David Clary Distinguished Lecture

31 October 2011


This report was prepared by Matthew Dunstan.

Science and Innovation in Foreign Policy

Our sixth Distinguished Lecture was given by Professor David Clary FRS, the Foreign Office’s first Chief Scientific Adviser. Professor Clary delivered a wide ranging and informative lecture covering the role that he has created, the role of science in foreign policy and, in particular, the critical role that science plays in diplomacy.

A place for scientific expertise in government

The role of Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) in the Foreign Office is broad and far-reaching. Professor Clary provides science advice to the Foreign Secretary and other policy makers on scientific matters, builds partnerships between scientific organisations in the UK and elsewhere, and engages with other departmental CSAs.

The role of CSA in the Foreign Office is particularly important considering that there are only 70 trained scientists or mathematicians in the department out of a total head count of 15,000.

The age of ‘Science Diplomacy’

Science is often an essential part of foreign policy for ‘ungoverned spaces’, such as space and marine areas. It is also the subject of many international agreements, such as the EU scientific programmes and the upcoming ‘Horizon 2020’ (which will replace FP7). Professor Clary spoke of the Foreign Office and European Commission’s commitment to open up Horizon 2020 programmes outside Europe to real international collaboration, allowing scientists from non-EU countries to apply for EU funding directly.

A part of this growing international focus on research funding includes the movement of more early-career researchers to research institutions in other countries. Professor Clary described these collaborations in the context of ‘science diplomacy’ where international diplomacy is strengthened through scientific links. This could be seen in the continued communications between Western and Soviet scientists even at the height of the Cold War and is seen in collaboration between Israel and Iran and also Turkey and Cyprus today.

A key role of the CSA and the Science and Innovation Network (SIN) is to facilitate international collaborations for UK scientists. This role was particularly important, for example, following the US reforms that eased the regulation of research on stem cells, following which opportunities arose for collaboration between US and UK researchers. SIN has also stimulated collaboration with India on solar and water technology and Brazil on biofuels research.

Limitations and Difficulties

As with any foreign policy matter, there are still political complications even in scientific endeavours. Professor Clary spoke about the British Indian Ocean Territory, which was declared a marine protected area in April 2010. While this decision allowed a pristine part of the ocean to be preserved for future scientific research, it was not without repercussions, such as having a significant impact on the future use of Diego Garcia as a US military air base.

Another area that Professor Clary highlighted was scientific initiatives in the Middle East, in particular the International Centre for Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME). This project, which will build a world-class synchrotron near Allaan in Jordan, has brought together countries from all around the region including Bahrain, Cyprus, Israel, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey. Much of the necessary funding has been found by member nations and also EU observer countries. However, recent events including the death of two Iranian members of SESAME has put the project – intended to foster scientific openness and partnership – in doubt.

The on-going role of the CSA

Professor Clary closed his lecture by reflecting on the significant opportunities that having a Chief Scientific Adviser in the Foreign Office has presented. Acting as a broker between cutting-edge research and international relations, he is able to pass ideas and concerns of the research community to the FCO to help ensure that UK foreign policy remains relevant and effective.

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  • 31 October 2011, 5pm

    The first chief scientific adviser in the foreign office

    The first Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was appointed in 1782. It took another 227 years for the Foreign Office to appoint its first Chief Scientific Adviser. We are delighted that CSaP's sixth Distinguished Lecture will be given by the first holder of this historic post, Professor David Clary FRS.