Special Issue: Global Perspectives on Science Diplomacy

DHST Historical Commission on Science, Technology and Diplomacy-sponsored special issue of Centaurus

The Commission is excited to announce the publication of our third special issue, ’Global Perspectives on Science Diplomacy’, which has been edited by Matthew Adamson and Roberto Lalli.


‘Global Perspectives on Science Diplomacy: Exploring the Diplomacy-Knowledge Nexus in Contemporary Histories of Science’ (Open Access Article)
Matthew Adamson and Roberto Lalli

Contemporary scholarship concerning science diplomacy is increasingly taking a historical approach. In our introduction to this special issue, we argue that this approach promises insight into science diplomacy because of the tools historians of science bring to their work. In particular, we observe that not only are historians of science currently poised to chart the diplomatic aspects involved in the transnational circulation of technoscientific knowledge, materials, and expertise. They are ready to bring critical global analysis to an important phenomenon that has too often been treated as a benign diplomacy device deployed by the Global North without equal reference to the Global South. Through cases discussed in the articles of the special issue, however, we see that historically, in the Global South as well as the Global North, science diplomacy has often functioned to mediate the circulation of technoscientific knowledge and materials, and its historical study helps to better illuminate the resulting knowledge-power nexus.

Articles (Free to Read):

‘Scientists as Political Experts: Atomic Scientists and Their Claims for Expertise on International Relations, 1945–1947’
S. Waqar H. Zaidi

This paper explores the construction of scientists’ expertise on international affairs through a study of the rhetoric of U.S. atomic scientists during public and policy-making debates on the international control of atomic energy between 1945 and 1947. It explores the claims scientists made about the nature of their expertise on issues of diplomacy and international relations and how their expertise was produced and reproduced. The paper shows that scientists were able to successfully project themselves, in the public domain, as experts on political and diplomatic matters related to the atomic. In calling for the international control of atomic energy, scientists constructed their expert knowledge in contrast to, as they portrayed it, the failed expertise of diplomats and political thinkers. In boundary work through their speeches, articles, and government testimonies, scientists drew a line between the political and the scientific, but argued that, as scientist-citizens, they were able to take their rational thinking from one realm into the other.

‘Technical Assistance Versus Cultural Export: George Cressey and the U.S. Cultural Relations Program in Wartime China, 1942–1946’
ZHANG Li and ZHU Yanmei

After the outbreak of the Pacific War, the United States and the United Kingdom both set up cultural assistance programs to China in order to aid the fight against Japan in Asia and to shape the postwar world according to their interests. From 1942 to 1946, the United States sent 30 experts in science, technology, medicine, and public health to China. Among them was George Cressey, a geographer of international reputation deeply familiar with the cultural and physical geography of China, who travelled to China as a visiting professor of the Sino–U.S. Cultural Relations Program and a representative of the State Department. However, he was recalled earlier than expected, after only 7 months, because his remarks were thought to be damaging to Sino–U.S. relations. Examining his wartime visit to China within the context of Sino–U.S. relations, this paper uncovers Cressey’s diplomatic mission. We illustrate how geography simultaneously became the object of Cressey’s research, a tool for the promotion of Sino–U.S. cultural relations, and the theoretical basis for foreign policy proposals. Finally, through a comparison of Cressey’s and Joseph Needham’s experiences in wartime China, this paper illuminates their different understanding of Chinese culture (including China’s society and concept of science and culture), which led to their different approaches to Chinese affairs. It also shows the tension between technical assistance and cultural export in diplomatic relations during wartime. This case demonstrates the expanding role of science and technology in diplomatic agendas and international relations as a new, distinctive feature of science and technology in the 20th century.

‘Friends in Fission: US–Brazil Relations and the Global Stresses of Atomic Energy, 1945–1955
Matthew Adamson and Simone Turchetti

This article considers a relatively unknown episode in the early Cold War that involved the US and Brazil, as well as a number of other countries. From 1950, the leading figure in Brazil’s nuclear effort, Admiral Álvaro Alberto, established amicable connections with the representatives of other nations in order to make it possible for Brazil to develop an atomic energy complex. The U.S. reaction to the Brazilian initiative was sharp and restrictive, involving a combination of coercion and persuasion, and it reverberated in a larger matrix of hemispheric and global economic and security concerns. In this case, science diplomacy did not actually have the benign character often ascribed to it. We argue that it was instead an integral part of a set of diplomatic practices aimed at strengthening U.S. global hegemony rather than a means of addressing global concerns.

‘Inter-African Cooperation in the Social Sciences in the Era of Decolonization: A Case of Science Diplomacy’
Cláudia Castelo and Frederico Ágoas

This article addresses the inter-imperial collaboration in the social sciences promoted by the Commission for Technical Cooperation in Africa South of Sahara (CCTA) and its advisory board, the Scientific Council for Africa South of the Sahara (CSA), at the intersection of diplomatic history and the history of science during late colonialism. It is our purpose to re-evaluate how the common aim of reinvigorating and re-legitimating empire in the era of decolonization forged relations between social scientists, colonial officials, and diplomats, and to provide new insights into the ways social science influenced and was influenced by foreign policy in this specific context. Drawing on primary printed sources from the CCTA/CSA and the UNESCO, and on archival sources from the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Board of Overseas Research in the Ministry of Overseas, we argue that it is important to include other international institutions and initiatives—beyond UNESCO—in the account of the surge of social sciences in the post-war international system. Our case, focusing on the social sciences and the CCTA/CSA, also reveals the political and diplomatic uses of scientific knowledge in the era of decolonization, and the contentious nature of science diplomacy beyond previous straightforward definitions.

‘Attempting Neutrality: Disciplinary and National Politics in a Cold War Scientific Controversy’
Ann E. Robinson

The first of the transfermium elements—those elements with an atomic number greater than 100—were discovered in the 1950s, largely by the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) in California and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna, Russia. After each new element was claimed to have been discovered by one lab, the claim was contested by the other. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) formed a joint working group to end the controversies, the Joint Neutral Group (JNG). When that group failed to resolve the discovery disputes, another was formed, the Transfermium Working Group (TWG). Neutrality was a value important to both groups, giving them the credibility necessary to act as mediators. For the JNG in the 1970s, and the TWG in the late 1980s, neutrality had different meanings and was attempted in different ways. The extensive use of archival collections in this paper provides a more complex and nuanced look at the geopolitical and disciplinary tensions surrounding these discovery disputes and the attempts at neutrality, in its different forms, to resolve them.

‘Crafting Europe from CERN to Dubna: Physics as Diplomacy in the Foundation of the European Physical Society’
Roberto Lalli

The year 1968 is universally considered a watershed in history, as the world was experiencing an accelerated growth of anti-establishment protests that would have long-lasting impacts on the cultural, social, and political spheres of human life. On September 26, amid social and political unrest across the globe, 62 physicists gathered in Geneva to found the European Physical Society. Among these were the official representatives of the national physical societies of 18 countries in both Eastern and Western Europe, who signed the constitution in spite of the political divides of the Cold War. According to the main proponent of the society, Italian physicist Gilberto Bernardini, the success of the initiative was the realization of a dream: the institutional formation of a single community of European physicists, a representation of a culturally unified Europe that he described as a “single highly civilized nation.” The analysis of as yet unexplored archival materials of Bernardini and other protagonists in the establishment of the society has enabled an investigation of the historical development of science diplomacy in two interconnected ways: first, by elucidating how the actors involved, especially those in Western Europe, interpreted their role as diplomats amid particularly turbulent reconfigurations of international political relations; second, by interpreting the attempt to institutionalize transnational scientific networks with the establishment of a non-governmental organization as a tool to influence world political affairs. It will first be shown that the political ideal of a culturally unified Europe was deeply intertwined with the socio-professional interests of a specific community, mostly involved with CERN. I will argue that, in the process of establishing the society, the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact armed forces led many of the Western physicists involved in this process to reframe the role of the European Physical Society as a tool to diffuse liberal-democratic values and to support political dissidents in Eastern Europe.

‘On the Road to Stockholm: A Case Study of the Failure of Cold War International Environmental Initiatives (Prague Symposium, 1971)’
Jiří  Janáč and Doubravka Olšáková

In May 1971, the Czechoslovak capital hosted an international conference on the environment that brought together high-ranking government officials and scientists from both sides of the Iron Curtain. The idea to organize such an event reflected Czechoslovakia’s interest in environmental planning and was one of the main outcomes of the country’s science diplomacy in the field of global environmentalism in the late 1960s. Organized under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the meeting aimed to be an important stepping-stone in the formation of a new international institutional landscape related to the environment. UNECE, with its history of facilitating international cooperation across the Iron Curtain, provided an optimal platform for such an undertaking. Nonetheless, the Symposium on Problems Relating to Environment was overshadowed by the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, the outcomes of which were instrumentalized by the Soviets to promote their own international policy aims associated with the Brezhnev Doctrine. Soviet authorities considered the environment to be a purely domestic issue and did not show much interest in pursuing international environmental cooperation. The “German Question” at the UN served as a Soviet instrument to pursue Soviet interests and resulted in the downgrading of the Prague meeting and a subsequent boycott of the Stockholm Conference by the entire Eastern Bloc. Based on a detailed analysis of materials produced by the event organizers (archived in Prague and Geneva), this paper shows how Cold War geopolitics played a decisive role in shaping emerging global environmentalism.

‘Scientific Imaginaries and Science Diplomacy: The Case of Ocean Exploitation’ (Open Access Article)
Sam Robinson

As technologies of ocean exploitation emerged during the late 1960s, science policy and diplomacy were formed in response to anticipated capabilities that did not match the realities of extracting deep-sea minerals and of resource exploitation in the deep ocean at the time. Promoters of ocean exploitation in the late 1960s envisaged wonders such as rare mineral extraction and the stationing of divers in underwater habitats from which they would operate seabed machinery not connected to the turbulent surface waters. Their promises coincided with others’ fears that nuclear weaponry would be placed on the seabed. Those who lacked the technological capability to extract minerals from the seabed also had concerns that other nations would exploit their resources. Scientific imaginaries caused uncertainty in the international community—especially in the “Global South.” The UN called the “Law of the Sea” conferences to mediate emerging geopolitical tensions caused by these imaginaries of exploitation of ocean resources. These conferences became a site where lawmakers projected futures rather than merely responding to past or present dilemmas. Diplomats’ negotiations, with their basis in anticipation of the future uses of science and technology, reveal the role of scientific imaginaries within complex negotiations. Here, we see the impact of the distinction (or blurring) of the real and the imagined on the balance of relations between Global North and South increasing global imbalances of resources and power. This article’s analysis of such scientific diplomacy provides a valuable example of the power of scientific imaginaries to have a global impact.


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