1. How to Get Started?
2. What Is Science Diplomacy?
3. Who Are the Science Diplomacy Stakeholders?
4. How Does the EU Practice Science Diplomacy?
5. What Are the National, Regional and Thematic Approaches of Science Diplomacy?
6. What Set of Skills Do I Need to Be a Good Science Diplomat?
7. Hands On! Case Studies
8. How Can You Dive Deeper into Science Diplomacy?
Satisfaction Survey

2.3.1 What Do We Mean by Science Diplomacy?

The first thing you need to understand when approaching the definition of “science diplomacy” is that there is not a single understanding or definition for this concept. Countries and professionals understand the concept in many different ways, as it has become multidimensional, multi-layered, very complex and has multiple meanings. As Chagun Basha suggests, “science diplomacy has become an umbrella term covering a range of formal and informal exchange, education, policy, and outreach efforts” (Basha, 2016), implying there is a risk of overstretching the concept.

The second important thing is that science diplomacy is not something new. International relationships that can be framed under “science diplomacy” have been taking place since the beginnings of human civilization: from the exchange of knowledge and scientific tokens in Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece in the Western world to the Silk Road. International treaties for nuclear disarmament and scientific cooperation between the United States and the USSR during the Cold War can also fall under this broad category. Other international treaties for the governance and scientific cooperation in ungoverned spaces such as Antarctica, oceans or even space may be understood as science diplomacy too. Another example of science diplomacy is the establishment of large research infrastructures that require the scientific cooperation of a number of countries that had been opponents in the past, such is the case of CERN in Switzerland and SESAME in the Middle-East.

It is true, however, that science diplomacy is a new term coined in a specific historical context as part of a strategic US foreign policy initiative. This initiative tried to re-establish US soft power and the country’s reputation and image in the Middle-East and worldwide after the US-led invasion in Iraq in 2003. From there it has taken on a life of its own both as “an area of study and as a policy consideration” (Rungius et al., 2018).

A broad definition: an interaction between science and foreign policy

Although there is not a singular concrete definition, what seems to be key in defining science diplomacy is the increasing role and relevance of science in world politics (Copeland 2016; Flink and Schreiterer 2010; Turekian et al. 2015). In fact, science diplomacy is more than just international scientific collaborations. Science diplomacy implies the involvement of political actors and interests, whereas international scientific collaborations do not necessarily involve them at all (Copeland 2016; Gluckman et al. 2017) and indeed they are “sometimes commercially oriented and often without direct state participation” (Copeland 2011).

You will find below a set of different definitions established by leading practitioners in the field over the last years:

«Science diplomacy is the use of scientific collaborations among nations to address the common problems facing 21st century humanity and to build constructive international partnerships. There are many ways that scientists can contribute to this process

– Nina V. Fedoroff, Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State and to the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) 2009. (Fedoroff 2009)

«The term ‘Science Diplomacy’ can be used for a range of foreign policy aspects which share an engagement with science and related disciplines but whose aims, motivations and practices are quite different.»

– Lutz-Peter Berg, Science and Technology Counsellor at the Embassy of Switzerland in London (Berg 2010)

«Science diplomacy has been defined as the use and application of science cooperation to build bridges and enhance relationships among countries.»

– Dr Vaughan Turekian, Director of the Center for Science Diplomacy set up in 2009 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and later Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State

«‘Science diplomacy’ is a label used by actors to refer to certain policies or actions that involve the engagement of scientific or cultural communities in transnational interactions. In both cases, those policies or activities can or cannot be labelled as Science Diplomacy by the actors themselves. When labelled by the actors as diplomacy policy or Science Diplomacy practices, one can refer to them as explicit Science Diplomacy. When not labelled as such, one can refer to them as implicit Science Diplomacy. In order to avoid a too broad approach to Science Diplomacy, one should limit the use of the concept to the explicit policies and practices that involve both S&T policy and Foreign Affairs policy

– Prof Luk van Langenhove, Research Professor, Institute for European Studies (IES), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and coordinator of EL-CSID H2020-funded science diplomacy consortium (van Langenhove 2016)

«At the intersection of science and foreign policy, a country’s science diplomacy refers to all practices in which actions of researchers and of diplomats interact. These practices may be directly related to the interests of governments: this is the case when diplomats promote cooperation between scientists from different countries, whereas conversely international scientific relations facilitate the exercise of diplomacy or play an avant-garde role for it, and finally when scientific expertise helps governments and their diplomats to prepare and conduct international negotiations.»

– Prof Pierre-Bruno Ruffini, Professor of International Economics, Faculty of International Affairs, University of Le Havre and part of the InsSciDe H2020-funded science diplomacy consortium (Ruffini 2017)

Explicitness/Implicitness “Matter”
Transversal Analysis of S4D4C Case Studies
Explicitness (or implicitness) refers to the use (or non-use) of the term “science diplomacy” by particular actors in particular situations to label themselves or their activities. The term science diplomacy is neither universally embraced nor entirely consistently used. There is a great deal of variance between national governments’ understanding of the meaning of science diplomacy, its conceptualisation and its implicit or explicit use.

Our premise in S4D4C is that applying (or not applying) the label science diplomacy to a concrete interaction, practice or actor is political: it creates and changes power relations and affects outcomes. The term science diplomacy is rarely used to name concrete actions or actors. More often, it occurs in political debates and describes ideas and visions. A wide range of actions that could potentially be science diplomacy are not labelled as such. For some, alternative (sub) types of diplomacy or policymaking or other labels are applied, such as water, health or cyber diplomacy.

The implicit or explicit use of the label for a certain practice matters and it is often applied strategically. The explicit use may help to enhance legitimacy of respective actors and tier practices and raise attention for a specific practice. In other cases, actors chose not to introduce the term science diplomacy into a given context, to aoid the impression of non-cooperative dimension and maintain a context of soft-power.

More about “Explicitness/Implicitness’” can be found in (Young and Rungius 2020).

What the experts think

Besides the experts we asked in the topic 2.1.1 Learning Objectives and Experts’ Preliminary Insights, we have here four additional experts who will give you their perspectives around what science diplomacy is. Enjoy their insights!

Pauline Ravinet

Assistant Professor of Political Science at CERAPS, University of Lille

How would you describe science diplomacy?


Robin Grimes

Robin Grimes

Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) to the UK Ministry of Defence on nuclear science and technology matters. Former CSA to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Professor of Materials Physics at Imperial College London

What is a science diplomat? How many types of science diplomats are there?


Pier-Francesco Moretti

CNR Liaison Officer in Brussels and coordinator of School for Science in Decision processes (#school4SID)

Which challenges exist in the interface between science-policy-diplomacy?


Mitchell YOUNG

Mitchell Young

Assistant Professor, Department of European Studies, Charles University, Prague

What are the main differences between explicit and implicit science diplomacy approaches?


Read more about science diplomacy definitions in the following references:

– Berg, Lutz-Peter (2010): “Science Diplomacy Networks.” Politorbis 2(49): 9–11.
– Copeland, Daryl (2015): “Bridging the Chasm: Why Science and Technology Must Become Priorities for Diplomacy and International Policy.” Science & Diplomacy, Vol. 4, No. 3 (September 2015) (Link).
– Fedoroff, Nina V. (2009): “Science Diplomacy in the 21st Century.” Cell, 136, January 9. pp. 9-11 (Link).
– Flink, Tim, and Ulrich Schreiterer (2010): “Science diplomacy at the intersection of S&T policies and foreign affairs: toward a typology of national approaches.” Science and Public Policy, 37(9), November 2010, pages 665–677 (Link).
– Rungius, Charlotte, Tim Flink, and Alexander Degelsegger-Márquez (2018):  State-of-the-art report: summarizing literature on science diplomacy cases and concepts. Vienna: S4D4C (Link).
– Ruffini, Pierre-Bruno (2017): Science and Diplomacy. A New Dimension of International Relations. Science, Technology and Innovation Studies. Cham: Springer International Publishing (Link).
– Van Langenhove, Luk (2016): Tools for an EU science diplomacy. Brussels: European Commission (Link).
– Young, Mitchell, and Charlotte Rungius (2020): “Explicitness/Implicitness.” In: Mitchell Young, Charlotte Rungius, Ewert Aukes, Lorenzo Melchor, Elke Dall, Eliška Černovská, Eliška Tomolová, Laure-Anne Plumhans, Pauline Ravinet, Tim Flink, Ana Elorza Moreno. The ‘Matters’ of Science Diplomacy: Transversal Analysis of the S4D4C Case Studies. S4D4C Policy Report. S4D4C: Vienna. pp:1-4.

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