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Blog Post | Northern Cyprus and the Limitations of Science Diplomacy

Authors: Pierre-Bruno Ruffini and Olga Krasnyak

The Growing Importance of Science Diplomacy

On 21 January, 2020, the International Science Diplomacy Forum took place in Nicosia, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). The Forum brought together fifty academics from Turkish-Cypriot and Cypriot universities as well as local politicians including Mustafa Akıncı, President of the TRNC, and Tufan Erhürman, the former Prime Minister and leader of the opposition. The Forum sought to raise awareness to the importance of scientific collaborations and the role that science may play in facilitating closer diplomatic ties on this part of the island. As such, this Forum focused on science diplomacy which is traditionally practiced at two level. At the national level, science diplomacy is used to promote and secure a state’s foreign policy objectives. For instance, nations may deepen ties with other states through joint research and development projects. Moreover, science diplomacy is employed when states manage shared resources such as gas baselines or rivers. At the international level, science diplomacy enables states to tackle shared challenges ranging from ocean acidification to health pandemics.

The topic of science diplomacy has attracted interest from academics and practitioners alike. Recent studies have focused on the role that science diplomacy plays at the multilateral level. This stems from growing attention to globalization, on the one hand, and climate change, on the other. To date, scholars have examined scientific collaborations such as the Montreal or Kyoto Protocols and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Yet more attention needs to be paid to the application of science diplomacy to resolve tensions between two states, especially those that share disputed resources. In a century marked by growing competition over natural resources, science diplomacy may become pivotal in resolving cross-border disputes.

Science Diplomacy in the Cyprian Context

Science diplomacy may prove beneficial to the TRNC given growing tensions between Turkish and Greek Cypriots over the discovery of natural gas and its further production in the shared maritime of the Eastern Mediterranean. Scholars have argued that science diplomacy may be applicable to complex, geo-political conflicts such as the one in Cyprus, an island that has been politically divided since 1983. Despite the progressive rhetoric expressed at the Forum, the utilization of science diplomacy in the TRNC raises several questions. First, can science diplomacy address the numerous political challenges that the island faces? Second, could science diplomacy, in its known form, be practiced by Turkish Cypriots? Third, does the TRNC possess the scientific infrastructure necessary to practice science diplomacy?

Even though it exists de-facto, Northern Cyprus has only been recognized by Turkey. As such, it has no independent foreign policy and cannot leverage a global network of embassies to obtain foreign policy goals, be it through science or other forms of diplomacy. Moreover, the scientific capacity of Northern Cyprus is rather limited. While the TRNC boasts 21 universities, most focus on technical training rather than research and development, again hampering the TRNC’s ability to foster scientific collaborations with its neighbors.

As mentioned, the discovery of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean has led to a dispute between Turkey and Greece, each hoping to carry out offshore drilling. Turkish officials have contested the drilling currently undertaken by the Greek Cypriot administration in conjunction with Israel, arguing that Greek Cypriot territorial claims violate Turkey’s territorial waters. During the Forum, the president of the TRNC criticized the Greek Cypriot unilateral initiative saying that it is not based on any concrete “scientific reality”. He called for diplomatic action and cooperation to resolve growing tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. This could be a classic case for science diplomacy, as tensions could be resolved through scientific collaborations and shared scientific resources.

However, the implementation of science diplomacy in the TRNC, as a means of facilitating closer ties while sidestepping political tensions, is limited as there is no cross-border cooperation between academic institutions on both sides of the Island. Additionally, there seems to be little desire on both sides of the Island to resolve tensions and break the diplomatic deadlock that characterizes ties between the Turkish and Greek-Cypriots. The acceptance of the status quo was evident in the statements made by politicians at the Forum.

Lessons Learned

Looking at the TRNC through the prism of science diplomacy offers several important lessons regarding its application and limitations. Chief among these is that nations looking to practice science diplomacy must create scientific capabilities through an investment in research and development. Science diplomacy also depends on a willingness of two or more parties to break status quos and transition towards collaboration. Finally, science diplomacy necessitates that an opportunity arise. As this post has demonstrated, in the case of the TRNC barely one of these conditions has materialized. Yet this post also demonstrates that scholars should pay greater attention to the application of science diplomacy to bi-lateral crises be it in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, Northern Africa or South-East Asia.

Pierre-Bruno Ruffini is a Professor at the Faculty of International Affairs at the University of Le Havre (France) and a member of EDEHN (Equipe D’Economie – le Havre Normandie). He is the author of Science and Diplomacy: A New Dimension of International Relations (Springer, 2017).

Dr. Olga Krasnyak is a researcher and educator. Her research interests focus on science diplomacy and its implementation into a state’s foreign policy. She is the author of National Styles in Science, Diplomacy, and Science Diplomacy (Leiden, Boston: Brill 2018).

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