Mediathek Event
Nov 15, 2022
Pugwash Scientists: Between Science and Diplomacy in the Cold War

The concept of "Science Diplomacy," coined within science and foreign policy circles around 2010 to denote the harnessing of scientific knowledge by governments in pursuit of diplomatic ends and coordinated international action, has spurred new questions about the intersection between science, diplomacy, politics and policy making. However, "Science Diplomacy" as a concept underpinned by a certain optimism about science and scientists as mediators gives little sense of conflicting views among scientists and within scientific institutions concerning science as a tool of foreign politics and international mediation.

Our papers focus on the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (PCSWA), created in 1957 by natural scientists, primarily physicists in West and East who sought to work towards nuclear disarmament and a peaceful world. Initially regarded by Western governments with suspicion—because, variously, of its origins amongst scientists critical of their nuclear weapons policies, its East-West composition and its aim to bridge the bloc divide—by the early 1960s Pugwash had established itself as a credible actor within the international realm of unofficial (Track II) diplomacy between West and East.

Our papers bring together two different but complementary perspectives on Pugwash. Kraft considers the developing role of the international PCSWA in "back channel" diplomacy in the 1960s and argues that this rested on a novel form of informal technopolitical communication. Whilst Western governments came to value Pugwash as a potential resource, tensions remained, as its scientists formulated situation-specific responses to international problems and crises. Sachse, using the example of the relationship between the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG) and Pugwash, discusses the high degree of ambivalence shown by top West German scientists towards the PCWSA, and the dismay of US Pugwashites at this aloofness. Nevertheless Pugwash did leave its mark on the political history of the MPG, including the founding of the Starnberg Institute and the development of "defensive security" strategies.


Alison Kraft is a Research Scholar at the MPIWG, where she is a member of the team working on the History of the Max Planck Society, and where her work focuses on the processes, patterns, and challenges of the internationalization of research at the Society. In 2020 she was co-editor, with Carola Sachse, of a book exploring the history in different countries of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.  This organization is the subject of her second book, a monograph, entitled: From dissent to diplomacy: The Pugwash project during the 1960s Cold War, forthcoming with Springer. Kraft has also published widely on the history of the life sciences in the twentieth century, on subjects ranging from stem cells, to pharmaceutical innovation, to the medical uses/biological dangers of ionizing radiation.

Carola Sachse is full professor (em.) for contemporary history at the University of Vienna and guest researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin). From 2000 to 2004 she served as research director program of the MPS’s program on the "History of the Kaiser Wilhem Society under National Socialism."  She published widely on gender history, social history and the history of science in the 20th century. Her most recent book: Wissenschaft und Diplomatie. Die Max-Planck-Gesellschaft im Feld der internationalen Politik (1945–2000), Studien zur Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Bd. 4, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2023 (in print).


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Pugwash Scientists: Between Science and Diplomacy in the Cold War