HSNS Special Issue: Science Diplomacy

Issue Sponsored by DHST Historical Commission on Science, Technology and Diplomacy

We are happy to announce the publication of the first of our special issues, Science Diplomacy, edited by Giulia Rispoli & Simone Turchetti. Published in Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, the volume explores this concept from a historical perspective, questioning the hagiographic and simplistic accounts that have characterized recent attempts to contextualize this phenomenon in the Anglophone world.

Seeking to provide a more persuasive and compelling view of the ancestry of what we can define “science diplomacy”, authors in this issue collectively argue for a richer and more nuanced history than the one discussed in the promotional literature. While covering different periods and geographies without being, of course, exhaustive, all articles discusses case studies that shed light on science diplomacy’s role in international affairs, and show how the encounter between scientists and diplomats to promote scientific collaborations has shaped novel transnational power relations that affected knowledge production and circulation. 


Introduction: Just Needham to Nixon? On Writing the History of “Science Diplomacy”
Simone Turchetti; Matthew Adamson; Giulia Rispoli; Doubravka Olšáková; Sam Robinson

This introduction examines the growing interest in science diplomacy and the parallel lack of in-depth historical studies on this new concept. In particular, we first show how the recent attention toward science diplomacy has led to a proliferation of hagiographic accounts reflecting the urgency to support its growth rather than truly investigate its ancestry. We then turn to consider how our historical understanding of science diplomacy could be improved, and how this knowledge could equally be of significance to science diplomacy practitioners today.

The Philosopher and the Rooster: Henri Bergson’s French Diplomatic Missions, 1914–1925
Geert Somsen

Unlike what is often presumed, scientific internationalism persisted through the First World War and its aftermath. Although many scientists aligned themselves with their belligerent nations after 1914, and although Germany and Austria were excluded from international meetings after 1919, the rhetoric celebrating the universally fraternizing nature of science continued as if no such ruptures existed. In this article I argue that this persistence was rooted in the war itself, and particularly in the massive mobilization of academics in wartime propaganda and diplomacy. In these activities they used internationalist arguments and their own supranational status as scientists to defend their countries’ war causes and defame those of the enemy. I illustrate this by following the diplomatic work of the French philosopher Henri Bergson. From the start of the war Bergson presented himself as a neutral scientific arbiter, developing a philosophy of the war (based on his work on life and evolution) as a battle of German barbarity versus universal (not just French) civilization. His government took note and sent Bergson on several diplomatic tasks, most notably a secret mission to the United States, early 1917, where he was to speak to President Wilson to persuade him to enter the war on the French side. Bergson’s universalism and his stature as a philosopher should appeal to Wilson’s dislike of partisanship and craving for the moral high ground. After the war, Bergson-style universalism continued and was institutionalized in the League of Nations and its International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation—with Bergson as its president.

Early Twentieth-Century Ocean Science Diplomacy: Competition and Cooperation among North Sea Nations
Sam Robinson

This paper is a response to a 2018 call for greater understanding of how previous examples of marine science diplomacy could help shape present day efforts to draft a new law of the sea that protects marine biodiversity and conserves the marine environment. It tackles this through analysis of the various twists, turns, and challenges of early science diplomacy efforts in marine science during the early twentieth century. It looks in turn at questions of defining and agreeing on research objectives, how backchannel science diplomacy can become official government diplomacy, and finally, how careful science diplomacy brought Germany back to the international research arena so as to successfully put in place marine conservation measures during the 1920s. In doing this, it argues that the foundation of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas in 1902 represented a revolutionary moment where supra-national scientific research, coordination, and conservation politics for the ocean first emerged; with International Council for the Exploration of the Sea becoming a key model for all subsequent marine science diplomacy.

The (Science Diplomacy) Origins of the Cold War
Simone Turchetti

The US monopoly of information regarding nuclear weapons was one of the distinctive features of the early Cold War. It encouraged US officials to bolster their country’s hegemonic role in post-war affairs, something that scholars have previously referred to in terms of “atomic diplomacy.” This paper shows that Cold War atomic diplomacy originated in an ancestral form of what we call today “science diplomacy,” distinctive of wartime allied relations during WW2. It first explores how science became a distinctive feature of wartime diplomacy by looking at agreements regarding exchanges of information and collaboration that shaped the relations between wartime allies (US, UK, and the Soviet Union). It then shows that their signing (and, at times, their rejection) eventually paved the way to conflicting views within allied administrations on what to share, making their officials less inclined to pool more knowledge toward the end of WW2. In conclusion, US monopolistic stances and atomic diplomacy originated in these disagreements, also marking the demise of wartime science diplomacy.

Birds Without Borders: Ecological Diplomacy and the WWF in Franco’s Spain
Lino Camprubí

The Spanish Doñana Biological Station, inaugurated in 1964, poses two historiographical puzzles. First, it was the first large project of the World Wildlife Fund, which is usually seen as a response to the very specific post-imperial challenges of African parks. Second, it was the first non-alpine park in Spain, and although it was designed and inaugurated in the midst of Francisco Franco’s nationalist dictatorship, it was an explicitly transnational project. This paper approaches Doñana’s unique story through the concept of ecological diplomacy. It points to the diplomatic strategies mobilized by a small group of ecologists with managerial and financial skills. Promoting Doñana, British ornithologists presented it as an African wilderness, which created tensions with Spanish ecologists, themselves colonial scientists. Ecological diplomacy, moreover, refers to a characteristic period between conservation diplomacy and environmental diplomacy. In it, conservation was understood as the top-down management of foreign territories for research purposes. While this can be partly understood as the globalization of the Swiss model for conservation, it arrived in Spain through the mediation of the French Tour du Valat station and of English ecology. Finally, stressing the ecological dimension of this type of conservation diplomacy helps in studying the role of the science of ecology and its transformations. As Doñana became a national park, the WWF’s early emphasis on research was replaced by a new attention to recreation. Max Nicholson’s participation in the International Biology Program granted him an opportunity to favor this model when Doñana became a national park.

Science and Diplomacy around the Earth: From the Man and Biosphere Programme to the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme
Giulia Rispoli; Doubravka Olšáková

In this article we discuss two phases in the evolution of global environmental programs, namely the Man and Biosphere Programme and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, with the aim of showing their hidden diplomatic ambitions from both US and Soviet perspectives. In the 1960s and 1970s, Soviet views on the biosphere prevailed thanks to the influence of Soviet scientists in the International Council of Scientific Unions and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In the 1980s, the domination of this field by US scientists ushered in the establishment of Earth system science as a new research trend based on Earth observation technologies. We argue that despite the influence of Soviet ecologists in directing international coordination of research on the biosphere, Earth system science did not set in a trajectory of environmental cooperation. This outcome can be explained if we take the environmental and ecological turn that arose during the Cold War as being intertwined with political concerns and national interests in both the US and the USSR. Security, scientific diplomacy, and geopolitical issues limited East-West collaboration on the interdisciplinary study of the earth, which instead turned into a sort of cooperative antagonism. The transition from biosphere studies to Earth system science reveals a changing strategy toward environmental problems, which in turn reflects changes in Cold War policy.

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