Cathleen A. Campbell headshot photo
Photo credit: Skip Horvath

Putting Science Diplomacy to Work

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Ten years ago, I wrote with cautious optimism about the potential of science diplomacy to engage countries with whom formal diplomatic relations were strained.1  At that time, individual scientists, universities, and non-governmental organizations in the United States were successfully engaging scientists in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Cuba, and Iran—all countries with whom U.S. diplomatic ties were strained. Much of that work has stopped, largely due to changes in the geopolitical environment. Yet the work that was accomplished underscores the important role of non-governmental actors in science diplomacy and provides useful models for future initiatives.

Science diplomacy remains critically important today. It is not only an effective tool to engage countries with which relations are fraught, but it can also accelerate global solutions to shared challenges and strengthens links and understanding among scientists, policy makers, and the public. But the environment for science diplomacy is complex, and perhaps more challenging than it was a decade ago. Concerns over research security, coupled with the increased politicization of science in some countries and ongoing threats to global security, such as the war in Ukraine, are prompting countries to rethink their approaches to scientific research and international engagement. Science diplomacy can help to maintain channels of communication and provide mechanisms for collaboration on priority issues.

The most important science diplomacy issue today is Ukraine. Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has had a devastating impact on Ukraine’s science and technology enterprise. Research and teaching facilities have been destroyed and many Ukrainian scientists and engineers have relocated to other parts of Ukraine or to other countries. Fortunately, scientists and scientific organizations around the world have rallied to provide support for Ukrainian scientists. But there is much more to be done, particularly for the scientists and engineers who remain in Ukraine. Near-term science diplomacy efforts should focus on establishing mechanisms for Ukrainian scientists to partner with international collaborators on high-priority research topics. Over the long term, governments and donors should seek to assist Ukraine with recovery, ensuring that science, higher education, and innovation systems continue to contribute to Ukraine’s prosperity. This is a long-term effort that requires sustained collaboration between scientists and policy makers. Science diplomacy can jumpstart this process with initiatives that strengthen linkages between scientists and policy makers in Ukraine and the rest of the world and build capacity for planning, implementing, and assessing national science and innovation strategies for rebuilding and strengthening Ukraine’s economy.


  1. Cathy Campbell, “A Consortium Model for Science Engagement: Lessons from the U.S.-DPRK Experience,” Science & Diplomacy, Vol. 1, No. 2 (June 2012),
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