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The Rethinking Diplomacy Program (RDP) at Duke University focuses on research that brings together diplomats, policy practitioners, faculty, and leading experts in various disciplines for academic collaboration, policy recommendations, and scholarship. We aim to provide a forum for discussions on emerging diplomatic issues with the goal of strengthening the connection between science and diplomacy. One of RDP’s principal goals is to highlight the importance of the combination of communication, cultural awareness, and the ability to negotiate with expertise in science, engineering, health, climate, energy, trade/finance, law, data, and other areas. We believe the complexity of the issues facing the world today requires an advanced, Anticipatory Diplomacy to addressing potential problems that involves long-horizon planning and sectoral expertise. Through research, discussion, and interaction with experts and practitioners across a variety of fields, RDP seeks to help develop a generation of diplomats, professionals, and experts with the technical expertise and diplomatic skills to enable them to succeed in an increasingly complex world.

Focus Areas

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Diplomacy now comes with adjectives like climate, space, ocean, health, digital, data, AI, water, food, and cyber. We believe that practicing Anticipatory Diplomacy and developing a diplomatic corps with technological and scientific expertise can substantially improve policymakers’ ability to respond to the fast-moving and complex challenges facing the world today, potentially mitigating future risks before they become crises.

In 2020 RDP established the Space Diplomacy Lab (SDL) to provide a forum to convene a multidisciplinary set of academics, policymakers, and diplomatic practitioners from the fields of space science and technology, national security, and international diplomacy to develop cross-cutting policy proposals and solutions to mitigate risks and ensure the promise of a secure and sustainable future of humanity in space.

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The Ocean Diplomacy Working Group (ODWG) was launched in 2023 aiming to improve connections between science, scholarly research, and the diplomatic process so that policy makers and diplomats have the most up to date scientific information as they craft policy and international agreements with enormous impact across ecosystems, cultures, national borders, and international fora. 

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Science Diplomacy plays an important role in understanding the implications of rapid technological change and mitigating potential harms of new technologies both in wartime and in peace. It has a proven record of providing space for allies and rivals alike to find common ground for collaboration and communication. It is key to promoting capacity building so that communities and nations can adapt to change and thrive.

The challenge of protecting our shared environment and the biodiversity that sustains it while allowing human communities to flourish requires a sophisticated and thoughtful diplomacy. Can transforming key global systems including transportation, energy, water, and food lead us towards a more sustainable future? Climate Diplomacy is key to finding a workable path forward that balances economic prosperity and human culture with sustainability.

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With the proliferation of technologies that can monitor and measure everything from Earth’s climate and biomes, to air and shipping traffic, to humanitarian crises and the impacts of war in real time, data has become a tremendous source of socioeconomic and geopolitical power. Data Diplomacy aims to use data to help find solutions to humanity’s common challenges while addressing its potential to create new areas of diplomatic tension.

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Globalization has many benefits, but it also leaves nations vulnerable in times of global economic and geopolitical crises. Is reshoring or nearshoring the best way to build in redundancy and resilience? The Rethinking Diplomacy Program is interested in the evolution of global supply chains and how nations balance their economic stability and security without sacrificing the benefits of economic cooperation and investment in emerging industries and global markets.

Health Diplomacy facilitates openness and collaborative capacity-building so that countries can develop and maintain the core capacities they need to prepare for and protect their populations during global health crises. Health diplomacy is key to ensuring the international community learns from past experiences and mistakes when addressing future global health crises.

The Rethinking Diplomacy Program is supported by a grant from the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund.