Science without borders: Science diplomacy and the politics of power

Alice L. Urban, SIT Graduate Institute


Because of the increase in relevance of science diplomacy and dialogue in the development and diplomatic discourse, it is important to take time to thoroughly examine the roots of science diplomacy (SD), its theoretical foundations, successes, challenges and potential for further employment and utility. In this paper, I discuss and apply John Nye's concept of soft power in order to investigate the latent and manifest functions of such diplomatic practices. In addition, I explore the three dimensions of science diplomacy: science in diplomacy, diplomacy for science and science for diplomacy. I argue that SD is an increasingly relevant tool for modern statecraft and has progressively broadening implications in the fields of science and technology, international relation and international development. Because of this, it is necessary to expand our concept of SD, and I will contend that there are two spheres of science diplomacy – soft and hard science diplomacy. While hard SD involves the use of science for specifically manifest functions within the diplomatic process, soft SD describes exercises in scientific exchange that have latent functions for diplomacy. To make this case, I apply two SD case studies to this hard-soft science diplomacy framework: the Israel-Palestine Center for Environment and the Minnesota Project in Morocco. I conclude with several lessons learned and implications for the future of science diplomacy as a viable tool for international development and effective state diplomacy.