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What is Knowledge Diplomacy? How India can benefit from Knowledge Diplomacy?

What is Knowledge Diplomacy? How India can benefit from Knowledge Diplomacy?


  • GS 2 II International Relations II Indian Foreign Policy II Soft Power

Why in the news?

Knowledge diplomacy is a multi-level (e.g., global and national) process of joint decision-making, using the art and science of negotiations, whereas knowledge serves as a facilitating agency to structure complexity and uncertainty.

Understanding Knowledge Diplomacy:


  • Knowledge diplomacy is becoming a more popular term. It is being used in a number of ways that are causing confusion and may eventually weaken its potential.
  • From an international relations perspective, diplomacy is ‘the building and management of relations between and among countries’. Diplomacy is different from both foreign policy and multilateral governance. From a higher education perspective, knowledge diplomacy is not equivalent to internationalisation.

What is knowledge diplomacy?

  • The term knowledge diplomacy is different from education, science, cultural or public diplomacy. These terms are narrower and do not do justice to the comprehensiveness of knowledge diplomacy.
  • For example, education diplomacy does not include research and innovation, and is primarily linked to basic education. Science diplomacy most often relates to the natural sciences. Cultural diplomacy is much broader in scope and includes art, sports, food, education, architecture among others.
  • But the common understanding of the role of education in cultural diplomacy is limited to student and scholar exchanges.
  • Knowledge diplomacy takes a more inclusive approach. It builds on a multidimensional approach that emphasises that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of the parts’.
  • The three major dimensions of knowledge diplomacy are, firstly, higher education and training including formal, informal and lifelong learning; secondly, research for the generation, use and sharing of knowledge, and thirdly, innovation, which includes the application of new knowledge and ideas for added value

Characteristics of Knowledge Diplomacy:

  • Focus on higher education, research, and innovation: Knowledge diplomacy builds on the fundamental functions of higher education—teaching/learning, research, knowledge production and innovation, and service to society.
  • Diversity of actors and partners: Knowledge diplomacy includes a diversity of actors. While universities and colleges are key players, there is a range of other actors involved.
  • Recognition of different needs and collective use of resources: Because knowledge diplomacy brings together a network of different partners from various sectors to address common issues, there are often different rationales and implications for the individual countries and actors involved.
  • Reciprocity—mutual, but with different benefits: Different needs and resources of actors will result in different benefits (and potential risks) for partners. Mutuality of benefits does not mean that all actors/countries will receive the same benefits.
  • Build and strengthen relations between and among countries: Central to the notion of knowledge diplomacy is the role of IHERI in strengthening positive and productive relations between and among countries. This builds on, but goes beyond, the contribution made by bilateral and multilateral agreements between higher education institutions

Example of knowledge diplomacy:

  • The Pan African University, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the Japan-UK Research and Education Network for Knowledge Economy Initiatives, and Brown University’s Humanitarian Relief projects are a few of the knowledge diplomacy case studies discussed in a recent British Council report, Knowledge Diplomacy in action.
  • These initiatives are carefully chosen to illustrate the urgency and effectiveness of using a knowledge diplomacy approach and that it includes, yet goes far beyond, typical internationalization activities.
  • Examples of India’s Knowledge Diplomacy:
    • India’s history of knowledge diplomacy dates back to the 1950s, when many developing countries looked to India for development-oriented information.
    • Students from all over Asia and Africa applied for postgraduate courses at Indian universities
    • The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and the International Rice Research Institute all pursued Indian expertise (IRRI).
    • South Korea’s government also sent economists to the Indian Planning Commission to be educated in long-term planning until the early 1960s. Korea began to overtake India as a new industrial economy in the 1970s.
    • Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES),which was established in 1974 by then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, has a global profile with operations in Africa and Asia.
    • The growth of India’s dairy and livestock industries piqued international interest.
    • India can now position satellites of many countries into space at globally competitive rates and supply drugs and vaccines to developing countries at reasonable prices thanks to its self-sufficiency in space and the pharmaceutical industry.

Challenges and Unintended Consequences:

  • Values play a central role in diplomacy: The concept of knowledge diplomacy is not without its challenges. First is the issue of values. Values play a central role in diplomacy and explain why the contribution of international higher education and research to international relations and vice versa is conceptualised in a diplomatic framework and not a power paradigm.
  • Knowledge diplomacy recognises the diversity of priorities and resources among countries, and that interests and benefits will differ among partners. However, there is the reality and risk that knowledge itself can be used as an instrument of power to enhance self-interest, competitiveness and dominance by one country.
  • Unintended consequences: This is why values and principles are important. Unintended consequences are always present. While foresight can help mitigate risks, it is only hindsight that tells the story of impact. The values of collaboration and mutuality which underpin knowledge diplomacy can be easily eroded.
  • There is the potential risk that education, research, and innovation will be used to widen the knowledge divide among countries instead of being a bridge to address global challenges through collaboration, exchange and trust.
  • Knowledge diplomacy can easily become a buzzword to camouflage national and regional ambitions to promote self-interest at the expense of mutual interests and benefits. As the concept of knowledge diplomacy becomes more commonplace, unrealistic expectations can be made about its role and contributions. Knowledge diplomacy is not a silver bullet.
  • Expectations of its contribution to international relations need to be managed to avoid early misunderstandings or dismissal of its value and potential.
  • Developing a framework, strategies and commitment to knowledge diplomacy cannot be done without facing the harsh realities of international politics and the challenges of the more competitive and turbulent world in which we live


Knowledge diplomacy needs to continue. There needs to be a constant observation of the consequences of this seemingly expanding role of knowledge diplomacy in international politics: this is particularly important, as these consequences tend to change over time because of the globalization process. While the concept of knowledge diplomacy deserves priority in academic analysis, it also has a considerable policy relevance, which policymakers need to acknowledge. Today, expert skills in knowledge diplomacy are a prerequisite for influence in most international negotiations

Mains oriented question:

Global issues are now national issues and many national issues are also global issues. How far India has been able to succeed in solving such issues through its soft power and diplomacy. Comment. (250 words)