Experts See Progress, Challenges In Advancing Science Diplomacy

In the late 1990s, science and engineering leaders were deeply concerned that the U.S. State Department lacked the scientific expertise that would be needed for the 21st century. Now, after a sustained effort, State has built significant scientific and technical strength and a promising capacity for science diplomacy, high-level experts concluded during a day-long discussion at AAAS.

Starting in 2000 with the appointment of veteran scientist-diplomat Norman P. Neureiter, four senior scientists have been appointed to three-year terms as science adviser to the Secretary of State. Fellowship programs now bring dozens of scientists every year to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); some have stayed on after their fellowships ended. And President Barack Obama has embraced a program proposed by U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), appointing six widely respected researchers as science envoys.

Norman P. Neureiter

Still, participants said, the gains remain fragile. U.S. leadership of global science diplomacy initiatives could be put at risk by severe budget pressures and increasing wariness of science in some quarters of Congress.

“Science diplomacy is becoming a more integral part of foreign policy,” said Vaughan Turekian, the AAAS chief international officer and director of its Center for Science Diplomacy. “It has the potential to open new dimensions both in international relations and in research. And so it’s critical to identify mechanisms and approaches for increasing the capacity of foreign ministries to utilize science and scientists.”

The 25 January roundtable was convened as a substantive way to celebrate Neureiter’s birthday and his contributions to the field. Trained as a chemist, in 1967 he became the first U.S. science attaché in Eastern Europe, based at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw. In the early 1970s, while working in President Richard Nixon’s Office of Science and Technology, he helped craft science initiatives with China and the Soviet Union that brought a thaw to the Cold War. He joined AAAS in 2004, and serves as senior adviser to the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy and acting director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy.

In that time, AAAS has emerged as a global hub for science diplomacy. In December, Turekian and Nobel laureate Peter Agre, a former AAAS president, joined other scientists on a visit to Havana, where they met Cuban colleagues to discuss possible joint research on coral reefs, hurricane dynamics, and other areas. This month, Turekian and Neureiter led a delegation to Myanmar, where they met with representatives of seven government ministries to discuss issues such as health science, forestry, education, and linking science to public policy.

And AAAS will soon launch a quarterly online publication, Science and Diplomacy, to support global dialogue among scientists and foreign policy stakeholders. [www.sciencediplomacy.org]

The roundtable featured 32 participants from six countries, including high-ranking officials in the U.S. State Department and their counterparts from other nations. Among them were three of the first four science advisers to the Secretary of State: Neureiter; George H. Atkinson, an internationally known professor of chemistry and optical sciences at the University of Arizona; and current adviser William Colglazier, who served 17 years as executive officer of the National Academy of Sciences. (The third science adviser, AAAS President Nina V. Fedoroff, was in Saudi Arabia and unable to attend the event.)

In 1999, a report by the National Research Council detailed the role of science in a range of foreign policy issues, including innovation, energy, health, agriculture, and nuclear proliferation, among others. Based on its recommendations, Congress and President Bill Clinton created the position of science and technology adviser to the Secretary of State.

In remarks at the roundtable, Neureiter described his early challenges in establishing a strong role for science, and the science adviser, in the culture of diplomats. Where there were only a handful of AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellows at the department in 2000, this year there are about 40, and a similar number at USAID. The Jefferson Science Fellows, initiated by Atkinson, now has 13 tenured faculty from U.S. colleges and universities assigned to State and USAID.

But experts stressed that challenges lie ahead. To take science diplomacy to the next level, and to make it sustainable, world leaders must find new ways to develop mutually beneficial partnerships. And they must engage young researchers, engineers, and diplomats who will shape the next generation of international science and the related diplomacy.