International Relations Science Diplomacy
Olga Krasnyak, Pierre-Bruno Ruffini
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0277


Science diplomacy emerged in the early years of the 21st century as a new vocabulary and a new concept in international relations, although the practice of science diplomacy has deep historical roots and various forms that were not labeled as such before. Science diplomacy refers to professional practices at the intersection of the world of science and that of diplomacy. It is also a subject of study that gives rise to a scholarly literature. Basically, the rationale of science diplomacy is twofold: advancing a country’s national interest and addressing global challenges. Science diplomacy encompasses a great range of activities to promote and secure a state’s foreign policy objectives and of activities to secure global public good at the transnational level, such as using scientific advice and expertise, enabling international scientific cooperation, bringing scientists on board of diplomatic negotiations, or appointing science attachés to embassies. International scientific cooperation is sometimes confused in the discourse with science diplomacy. However, if scientific cooperation is possible only with diplomatic assistance, serves a nation-state’s foreign policy objectives, promotes national interests, or aims to address global issues, then it is science diplomacy. Otherwise, it is not. Science diplomacy is also closely related to a state’s political system and beliefs because the effective use of science diplomacy contributes a great deal to a state’s power and influence in world politics and in international relations, and it helps to generate soft power of attraction and cooperation. A few notable institutions are active in science diplomacy, promote international dialogue on global issues, disseminate practices, and take part in the debate of the science diplomacy concept. They include the Center for Science Diplomacy of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), and the Science Diplomacy Center of Tufts University, and multilateral scientific organizations, such as the International Institute for Applied System Analysis, the International Science Council, and the Science Diplomacy Thematic Network at the University of the Arctic. National and international academies of sciences sometimes intervene in this debate. Professional literature on science diplomacy is abundant and academic literature is growing as well, which has not led, however, so far to the emergence of a genuine theory of science diplomacy. This article aims to guide readers in their comprehension of science diplomacy and of the related debates through a selection of sources that shed light on science diplomacy both in theory and in practice from various viewpoints.

General Overviews and Concepts

A basic view of science diplomacy is to consider it as a particular variation of a country’s diplomacy as a tool of its foreign policy. This true but partial view has been greatly enriched by the founding report Royal Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science 2010. This publication, which can be considered an official start for a new discipline, has enlarged the scope of the science diplomacy concept by pointing out the interactions between the world of science and that of diplomacy. The document helped to pave the way toward a better understanding of the role of nonstate actors, such as scientific epistemic communities, in engaging in, and even initiating, science diplomacy actions. Another debate has developed on the place that should be given to the pursuit of national interests in the driving of science diplomacy. Gluckman, et al. 2017 underlines that science diplomacy is about advancing both direct and indirect national interests and provides a taxonomy that articulates national interests and the global interest. Since 2012, the Center for Science Diplomacy’s quarterly publication Science & Diplomacy has been an up-to-date resource for articles devoted to the various practices of science diplomacy. A special issue of the open-access journal Global Policy (Kaltofen, et al. 2018) is devoted entirely to science diplomacy and analyzes science diplomacy from the perspective of international relations theory. Questions of power and knowledge are central to many of the articles of the issue. The continuous evolution of the concept of science diplomacy is reflected in the Madrid Declaration on Science Diplomacy, written by science diplomacy scholars and practitioners in the frame of S4D4C (Using Science for/in Diplomacy for Addressing Global Challenges), a Horizon 2020-funded project. A general overview of science diplomacy is proposed in the SAGE Handbook of Diplomacy, with a chapter, Copeland 2016, that develops conceptual, historical, and policy perspectives. An edited volume, Davis and Patman 2015, examines the ways in which politics, science, and diplomacy have become intertwined and also accesses the wider significance of this trend in the 21st century. Building on the wealth of examples drawn from history and contemporary international relations, Ruffini 2017 proposes an overall approach to science diplomacy and addresses the diversity of questions it raises conceptually. Krasnyak identifies a “national style” in science diplomacy and argues that acknowledging historical peculiarities in which national style in science and diplomacy was formed helps to understand and foresee a state’s science diplomacy aspirations.

  • Copeland, Daryl. “Science Diplomacy.” In The SAGE Handbook of Diplomacy. Edited by Costas M. Constantinou, Pauline Kerr, and Paul Sharp, 628–641. London: SAGE, 2016.

    This chapter provides a conceptual and practical overview of science diplomacy with the focus on its capacity to address global issues. The author also emphasizes that, in comparison with less developed countries, rich and scientifically developed countries are at a significant advantage to use science diplomacy within a wider spectrum of activity to promote national interests.

  • Davis, Lloyd S., and Robert G. Patman, eds. Science Diplomacy: New Day or False Dawn? World Scientific, 2015.

    This book acknowledges the emergence of science diplomacy in the international arena and discusses how far it represents a major break from the past. It explores its significance in considering a number of topics and case studies. It provides a critical assessment of science diplomacy by not only emphasizing its successes in initiating and managing large-scale international science projects but also pointing to the limitations of science diplomacy in addressing global challenges because of the attachment of states to their sovereignty.

  • Gluckman, Peter D., Vaughan C. Turekian, Robin W. Grimes, and Teruo Kishi. “Science Diplomacy: A Pragmatic Perspective from the Inside.” Science & Diplomacy 6.4 (2017): 1–13.

    The authors propose an alternative conceptual framing to the Royal Society-AAAS “traditional” taxonomy. The authors distinguish three new categories for science diplomacy: actions designed to directly advance a country’s national needs; actions designed to address cross-border interests; and actions designed primarily to meet global needs and challenges. They show the utility of this new framing for foreign ministries and other agencies with international responsibilities.

  • Kaltofen, Carolin, and Michele Acuto. “Rebalancing the Encounter between Science Diplomacy and International Relations Theory.” Global Policy 9.S3 (2018): 15–22.

    DOI: 10.1111/1758-5899.12620

    Noting the scarcity of scholarly work on science diplomacy, this article deals with science diplomacy from the point of view of international relations theory. The authors provide new insights into the debate on the interactions between the sphere of science and that of diplomacy. They argue for a practice-based approach, grounded in the empirical analysis of micro-level interactions between both spheres.

  • Kaltofen, Carolyn, Michele Acuto, and Jason Blackstock, eds. Special Issue: Science Diplomacy. Global Policy 9.3 (2018).

    This special issue adds to the literature with fourteen articles by scholars and practitioners of science diplomacy. It brings together theoretical and practical perspectives of science diplomacy. Various case studies aim to point out a science diplomacy mechanism as a possible solution to address global challenges. In introducing this special issue, Kaltofen and Acuto identify science diplomacy as a “boundary problem” about which the views of practitioners and scholars cross-fertilize the ongoing debate.

  • Krasnyak, Olga. National Styles in Science, Diplomacy, and Science Diplomacy. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2018.

    The monograph seeks to understand different “national styles” in science and diplomacy. The author argues that recognizing elements of national style in science diplomacy helps to identify a state’s geopolitical motivations, its diplomatic and strategic behavior toward other states, and its capacity to negotiate collaborative governance. She emphasizes that a state’s national style in science diplomacy also bears on its ability to address long-term global challenges.

  • Madrid Declaration on Science Diplomacy. Madrid: S4D4C, 2019.

    The declaration provides a broad insight into science diplomacy practices at the intersection of science, technology, and foreign policy. The declaration proclaims a common vision for science diplomacy, outlines its benefits, sets out concrete principles to fostering science diplomacy worldwide, and emphasizes tackling global challenges on a systematic scale. The declaration has been signed on an individual basis by a number of specialists in science diplomacy as well as by practitioners and scholars.

  • Royal Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science. New Frontiers in Science Diplomacy. London: Royal Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2010.

    This influential report is at the origin of the wide dissemination of the expression science diplomacy. Its conceptual contribution is to consider science diplomacy as a set of interactive practices between scientific and diplomatic actors: science contributes to diplomacy (science for diplomacy, science in diplomacy) and diplomacy contributes to science (diplomacy for science). This taxonomy is often referred to as “traditional.”

  • Ruffini, Pierre-Bruno. Science and Diplomacy: A New Dimension of International Relations. Berlin: Springer, 2017.

    The book raises a number of questions about the relationship between science and diplomacy, illustrates how the essence of both are contrasting: the universality, internationality, and neutrality of science, on one hand, and the particularities, bias, and national interests–based foreign policy on the other. It asserts that a state’s science diplomacy is implemented through the combined effect of three drivers: attraction, cooperation, and influence.

  • Rungius, Charlotte, Tim Flink, and Alexander Degelsegger-Márquez. State-of-the-Art Report: Summarizing Literature on Science Diplomacy Cases and Concepts. Deliverable 2.2. Vienna: S4D4C, 2018.

    This report explores science diplomacy from an analytical point of view and proposes two orientations. It aims to reconstruct the concept by addressing science diplomacy as a discourse and discussing its semantic content and by considering science diplomacy as an empirical social phenomenon. The report provides a literature overview.

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