Combatting COVID-19 with Common Interests – SciDiplomacy

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30th March 2020

Katie Shonk

Program on Negotiation
Harvard Law School

During the coronavirus disease pandemic, scientists have time to think, build networks, and offer governments the best advice. By identifying common interests and negotiating collaboratively, we will be well positioned to build a better future, one expert says.

As nations rush to slow the COVID-19 pandemic, treat victims of the virus, and develop cures, they face strong motivations to cooperate with one another rather than compete. Scientists and technical experts can help spearhead this collaboration, said Professor Paul Berkman, director of Tufts University’s Science Diplomacy Center, during a March 26 online talk hosted by the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

During this time of crisis and uncertainty, “science diplomats” have opportunities to build international, inclusive networks, facilitating informed decision-making that balances national and common interests “for the benefit of all on Earth across generations,” according to Berkman. Collaborative negotiation skills can help guide this challenging process.

A Call to Collaborate

After World War II, the world was “brought to its knees by the horror and destruction of violence,” Berkman noted. In the following two decades, the international community recognized that all nations would benefit from designating areas of the earth—and beyond—as common interests. International treaties were negotiated to prevent destructive competition in Antarctica, outer space, and the deep sea.

Eventually, the world succumbed to a period of nationalism that lasted “until a couple weeks ago,” when governments were newly motivated to cooperate to fight the spread of the virus, said Berkman. “We’re living through a period of common interests in the absence of global conflict.”

“There’s been a tide change, in that the world is now keenly aware of the importance of common interest-building as opposed to self-interest,” said Berkman. “Presumably, that will increase. I hope we will carry that sentiment with us and use it as guidance as we build on a planetary scale.”

Analyzing currently available data on the global spread of COVID-19, Berkman projected that it will take four to five months for the infection to sweep the globe and subside. Out of this “gloom and doom time,” Berkman said, “my hope is to work with you and others to awaken a global renaissance of lifelong learning as we rebuild on the other side.”

Read the full article at the Harvard Law School website

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