Peter D. Gluckman headshot photo
Photo credit: Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures

Science Diplomacy in an Age of Fractured Globalization

#SciDipTurns10 Sustainable Development Goals track 2 United Nations emerging technologies Award for Science Diplomacy Americas Broader Middle East and North Africa East Asia Europe Oceania South and Central Asia Sub-Saharan Africa

The optimism of the era of globalization and the commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been eroded by increasing fractures in the multilateral system. The result has been slow progress on sustainability, devastating conflicts, and threats to the rules-based system. Rapidly emerging transformative technologies, particularly those associated with the digital milieu, offer promises of progress, but have other likely consequences, including possibly further undermining of social cohesion. A multipolar technological world is emerging with major powers taking very different approaches. In this new, fractured geopolitical reality, non-state actors need to play a greater role.

Inadequate pandemic preparedness and response, ineffective conflict resolution, and insufficient responses to climate change together illustrate the weakened state of the formal multilateral system. This is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, yet as we approach 2030, discussions on future global goals must start. The global economic situation and growing inequalities affect human development everywhere. In this context, the importance of “track 2” multilateralism, including science, is critically important. Here, the social sciences have a critical role to play. The International Science Council (ISC) is prioritizing its interactions with the formal multilateral system and is increasingly playing a leading role as a conduit for “track 2” diplomacy through promoting scientific cooperation and interactions with the United Nations system.

One major emergent challenge facing science diplomacy is that of rapidly changing technologies. These create a broad range of diplomatic challenges—is predictive and adaptive regulatory control even possible? How will societies respond? How can the global commons (for example inner and outer space or the deep seabed) be managed for the global good in this context? These issues must be discussed and explored now, but short-term interests are evidently overriding such discussions.

In such contexts, the interface between science and diplomacy must expand its horizons. The need to enhance science inputs into the work of foreign ministries is critical, but few foreign ministries have formalized such partnerships. Science diplomacy is far more than promoting scientific cooperation and its relevant to all countries irrespective of size or developmental status;1 science diplomacy will be central to global and national policy making in order to cope with a range of existential challenges. The essential value of both science diplomacy and scientific cooperation has been demonstrated in the responses to COVID-19 – the lessons learnt must be better incorporated into domestic and multilateral policymaking if we are to confront the challenges of an increasingly fractured world.


  1. Peter D. Gluckman, Stephen L. Goldson, and Alan S. Beedle, “How a Small Country Can Use Science Diplomacy: A View from New Zealand,” Science & Diplomacy, Vol. 1, No. 2 (June 2012),
Diplomacy for Science Mechanisms Science for Diplomacy Science in Diplomacy A Decade of Science & Diplomacy