Challenges for International Scientific and Engineering Cooperation

Philip W. Hemily

(presented at the AAAS Consortium of Affiliates for International Programs Annual Meeting held in Seattle, Washington in conjunction with the 1997 AAAS Annual Meeting on February 16, 1997)


An assessment of historical events, major thrusts, and multilateral mechanisms influencing international cooperation in the sciences and engineering over the past 50 years is provided to suggest challenges and concerns in seven areas for future consideration: (1) capacity building, (2) sustainable development, (3) international information and data management activities, (4) megascience cooperation, (5) ethics, conduct of science, human rights, (6) U.S. governmental international S&T representation, and (7) multilateral institutional reform.


It is most impressive to see how the Consortium of Affiliates for International Scientific cooperation (CAIP) has grown over the years including the expanding foreign membership; and to appreciate the many activities, projects, and seminars directed toward furthering understanding of international cooperation in science and engineering. ¶I commend most heartily the initiatives devoted to capacity building, exchanges of scientists and engineers, and the proposed collaboration with the Third World Academy of Science (TWAS), ICSU, and UNESCO to establish visiting professorships and lectureships for the benefit of Developing Nations.

I also commend the leadership and initiative of AAAS in supporting the strong leadership of Dr. Federico Mayor, Director General of UNESCO since 1988, and in recommending the U.S. rejoining that important organization.

On January 23, 1997 I had an opportunity to participate in a most stimulating “Scientific Day – Une Journée Scientifique” at the Institute of Natural Product Chemistry of the French National Center of Scientific Research in Gif-sur-Yvette. This day of impressive discussions at the research frontier of crystal chemistry was in honor of a very close, retiring colleague, Claudine Pascard, for her impressive accomplishments in structure determinations. Claudine joined my research group in Paris in 1953 after completing a Fulbright fellowship in the US while I was a Fulbright scholar in France. This occasion, representing traditional international scientific cooperation, put me in contact with certain colleagues I had not seen personally in some 40 years and provoked reflections on what thoughts I might convey to the CAIP: perceptions on events, targets, and mechanisms influencing international cooperation in science and engineering over the past 50 years, and perhaps suggesting a few insights on challenges as well as concerns, as we look ahead.

These stimulating hours in France were led by Jean-Marie Lehn, Nobel Laureate and President of the International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development. I was also reminded of the profound, yet so simple, statement by the great French biologist – Louis Pasteur: “La science n’a pas de patrie — science has no native land” underscoring that progress in science has always benefited from international cooperation and the sharing of knowledge among scientists of all nations.


It is worthwhile to touch on a few events that influenced international scientific and engineering cooperation over the past 50 years. Throughout this period the basic goal going back decades or centuries to cooperate to advance knowledge prevailed. Still other political/economic/security factors came into play following World War II which had an impact on multilateral collaboration.

(A) The creation of the United Nations led to the establishment or enlargement of a number of specialized and regional agencies concerned with strengthening economic growth and political stability and protecting the wellbeing of individuals and society. These organizations such as WHO, WMO, IAEA, and particularly UNESCO included missions to promote international cooperation in the sciences and engineering.

(B) The Cold War led to the creation of regional security mechanisms such as NATO and the Warsaw Pact concerned with ensuring a strong S&T base for maintaining political and military strength; yet within opposing blocks placing constraints on S&T cooperation. At the same time regional economic organizations such as OECD met the challenge of rebuilding Europe after WWII; the provision of a strong scientific and engineering base was fundamental to such development. Other regional organizations such as the OAS and the UN Economic Commissions also promoted S&T cooperation. The opening up of China followed by the end of the cold war in the early 90′s has placed extremely serious challenges to furthering and strengthening S&T cooperation with these countries, and particularly the former Soviet Union (FSU) as well as the former East European associates of the FSU.

(C)Traditional multilateral cooperative programs were continued under the sponsorship of ICSU and its Unions particularly in the earth and physical sciences, but broadening over the years to include biological and environmental concerns. Noteworthy was the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of the late 50s, followed by the Indian Ocean Expedition with assistance from UNESCO. UNESCO also promoted the establishment of CERN. The late 50s saw the birth of Sputnik and the launching of competitive as well as cooperative Space projects.

(D) Growing concern with protecting the environment and Planet Earth was highlighted by the 1972 UN Earth Summit Conference in Stockholm, the establishment of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) as well as regional environmental activities of OECD, NATO, OAS and other UN and non-governmental bodies. These efforts and concerns were given emphasis by the Brundtland Commission leading to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio, and the continuing priority attention devoted to sustainable development and to implementing understandings and agreements being formulated under UN Conventions on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Deforestation.

(E) During this period increasing discussion, not always harmonious, was given to the UN role in ensuring the contributions of S&T to economic development — leading to the less than successful 1979 UN Conference in Vienna. Aid agencies, non-governmental bodies and private Foundations continued to direct resources to such needs, although only recently, and particularly after the 1992 UNCED has emphasis been given to the important contributions of S&T to sustainable development by the World Bank, UN agencies, and a host of intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. In addition, the US and UK withdrawal from UNESCO in 1984-85 has complicated many multilateral cooperative S&T programs,not always negatively.

(F) The role of non-governmental organizations, and particularly that of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), became increasingly important as a key partner in planning, guiding, and managing multilateral programs such as the World Climate Research Program, Diversitas (biodiversity), and particularly the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP) established by ICSU in 1986. Other NGOs concerned with the social sciences and engineering have contributed to global change studies as well as undertaking important projects under the UN International Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). Furthermore, there has been dynamic cooperative movement in the sciences and engineering in SouthEast Asia in support of global change research, the development of electronic data networks among engineering societies, and other initiatives by the Pacific Science Association and other regional organizations.

(G) Science and engineering activities and organizations have been instrumental in furthering international regional collaboration in the Middle East. Common problems are being attacked via mutual collaboration and reinforced through professional links with scientific and engineering organizations in the U.S., Europe and the Far East.


With a view to the cursory outline of events noted above, what are some of the targets requiring international cooperation in the sciences and engineering? This discussion is largely directed toward multilateral activities, although much of what is said is just as valid at the bilateral level.

(A) First and foremost is capacity building, and at many levels from scientific literacy to life-long learning. Throughout the ages scholars have pursued the advancement of knowledge through associations in centers of excellence beyond national frontiers; and I note the great value of cultural diversity in such associations. This is still a major goal and we must strive to protect, promote and facilitate international mobility of scientists and engineers — mobility of U.S. professionals going abroad as well as the U.S. being host country for exchanges. I know that the AAAS and the CAIP are committed to fostering a variety of exchanges of personnel, books and publications, and in fostering electronic data communications. I should like to touch on just a few examples beyond the traditional scholarly and postdoc exchanges:

visiting foreign science lectures to teacher training institutes;Gordon Conferences, International Colloquia, NATO Advanced Science Institutes and Research Workshops;Network for Information in S&T Education (INISTE); translations of educational materials coupled with teacher training workshops;provision of educational materials pertaining to global change;IGBP) and the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR);ICSU Program on Capacity Building in Science -primary and secondary level in science teaching -reducing isolation of scientists -public understanding of scienceUNESCO UNISPAR (University Industry Science Partnership Program) -industry-sponsored UNESCO chairs -collaborative University/Industry projects. -conferences on engineering education -development and transfer of data bases

(B) Research Cooperation in Unique/Megascience Facilities. This need has been a matter of concern among governments, International Organizations, and the professional scientific community over many years, arising from high-energy physics research cooperation, astronomical observatories, space cooperation, fusion cooperation, biodiversity, to genome determinations. Although the intergovernmental OECD has established a Megascience Forum to explore cooperative developments among its Member nations and invitees, this is still a serious area for further cooperative development to cover global interests of non-OECD countries and the non-governmental scientific community.

(C) Environment and Resource Management Concerns. Many events at the international level over the past 50 years have led to giving priority attention to protecting the environment through more efficient management of natural resources, including better understanding of biodiversity and the beneficial use of biotechnology and natural products for pharmaceutical and agricultural needs. The efforts of the International Organization for Chemical Sciences for Development and the attention given to establishing a biotic exploration fund are exciting and promising. Continuing attention will need to be devoted to the study of earth, oceans, atmosphere, space through Global Change Research including the essential contributions of the social and behavioral sciences.

(D) Sustainable Development. Priority concerns were defined at the 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development to formulate and implement Conventions on Climate Change, Biodiversity, and Deforestation. This long-term commitment, through UN agencies and other international governmental and non-governmental organizations, for constructive action including research and training will be on the top of the international agenda of scientists and engineers for the coming decades. Social scientists and engineers will have major roles to play in dealing with land use policies and urbanization.

(E) Multidisciplinary Collaboration. There is increasing need and value in promoting closer collaboration on a number on interdisciplinary/research and application directions involving the natural and social/behavioral sciences and particularly engineering and technical sciences. It is noteworthy that ICSU and the new International Council of Engineering and Technology have initiated discussions on undertaking joint-projects in the most important areas of energy provision and conservation, as well as transport development.

(F) Information/Data/Communications Systems. Continuing attention must be directed toward ensuring the open access to scientific and engineering data and information. Cutting across all past and evolving targets requiring international collaboration is the revolution in electronic data communication and processing. Scientific, engineering and educational/training progress will be essentially dependent on the incorporation of and interaction with global and regional networks.

(G) Ethics, Conduct of Science and Engineering, Human Rights. The advancement of knowledge and its application have shown, over the past decades, the increasing need to maintain a vigilant oversight on protection of the genome as well as human rights in the conduct of research and experimentation. International consultation needs to be directed toward the establishment of ethical standards in the scientific and engineering professions. These complex, controversial issues involving societal interactions will require increased international cooperation.


To round out this perspective of key events and major thrusts over the past decades, involving international cooperation in science and engineering, there is need to give attention to mechanisms, their evolution and needs, for facilitating such cooperation. Whether one is working at the bench, overseeing research projects, administering governmental or intergovernmental science programs, or promoting cooperative projects in non-governmental bodies or professional societies, it is of primary importance to maintain an open system of information sharing with confidence building based on person-to-person contacts. Sharing past experience of what works and what doesn’t, investing in people and their innovative ideas, encouraging interdisciplinary projects in incremental steps within the so-called “big picture” and particularly through partnerships, when appropriate, really pays off. This may seem mundane; yet achieving this approach requires working on it. Turf protection, “old boy networks” and the “NIH” (not invented here) syndrome are wearisome obstacles. What follows is a summary overview of selected multilateral mechanisms, both governmental and non-governmental, to highlight key concerns. Time and space do not permit a comprehensive examination of many current and evolving organizations such as IUCN and the ISSC. It is also clear that over the past 50 years there has been a significant expansion of multilateral, interdisciplinary cooperation in the sciences and engineering.

(A) Intergovernmental Organizations

With respect to multilateral, intergovernmental cooperation, a patchwork of international institutions has been created during the period following the creation of the UN. These were often supported under the influence of superpower, as well as North-South, confrontation. The advancement of science and engineering has profited fairly well over the years, yet it appears clear now that these institutions provide a fragmented and less than satisfactory international structure for contributing the vital science and engineering knowledge base for the solution of current and particularly long-term global, regional, and national problems, and in the context of Developing Country needs and changing world relations. A real dilemma is posed in moving toward less bureaucratic structures tuned to national needs, but guided by compelling leadership more closely linked to the global scientific, engineering and industrial community and their perceptions of long-term goals. The UN and its Specialized Agencies have given serious, yet uncoordinated support to encouraging beneficial contributions of S&T to economic development and political stability.

We need to redesign multilateral intergovernmental organizations which have essential links to governments on the one hand; yet interacting closely at the same time with non-governmental professional communities of scientists, engineers, and industry leaders. Following long-standing and relatively beneficial UNESCO-ICSU relations, a further promising development is being made by the UN Commission for Sustainable Development and the Earth Council with the current attention being given to “Rio+5″ providing an assessment of progress made since the 1992 UNCED Conference. One might well explore innovative means for establishing and strengthening partnerships with non-governmental scientific and engineering organizations such as ICSU, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the International Social Science Council (ISSC), and the recently formed International Council for Engineering and Technology (ICET) as well as the World Engineering Partnership for Sustainable Development (WEPSD). One should note, however, that the ISSC, ICET, and WEPSD require nurturing and support from national professional bodies as well as their international clients. The model of potential partnerships is exemplified below in noting ICSU relations with the UN system and particularly UNESCO.

(B) Non-Governmental Organizations – ICSU

During the last 15 years of my association with the U.S. National Research Council, I’ve worked closely with the ICSU and its bodies, particularly with respect to their interactions with UNESCO activities. I have immense respect to much of what ICSU has on its agenda, to its highly skilled leadership, to its motivations and intentions for rejuvenation. In many ways it is a model for the future and the essential partner to reestablish a credible, intergovernmental S&T organizational structure to meet long-term needs. A related, more-recent development involves the establishment of an InterAcademy Panel (IAP) on International Issues which includes many of the National Members of ICSU — a further consultative mechanism to reinforce multilateral scientific cooperation and particularly networking among Academies. The IAP has also provided policy statements to UN Conferences on Population and Habitat.

Actually, the acronym ICSU is a misnomer since the International Council for Scientific Unions formed in 1931 is much more than a Council of what is now 25 international unions, being also an organization of 95 national members, such as the NAS in the U.S., plus a host of associate members and scientific and standing committees. Over the years it has provided the leadership for managing the IGY and the global change activities of the IGBP. The ICSU has joined intergovernmental bodies such as WMO and UNESCO in carrying out the World Climate Research Program (WCRP) as well as related Observing Systems, and a number of jointly sponsored activities with UNESCO concerned with biodiversity, earth sciences, and ocean exploration. ICSU was the scientific advisor to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and has played an important role in the follow-up Earth Council support of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. Over the years it has played a vital role in ensuring the free circulation of scientists as well as the open access to data and scientific information, and has launched a Global Program on Capacity Building in Science referred to above, and the creation of a Standing Committee on Responsibility & Ethics in Science. What is most impressive in its recent deliberations, announced at the Fall 1996 General Assembly held at the NAS in Washington, was the sweeping recommendations by “an assessment panel for changes in ICSU.” This look at what a future ICSU should be underscored that ICSU should be (1) an incubator of entrepreneurial activities at the nexus of interdisciplinary, international scientific activities; (2) an umbrella for concerns of “policy for science” in the international arena; (3) a strong voice for international science through an aggressive outreach campaign; and (4) with a name change more representative of its structure and function, should reach out for closer ties with social and medical sciences and engineering professions.

The ICSU – UNESCO, mutually-supportive association in the sciences has grown ever closer since the establishment of the first agreement between the organizations, in 1946, providing subventions over the years to strengthen the sciences through international cooperation; a significant portion being directed toward the needs of developing countries. This cooperation gave priority attention to the earth sciences, hydrology, oceanography, biodiversity, world data centers, and the follow-up to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Following the 1995 UNESCO General Conference new framework agreements were made between UNESCO and key umbrella organizations, ICSU being at the forefront. In 1999 UNESCO and ICSU are planning to organize a World Science Congress to promote a profound reflection on science, its forthcoming accomplishments vis-à-vis the well-being of society, and on a strategy for action and new opportunities for cooperation.

(C) Non-Governmental Organizations – Engineering/Industry Bodies

A major challenge to promote economic growth and political stability to take advantage of advancing scientific knowledge will be the strengthening of dynamic international engineering organizations as essential partners with intergovernmental bodies.

Over some decades two organizations have promoted cooperative interactions in support of technological developments via seminars, studies, committee actions and annual meetings: The World Federation of Engineering Societies (WFEO) with membership from over 70 countries, and the International Union of Technical Associations (UATI) representing some 25 global bodies such as the World Energy Congress. These organizations have given priority attention over the past decade to environmental problems, exchange of technological data, engineering education, codes of conduct, assistance to developing countries, and jointly to supporting engineering contributions to the current International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction as well as World Congresses of Engineering Educators and Industry Leaders — the latter in cooperation with UNESCO. They have now formed an International Council for Engineering and Technology (ICET) with the encouragement of UNESCO, and have entered into discussions with ICSU to consider joint projects concerned with energy production and conservation as well as transportation R&D.

Furthermore,the WFEO and UATI have joined with the International Federation of Independent Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) to form the World Engineering Partnership for Sustainable Development (WEPSD) to promote engineering follow-up to the 1992 UNCED and have, among other activities, established a World Engineering Network (WENet) to provide, via the Internet, sustainable technological data and information to the world-wide engineering community. Another most important partner in the follow-up to the UNCED is the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a coalition of 120 multinational firms in 34 countries giving priority attention to the use of sustainable technology and business practices in support of UNCED objectives and the UN Commission for Sustainable Development. It is impressive to note that the World Business Council highlighted on the cover of its most recent Annual Report the statement by Murray Gell Mann, “Sustainability means living on Nature’s income rather than its capital.” It is also important to note that a Council of Academies of Engineering and Technical Sciences (CAETS) was established some years ago to provide a consultative mechanism to provide policy statements on issues of mutual concern.

There is increasing cooperation and collaboration among these organizations with Intergovernmental bodies such as the World Bank as well as with scientific organizations. The potential of furthering this international cooperation on common objectives is immense.


To sum up this review of events, targets, and mechanisms influencing international cooperation, with a view to suggesting possible future activities and directions to which AAAS, CAIP and its Members might give some consideration, here are some seven areas that would be supportive of long-term U.S. interests as well as those of our colleagues in other countries. Such considerations should be linked to the current planning initiated by UNESCO and ICSU for the organization of a World Science Conference in 1999 in which the leadership of AAAS has been invited to play a role. It would seem appropriate for the CAIP to provide thinking and suggestions to the AAAS Board of Directors as they formulate issues for action in support of the thoughtful “Social Contract with Science” underscored by AAAS Past President Lubchenko. Indeed, this might provide a major contribution to the agenda of the 1999 World Science Conference.

(1) Capacity Building in the Sciences and Engineering.

Explore contributions in support of the ICSU Committee on Capacity Building in Science wherein the AAAS is already heavily involved. There could be great benefit to the U.S. National supportive committees are being formed to consider action in the three priority areas of (a) improvement of primary and secondary science and mathematics teaching and, for example, a “Master Teacher Corp” is being identified to lead these efforts, (b) reducing the isolation of scientists, particularly in developing countries, and (c) improving the public understanding of science wherein CAIP could build on the current efforts of Alan McGowan.Undertake a dialogue with U.S. engineering societies and social science societies to follow up current attention being given to strengthen education and training in these fields.Promote international mobility of scientists and engineers including particularly U.S. professionals going abroad, through innovative schemes such as spaced sabbaticalsEstablish collaborative programs with the Third World Academy of Sciences as well as the Third World Association of Women in Science, UNESCO, ICSU, and possibly the International Council for Engineering and Technology to provide short-term lecturers to scientific and engineering institutions in Developing Countries.

(2) Contribute to Sustainable Development Programs

Establish a dialogue with professional societies and the business community associated with the Earth Council and the UN Commission for Sustainable Development.Encourage interdisciplinary discussions among CAIP members on providing suggestions for further program development and implementation of UNCED Agenda 21 and the priorities of the UN Commission of Sustainable Development.Consider association with the 22-25 June 1997 GLOBAL KNOWLEDGE ’97 international conference in Toronto, Canada, hosted by the World Bank, UNDP, UNESCO among others, to consider “Knowledge for Development in the Information Age.”

(3) International Information and Data Management Activities

Maintain close oversight of ensuring open access of scientific and engineering information and data, including particularly electronic networking.Assist in the further development of electronic networking with reference to the needs of Developing Countries. Continue programs for the provision of publications and books to Developing Countries including via electronic networks.

(4) Megascience Cooperation

Assess current and potential areas to ensure input from the non-governmental professional community to intergovernmental consultations.Consider participation and interests of Developing Countries in megascience programs to avoid isolation and promote benefit.

(5) Ethics, Conduct of Science, Human Rights

Explore contributions to the on-going considerations of protecting the Human Genome as well as ethical implications of other biomedical and biotechnlogy developments. Discuss concepts of misconduct of research and applications, together with development of codes of conduct.Maintain a watching brief on political abuses of individual research scholars, restricting free-flow of scientists and the conduct of their research.

(6) Eyes and Ears of U.S. International S&T Representation

Assess the need for a current status of U.S. government S&T representation abroad; promote innovative appraoches to strengthen such representationConsider expanded interaction with other Associations for the Advancement of Science to support multidisciplinary activities of ICSU, the International Social Science Council and the non-governmental engineering organizations.Participate actively with U.S. associations concerned with strengthening U.S. scientific and engineering interactions with UNESCO, such as Americans for Universality of UNESCO, as well as other bodies concerned with other global and regional bodies.

(7) Multilateral Institutional Reform

Assess long-term needs for multilateral S&T cooperation coupled with an examination of innovative mechanisms with a view to designing international governmental/non-governmental partnerships to support more efficient, effective collaboration.Assess current institutional effectiveness, identify virtues and failings, promote collaborative discussions with colleagues throughout the world on options to renovate institutions or establish new institutions to meet future needs. Follow and support current rejuvenation of ICSU, promote broader structural reform covering the realms of natural, medical and social sciences and engineering interests and priorities. (In considering CAIP and AAAS contributions to these efforts one should build on the preliminary efforts sponsored by the NY Academy of Sciences, as outlined in their February 1996 report entitled “Global Cooperation in Science, Engineering, and Medicine – A Preliminary Assessment of Goals and Systems.”) CAIP might wish to consider one or more of these challenges and concerns at a future meeting, or even organize a seminar at the 1998 AAAS Meeting in Philadelphia.