Scientific Engagement in the Middle East


On July 13, 2011, Global Green USA hosted a roundtable discussion on scientific engagement in the Middle East. The event featured two speakers: Gwenaёle Coat, M.Sc., Senior Program Associate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Dr. Chen Kane, PhD, Senior Research Associate of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Ms. Gwenaёle Coat shared some insights and conclusions from events that the AAAS Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy (CSTSP) initiated in the Middle East and North Africa, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. These joint meetings examined critical issues pertaining to international collaboration in the biological sciences. Meetings in Jordan and in Kuwait indicated that scientists in the region face several challenges. First, the lack of research capacity and robust doctoral and postdoctoral programs lead to ongoing brain-drain from the region. Next, there is no strong relationship between state policy makers and scientists. Finally, countries in the region share many problems, such as infectious and chronic diseases, regional participants suggested that national, regional, and international networks would facilitate an exchange of information to combat these issues (including legal, operational, and laboratory practices).

Scientific collaboration is vital to foster continued advances in the biological sciences and to address national priorities. During the meetings in Jordan and Kuwait, regional scientists identified research priorities that they felt should shape collaborative projects in such fields as agriculture, public health, renewable energy, scarcity of water and bioremediation. Ms. Coat was especially pleased to see several interesting project proposals that resulted from these meetings.

She stressed the importance of such cooperation as it facilitates the creation of shared principles and standards of practice to minimize the risks associated with biological research. AAAS is now planning the third and fourth workshops in Tunisia and Egypt, respectively. The meeting in Tunisia already been characterized as “inspirational,” as it will engage early career scientists.

Dr. Chen Kane began by discussing a few of the complexities of scientific engagement and why policies developed and implemented for other regions of the world will not necessarily enjoy the same degree of success if implemented in the Middle East. The Middle East remains the only region in the world without a regional security organization to serve as a reliable venue for engagement on crucial issues. In order to work past these shortcomings, Dr. Kane explored three potential approaches to regional engagement and the development of policy regimes: bilateral, sub-regional, and regional. As each of these approaches has benefits and weaknesses, they are complementary rather than exclusive. Identifying common areas of concern and interest for each participant would establish a unified foundation upon which regional cooperation might be developed.

Dr. Kane identified four necessary components to fruitful regional engagement. First, it is necessary to deploy a tailored approach that appreciates the threat perception of each state, as well as their views on security and cooperation. Second, it is important that any approach engage local stakeholders at an early stage who will have an interest in the project and its long-term success. Third, any foreign parties who attempt to facilitate this sort of engagement should learn from past mistakes. Finally, any regional effort needs to develop a sustainability plan and management information system that can track progress for the long-run and verify that policies have the desired effect.

Both speakers mentioned the significance of cultural and linguistic sensitivity in regard to threat perceptions, partnerships, and policy implementation.

After their presentations, the speakers fielded questions from the assembled group, which included current and former government officials, the press, researchers from think-tanks, and consulting firms.