As a number of previous blogs have highlighted, there is an increasing interest in the interrelationship between science and diplomacy. This week, the Society’s Executive Director, Dr Julie Maxton, addressed a seminar organised by the Spanish Embassy on the subject. Drawing on the Society’s three and a half centuries of history, she provided some interesting examples of ‘science diplomacy’ in action.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

These included the efforts of Benjamin Franklin, a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Founding Father of the United States. Franklin wrote a letter to all captains and commanders of armed US ships during its war of independence against Great Britain to ensure that Captain James Cook, the explorer and pioneer who was also a Fellow, was given safe passage from his third Pacific voyage for reasons including scientific merit.

In the present day, the Society works with its sister academies from the G7 countries to influence the G7 agenda. The foci for this year’s summit are antibiotic resistance, neglected and tropical diseases, and the impact of human activities on marine systems. The Society has also been an active partner in supporting scientific collaboration with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).

There were many other examples of ‘science diplomacy’ from other speakers.

Alexander Fowles, a science attaché at the German Embassy, spoke of how reciprocal visits by scientists from Germany and Israel helped pave the way for the two countries to establish diplomatic relations for the first time.

Spanish Embassy seminar on science diplomacy

Dr Julie Maxton and fellow panellists discuss ‘science diplomacy’ at the Spanish embassy seminar held on 1 June 2015.

Maria Cristina Russo, Director for International Cooperation in Research and Innovation at the European Commission, spoke of how science diplomacy is a key priority for the new European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas (a vision which he recently outlined at the Royal Society). She also discussed how the EU and Ukraine have built and strengthened links through the latter joining Horizon 2020, the world’s largest multilateral research programme.

Other fascinating perspectives were provided by science attachés from the London embassies of the US, Japan and Brazil. Each highlighted the important role international scientific cooperation plays in each country’s wider foreign policy. Given the central role Spain has played in setting up and nurturing scientific cooperation networks with and across Latin America, the Spanish embassy was a fitting venue for the discussion.