• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site
  • HSE University
  • Research projects
  • ­­­The Cooperation of Expert Communities during the Cold War and the Nature of ‘Science Diplomacy’ in the Environmental Sciences and International Law

­­­The Cooperation of Expert Communities during the Cold War and the Nature of ‘Science Diplomacy’ in the Environmental Sciences and International Law

Department: Center for Historical Research
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

The object of the research is international cooperation of experts (environmental scientists, namely geographers, geoscientist, and oceanologists on the one hand, and legal scientists on the other) as well as practices of ‘science diplomacy’ in the Cold War. The project is focused on cooperation developed by large scientific organizations or organized within large international programmes, in particular the International Geophysical Year (1957-58).

Goal of Research

This project aims to reconstruct and analyze connections between expert communities divided by “the iron curtain” in the age of the Cold War. The research contributes to:

  • understanding of how knowledge about “the other” (both an adversary and partner) was shaped,
  • learning about conditions for each scenario (cooperation or hostility),
  • studying the Cold War in the context of new academic work which focuses on the Cold War as cooperation at a micro level, as well as understanding the role and mechanisms of international scientific cooperation, 
  • speculating on the possible application of knowledge about “the other” in international and national contexts.

Empirical Base of Research

The research is shaped around an innovative database which contains data on Soviet scientists of both fields who took part in large international conferences, seminars, and symposia between 1953 and 1990. The database includes descriptions of these events as well as a bibliography of reports, theses and other publications issued on the selected events. Additional sources are biographies, archival materials, and interviews given by polar scientists who were engaged in international cooperation during the Cold War.

The empirical data was analyzed in two ways:

  • eliciting the infrastructure of international cooperation from the perspective of Soviet science;
  • studying scenarios of transmission of knowledge about international cooperation in the Soviet academic community.

Results of Research

Based on a review of current literature on the topic, we defined relevant fields for further research: the role of the Soviet ‘soft power’ in Arctic and Africa. The analysis of these cases might be based on comparative research of two specific geographical areas of confrontation and cooperation in the Cold War. The analysis of current historiography showed that the Cold War played a decisive role in the globalizing of these regions.  

Based on solid empirical materials on the participation of Soviet environmental and legal scientists in large international events, we conducted an empirical discourse analysis of the language used for representation of the Soviet law in American and Soviet professional journals on law and international relations. This analysis showed that description of “Soviet” in the legal field explicated a discourse of confrontation, competition and even a hostile attitude toward “the other”.  On the other hand, environmental sciences used the language of cooperation when addressing to common (global) issues. These discourses (confrontation/cooperation) proved themselves to be still present in modern Russia: today the involvement of Russian legal scientists in international cooperation is rather low while environmental scientists are relatively well represented in the international academic networks. Likewise, many polar scientists interviewed within the project stressed the role of the legacy of international contacts during the Soviet period in developing international contacts in the post-Soviet period.

The vast majority of empirical materials we collected and analyzed showed that Soviet environmental scientists were actively engaged into international networks. At the same time, the density of legal communications was also relatively high. This analysis of density contradicts the understanding of the Cold War as an ideological struggle between two blocs, a view still dominating in the historiography. Comparative analysis of reports made by Soviet participants of large international events showed that both environmental and legal scientists were equally seen as scientific diplomats.

In spite of apparent differences between the fields and a more significant role of ideology in jurisprudence, Soviet scientists were considered as those who could establish and develop a peaceful dialogue. The core distinction of the fields was different intentions of such dialogues in two fields. Environmental scientists were focussed on knowledge and data exchange (however, frequently aiming to receive more than give) while legal scientists considered the cooperation as symbolic, aiming to propagate Soviet ideology and somehow influence the decisions made in the field of international law. 

Level of implementation,  recommendations  on implementation or outcomes of the implementation of Results

Results of the project research are being used in teaching courses “Contemporary Russia”, “History of legal and political ideas” (bachelor level, 2nd year, the faculty of history).   In the future they will be definitely required by a new Masters program “A usable past: applied and interdisciplinary history” which will open at the faculty in 2015.

Field of application

The results of the project might well have significance for current politics in planning the scientific potential in the Russian Federation in both short- and long-term perspectives.

Analysis of how ‘a soft power’ was used in the recent past helps comprehend the role of scientific institutes and practices, which defined international conventions in solving global problems.  The results of the project are important for overcoming the heritage of the Cold War which played a decisive role in international relations, hampering cooperation between nations. At the same time, the connection between the science and national security is still relevant nowadays. Experience of those Soviet scientists who took part in the international cooperation in the environmental sciences, should be considered in the present situation since it might help Russian science regain its lost position in international organizations and global projects. 


Кочеткова Е. А., Лайус Ю. А., Борисова Т. Ю. Научная кооперация и инфраструктуры знания в годы Холодной войны: новые направления зарубежной историографии // Новая и новейшая история. 2016
Doel R. E., Friedman R. M., Lajus J., Sorlin S., Wrakberg U. Strategic Arctic science: national interests in building natural knowledge - interwar era through the Cold War // Journal of Historical Geography. 2014. Vol. 44. P. 60-80. doi