Special Issue: Diplomats in Science Diplomacy

DHST Historical Commission on Science, Technology and Diplomacy-sponsored special issue of Ber. Wissenschaftsgesch (History of Science and Humanities)

The Commission is excited to announce the publication of our second special issue, ‘Diplomats in Science Diplomacy: Promoting Scientific and Technological Collaboration in International Relations’, which has been edited by Lif Lund Jacobsen and Doubravka Olšáková.


Diplomats in Science Diplomacy: Promoting Scientific and Technological Collaboration in International Relations (Free Access Article)
Lif Lund Jacobsen and Doubravka Olšáková


Science for Competition among Powers: Geographical Knowledge, Colonial‐Diplomatic Networks, and the Scramble for Africa
Daniel Gamito‐Marques

Historical studies on the relationship between science and diplomacy tend to focus on events since World War II and on initiatives for the maintenance of peace or to achieve cooperation over contentious matters. This article presents the case of José Vicente Barbosa du Bocage (1823–1907), a Portuguese zoologist who had formal diplomatic responsibilities in a context of competition for the colonization of Africa in the nineteenth century. He used his knowledge in African geography to implement colonial and diplomatic strategies that aimed at outcompeting rival powers. The development of a network of actors with scientific, colonial, and diplomatic expertise was crucial for the negotiations that involved the partition of the Congo basin, which resulted in victories for Portugal that surpassed the country’s marginal political relevance at the international level and had long‐lasting consequences.

Niels Bohr’s Diplomatic Mission during and after World War Two
Finn Aaserud

The Danish physicist Niels Bohr is best known for two major achievements: first, his model of the quantum atom, published in 1913, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1922; and second, the “Copenhagen interpretation” of quantum mechanics developed together with colleagues at his institute in the latter half of the twenties. Having turned his institute toward nuclear physics, making it a pioneer institution in this emerging field, Bohr escaped from Nazi‐occupied Denmark in 1943. Learning in England about the advanced state of the secret project to develop an atomic bomb, which Bohr had so far considered impracticable in a foreseeable future, he agreed to join the project. Bohr decided instantly that the prospect of such a weapon of mass destruction would require what he came to call an “open world” among nations, and he worked conscientiously toward this end until he died in 1962. In the process, statesmen, including Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as diplomats from several countries, came to encounter Bohr and his political mission. Although not as successful as his scientific achievements, his mission was considered by Bohr himself as equally important. Yet it constitutes a hitherto relatively neglected part of Bohr’s career.

The Unflinching Mr. Smith and the Nuclear Age (Open Access Article)
Simone Turchetti

This article focuses on the U.S. diplomat and nuclear arms control negotiator Gerald (Gerry) Coat Smith in order to cast new light on the importance of diplomats in the context of the set of international activities currently labelled as “science diplomacy.” Smith, a lawyer by training, was a key negotiator in many international agreements on post‐WW2 atomic energy projects, from those on uranium prospecting and mining, to reactors technologies to later ones on non‐proliferation and disarmament. His career in science (nuclear) diplomacy also epitomized the shortcomings of efforts to align other countries’ posture on nuclear affairs to U.S. wishes. In particular, the unswerving diplomat increasingly understood that strong‐arm tactics to dissuade other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons would not limit proliferation. Not only did this inform later U.S. diplomacy approaches, but it lent itself to the ascendancy of the new notion of “soft power” as critical to the re‐definition of international affairs.

A Matter of Courtesy: The Role of Soviet Diplomacy and Soviet “System Safeguards” in Maintaining Soviet Influence on Czechoslovak Science before and after 1968
Doubravka Olšáková

In 1969, a few short months after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, Sergei I. Prasolov, advisor to the Soviet Ambassador in Prague, informed František Šorm, President of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, at a formal meeting that he welcomed Šorm’s suggestion to intensify scientific exchange between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. Šorm politely declined this offer. Behind the veneer of diplomatic courtesy on the part of both actors, a real drama was taking place. Šorm and the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences had actually never formulated such a request. To the contrary, since the late 1950s the academy had repeatedly pointed out that the Soviets were incapable of coordinating scientific activities in the Eastern Bloc. The Soviet system of academic cooperation within the Eastern Bloc had already begun to collapse after the Geneva Summit of 1955, where the Soviets opened the door to international collaboration across the Iron Curtain. Yet it was only in the late 1960s that the Soviets realized that while they dominated large‐scale international collaboration, they had lost control of internal developments within the Eastern Bloc.

Engineering Education in Cold War Diplomacy: India, Germany, and the Establishment of IIT Madras
Roland Wittje

The Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT) was set up with assistance of the Federal Republic of Germany between 1956 and 1974. It became the largest, and finally, a successful techno‐scientific education project undertaken by the Federal Republic outside of Germany. In this paper, I argue that the engagement of the Federal Republic at IIT Madras has to be understood primarily as a project of Cold‐War science and technology diplomacy, which on the German side was aimed at preventing an Indian recognition of the German Democratic Republic as a sovereign nation. In aiding the establishment of IIT Madras, the Federal Republic came into direct competition with the Soviet Union, which supported IIT Bombay but also with the United States of America, which supported IIT Kanpur. The assistance to establish IIT Madras and its governance followed mainly political guidelines, to which educational and scientific aspects were rendered subordinate. When the project was in a crisis after the first State Treaty to establish IIT Madras expired in 1963, the political flagship project of the Federal Republic was not allowed to fail. Instead, the cooperation was reorganized and support increased.

For the Benefit of All Men: Oceanography and Franco‐American Scientific Diplomacy in the Cold War, 1958–1970 (Open Access Article)
Beatriz Martínez‐Rius

In the 1960s, the growing strategic importance of ocean exploration led the French government to develop greater capacity in marine scientific research, aiming to promote cooperative and diplomatic relations with the leading states in ocean exploration. Devised during Charles de Gaulle’s government (1958–1969), the restructuring of French oceanography culminated, in 1967, in the establishment of the state‐led Centre National pour l’Exploitation des Océans (CNEXO). Beyond being intended to control the orientation of marine research at a national level, the CNEXO’s mission was to use scientific diplomacy to balance a desire for enhancing international cooperative relations in oceanography with French ambitions to equal the USA’s leading capacity to explore the oceans. Its director, the naval officer Yves la Prairie, played a crucial role in articulating scientific, national, and diplomatic interests for France in the oceans.

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