmann and Aukes report as a basis for discussions on science diplomacy in a Swedish context.

STINT, whose mission is to internationalise Swedish higher education and research, said in its conference note that it hoped the report would “lay a foundation for a discussion on strategic dimensions of science diplomacy in and for Sweden, and address questions such as what it is, why might it be relevant, what could be done and by whom”.

Forward-looking dialogue

Serger said rapid and far-reaching changes in international relations and the world order, as well as global challenges that require stronger international collaboration, meant that STINT “saw a need for a structured, inclusive, and forward-looking dialogue, perhaps even dialogue forum, on the relationship between science and diplomacy: how should they interact and relate”.

“With this initiative, we hope to catalyse such a conversation,” she told University World News.

In addition to the report’s authors and Serger and Bladh, seminar participants, representing a cross section of government departments and higher education experts and stakeholders, included Dr Beate Eellend representing the Ministry of Education and Research; Dr Hans-Christian Hagman, chief analyst and senior adviser for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Magnus Schöldtz, senior advisor for Wallenberg Foundations AB; Dr Andreas Göthenberg, executive director of STINT; and Professor Astrid Söderbergh Widding, president of Stockholm University.

In her blog on 18 February, Widding said she hoped the STINT report would function in the way it was planned, “as an engine in the development of an important area related to our international research exchanges that are ever more important in these times when international conflict alignments are sharpened, and borders are tending to become more closed”.