Hard Science, Soft Power

Remember international cooperation? It’s been a while, but multilateralism used to be an important political strategy. The Bush administration may have shied away from such tactics, but one community has been quietly working to build relationships and foster progress across borders: scientists, whose work with foreign researchers can act as a catalyst for diplomacy.

Scientific cooperation will grow more important as severe weather alters landscapes and natural resources decline, reports Seed (Jan.-Feb. 2008). Attendant problems, like that of the drought-driven conflict in Darfur, will require both scientific and political solutions. And science’s point of view–judicious, discerning–easily lends itself to good diplomacy.

U.S. scientists might also help to smooth rocky relationships with countries such as Iran, suggests an editorial in Science (Jan. 18, 2007). Historically, Iranian and American scientists have pooled research on water conservation, seismicity, certain cancers, and other topics. While this sort of engagement is more difficult given current political tensions, simply pursuing a conversation maintains a vital line of communication between the two nations.

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