In action

Science diplomacy in international practice

Political responsibility and dialogue in challenging constellations: based on their current roles, four individuals with close connection to the DAAD ­offer insights into foreign ­science ­policy and science diplomacy in action.

Issue 2 | 2023

Texts: Ulrike Scheffer, illustrations: Julian Rentzsch

Illustration mit vier Wissenschaftler:innen

“Science must dictate the direction to policymakers”

Dr Arnoldo André Tinoco (62) has been Costa Rica’s minister of foreign affairs and worship since May 2022. A lawyer, he obtained his PhD in Hamburg on a DAAD doctoral scholarship from 1984 to 1988. After ­returning to Costa Rica, he spent more than 30 years working in a private law firm, was honorary president of the Chamber of Commerce and for many years was the honorary consul of ­Norway in Costa Rica.

The so-called Blue Agenda is a top priority for Dr Arnoldo André Tinoco, Costa Rica’s minister of foreign affairs and worship and a DAAD alumnus. The “blue” is a reference to marine protection. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Carib­bean Sea, this Central American country is naturally keen to preserve the ecosystems off its coasts. Together with France, Costa Rica will also be co-hosting the third Ocean Conference of the United Nations (UN) in Nice in 2025. A preparatory meeting of the signatory states will take place in Costa Rica in 2024. This is a major event for the 62-year-old minister, perhaps even the most important of his political career. “There is only one ocean that connects us all, and we have a multilateral duty to protect it,” says Arnoldo André Tinoco.

He believes that foreign science policy and science diplomacy have an even more important role to play than politics in paving the way for international agreements in Nice. “Science must dictate the direction to policymakers, as scientific findings are the basis for resolving global problems,” the minister explains. The coronavirus pandemic is the best example of this, he adds, saying that collaboration between researchers worldwide made a crucial contribution to ensuring that effective protective measures and vaccines were used. “Be it Covid or marine protection, science highlights best practices to us. If we turn our backs on science, it will become much more difficult to overcome international crises.”

Arnoldo André began his own professional car­eer in science. After attending the Humboldt School in San José, the capital of Costa Rica, and studying law at the University of Costa Rica, he was awarded a doctoral scholarship by the DAAD in 1984. This enabled him to go to Hamburg, where he obtained his PhD in international law in 1988. “I am an example of the success of funding young international scholars,” Arnoldo André says with a smile. Although his career later led him away from research and to a private law firm, he always retained his ties to science, and not least to ­Germany.

When he was appointed foreign minister in May 2022, Arnoldo André was able to revive his former links to the German-speaking world. His German is fluent. He is also benefiting now from his academic study of international law. “We abolished our army in 1948 and are committed to peace and disarmament worldwide,” he explains. The top Costa Rican diplomat Rebecca Grynspan for example, who is currently the secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, was and still is involved in negotiating the grains agreement between Russia and Ukraine. In Arnoldo André’s view, the Russian war of aggression is also proof that foreign science policy should also concern itself with international law. “International law urgently needs to be further developed, as there is currently an implementation problem. Violations of it tend to go unpunished,” explains the minister, who believes that the right of veto for permanent members of the UN Security Council needs to be reviewed in particular. That said, he doesn’t currently see any realistic chance of reform. —

“A difficult dialogue is better than no dialogue at all”

Dr Shafiah Fifi Muhibat (46) is deputy executive dir­ector for research at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta. She has worked at her home country’s think tank since 2000, during which time she has also completed several research stays abroad. She obtained her PhD on a DAAD ­scholarship in Hamburg in 2013.

Indonesia has become increasingly important in recent decades. The country’s economy is growing rapidly, as is the political influence of this Southeast Asian island state. This also makes the work of Dr Shafiah Fifi Muhibat more demanding. She is the deputy director of the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where she is responsible for the think tank’s research department. The security policy studies conducted by the CSIS are used by government agencies and businesses, and also followed up on in the media. A political scientist, Dr Muhibat’s own research focuses primarily on issues relating to maritime security in the Indo-Pacific and security cooperation in Southeast Asia.

Exchange between scientists from member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) serves as an important basis for security cooperation in the region. “A strong science network has existed at the ASEAN level since the 1970s. This allows security questions to be objectively analysed and discussed without any political constraints,” says Shafiah Muhibat, though she admits that it is difficult to measure whether and how this influences government policy. “However, we can certainly help draw policymakers’ attention to important issues, and in the best case scen­ario initiate cooperation in the region.”

Political responsibility for resolving crises lies with governments, emphasises Shafiah Muhibat. Scientists can only ever act in an advisory capacity. Nonetheless, her example proves just how import­ant science diplomacy can be. Be it within the framework of ASEAN, the United Nations or Indo­nesia’s bilateral relations in Asia: the “elephant in the room” when it comes to security policy in Asia is China. There can be no security without China. “It is important to keep the dialogue with China open, as a difficult dialogue is definitely better than no dialogue at all,” says Shafiah Muhibat. China apparently takes much the same view – and the government in Beijing also appears to believe that scientific exchange is a good way to improve its external relations.

Shafiah Muhibat frequently receives delegations from Chinese think tanks in Jakarta. “The Chinese are very interested in having contacts abroad,“ she explains. That said, the way Chinese research institutions view themselves differs from the self-image of the CSIS or comparable European institutions: “They represent government positions to a much greater extent and are less independent.” All the same, the CSIS experts can profit from the discussions with Chinese researchers. “We discover which topics they are concerned with, which allows us to draw many conclusions.”

The CSIS is Indonesia’s oldest independent think tank. It offers Shafiah Muhibat ideal working conditions for her research. “Access to data is vital for good political analyses,” she explains. “As scientists, we depend on reliable data. Particularly now­adays, with the increasing spread of false facts, this is indispensable when it comes to international ­cooperation.” —

“I represent Poland, not the Polish government”

Małgorzata Kopka-Piątek (49) has been the director of the European and Migration Policy programme at the Institute of Public Affairs, a renowned think tank in Poland, since 2021. After studying German phil­ology in Wrocław, she initially worked for the German-Polish Youth Office and then spent 15 years working for the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Warsaw.

A war in neighbouring Ukraine and nearly one million refugees have changed life in Poland. “Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, our security has dominated political and societal debates,” says Małgorzata Kopka-Piątek. The 49-year-old works for one of Poland’s leading independent think tanks, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) in Warsaw. Since 2021 she has run the IPA’s European and Migration Policy programme – a classic field of foreign science policy.

In the current situation, it is enormously import­ant for Poland to have support in the European ­Union (EU) and NATO. However, the government led by the right-wing PiS party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) is permanently at loggerheads with the EU Commission because the way it is restructuring the Polish justice system violates the EU’s standards with regard to the rule of law. In addition, Poland attracts criticism for the fact that it, alongside Hungary, is one of the member states obstructing a joint EU migration policy.

Małgorzata Kopka-Piątek, on the other hand, works intensively and well with colleagues all over Europe – including on the question of migration. “Wars and the impacts of climate change mean that more and more people are seeking refuge in Europe. This is something we cannot ignore. At the same time, the Polish economy will not be able to meet its demand for labour without migrants in the medium term. We are therefore looking at models used by other EU states to organise integration. What works, what doesn’t?”

For Małgorzata Kopka-Piątek, independence is essential not only for pursuing scientific work in her own country, but also for collaborations in an international context. “I represent Poland, not the Polish government, and Poland’s relations with its partners do not depend solely on government policy,” she explains. In other words, foreign science policy must not serve the interests of national foreign policy – nor should it be confused with it.

The majority of the Polish population is committed to the European project, explains Małgorzata Kopka-Piątek, adding that the Polish economy is closely interwoven with the European single market and likewise takes a positive view of the EU. “Our studies and the data we gather show that the picture of Europe in Poland is better than that painted by our media and by our government.” It is this nuanced view that she attempts to convey during projects at the European level.

Currently her institute is involved in an EU-wide campaign to promote the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Artists have taken words like equality, freedom and justice and turned them into visual images for the purposes of the campaign. The resulting posters are now touring the EU states to advertise discussion events. “The EU sometimes seems aloof to citizens and rather distant from the reality of their own lives. The campaign is intended to make it clear how important it is for all of our lives and our prosperity.” —

“Science is not a one-way street”

Dr Chiara Pierobon (40) is currently a DAAD visiting professor at the University of Washington. One of her former workplaces was Bielefeld University, where among other things she was a research associate at the St. Petersburg/Bielefeld Centre for German and European Studies (CGES/ZDES). In Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan she worked as a DAAD lecturer at Kyrgyz National University and as an information disseminator at the OSCE Academy. At the same time, she was an advisor and coach for international organisations and non-profit organisations as well as for the ­UNESCO Cluster Office for Central Asia.

When Dr Chiara Pierobon first entered the lecture theatre at the University of Washington, where she currently works, some of her students were surprised. Germany had sent an Italian to teach German and European Studies? For the 40-year-old, who for the past year has been teaching and researching in the USA as a visiting professor on a DAAD scholarship, such moments are proof of how important her work is. “I have been engaging in science diplomacy for ten years now, in the sense that I present the European model,” she explains. What role can the EU play in the world and what role does it want to play, which values define it and what are the accomplishments of the European project? One of them is certainly the fact that an academic who was born in Germany but grew up and lives in Italy can receive a German visiting professorship. “Although the nation-states continue to exist, the EU today is a single legal and economic area in which regions work together across borders.”

However, science diplomacy is not a one-way street, says Pierobon. “It is a matter of building up relationships between researchers, of establishing trust and of initiating joint projects and publications.” The big question is, what can we learn from one another? One highly topical issue that Chiara Pierobon is intensively engaged with is feminist foreign policy, to which Germany wishes to align its own foreign policy to a greater extent. Pierobon finds that this meets with considerable interest in the USA, as Europe is one of the pioneers of this pol­itical approach. The USA is only just beginning to embrace the idea. So far, however, there is no internationally recognised definition, nor any clear concept of how to implement it in practice. Academic exchange will be essential to further develop it.

Chiara Pierobon explains that it is above all increased political involvement of women that is discussed in Germany, whereas in other countries there are also other groups and minorities seeking greater visibility and the right to have their voices heard. The main feministic foreign policy buzzwords are inclusion and diversity, she adds. “We are talking about the complex idea of taking the security needs of all citizens into account, but definitely about basing policymaking decisions on a wider range of ­voices and experiences.” In view of the multiple crises in the world, achieving the broadest possible consensus on fundamental values is of great import­ance – both in politics and in science. Chiara Pierobon is observing growing scepticism about Western thinking in other regions of the world, however. Dialogue with Russian colleagues has even collapsed entirely since Russia’s war against Ukraine.

In Kyrgyzstan, on the other hand, Pierobon has had positive experiences of collaboration with universities, international foundations and civil society organisations. She worked in various roles at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek for more than four and a half years. Her main job was to advise the country on the political implementation of important development projects aimed for example at fostering civil society and preventing violent extremism. “What are your best practices and which of them would be suitable for us?” she was asked there. She says: “­Europe has plenty to offer in this area.” —