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Sci-Tech Supports the Cause of Security
Ever since September 11, 2001, security issues have topped the American policy agenda. A critical facet of security policy is the availability of accurate technical information along with means of transferring that information reliably from the laboratory to policy makers. To facilitate that type of transfer, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has created the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy. As director of the center, which it established with a three-year, $2.25 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, AAAS recruited Norman Neureiter, a prominent scientist, diplomat, and technology executive. Here, Neureiter discusses the role of the center and his own background in policy issues with Peter Gwynne of AAAS Advances.
Q: What is the new center's mission?
A: I see the center as a smart two-way portal between the academic/think tank community and the policy community. We should catalyze the formation of new relationships between the people out in the field and Congress and executive branch in Washington. We are also informational. We want to draw on academic institutions and think tanks for information and advice relevant to the needs of policy makers. And hopefully we'll also be able to provide information useful to the university centers about the current concerns and needs of the policy community. We want to facilitate the process of getting objective science and technology considerations fully encompassed in the policy process, realizing that the final decisions will not be based purely on the science, but also should not be made in ignorance of it. We're experimenting with how best to make these linkages and to provide scientific advice in a timely enough way to be useful.
What sources of information and advice can the center exploit?
There are, in all, 15 university and policy centers funded by MacArthur Foundation. In addition to nine centers in the United States, the foundation sponsors one in the United Kingdom, two in China, and three in Russia. In addition, a number of institutions in Washington and other parts of the country work on the relationship of science to security. I consider all these institutions to be part of our working universe. Our hope is to be useful to both them and the policy community, drawing on their research for the objective scientific advice that the policy community can use.
What actions has the center taken so far?
In July we had an initial meeting for directors of the MacArthur centers that included presentations by members of Washington's security policy community. Presenters included Charles Curtis, director of the nuclear threat initiative; presidential science adviser John Marburger; Rush Holt, a Democratic Representative from New Jersey who is one of just two physicists in Congress; James Kelly, the chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea; Melvin Bernstein, director of university programs at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); and Ken Alibek, a Russian émigré expert on bioweapons. There was a good dialogue there, and people found this meeting quite useful. I've also begun to call on congressional aides. My first visits have been very encouraging because of their expressed desire to have good, objective scientific information on a wide variety of issues.
How do you expect the center to develop?
It may sound too ambitious to say so, but we would like to be the 1-800-SCIENCE organization for the policy community. What I mean by that is a source of objective scientific information on many subjects. One possibility would be to put together policy briefs on specific issues. We would want to tailor them in an effective way to address current real issues of policy. We also want to bring researchers together with the policy makers. We can provide a temporary Washington base for people to come to work here. Visitors could include faculty members on year-long sabbaticals and graduate students who need to spend a month or two on a research project. We can also help to place people in fellowships and internships in Washington and the AAAS.
What range of security issues will the center consider?
Academics have been active in nonproliferation and nuclear issues for a long time. These activities grow out of the work of the atomic scientists who addressed these problems during the Cold War. So now, with the North Korean weapons program, Iran's enrichment activities, and the recent discovery of Pakistan as a major proliferator of nuclear technology, nonproliferation has become a very hot issue. The terrorist attack of 9/11 marked the emergence of an entirely different type of security issue - one that the academic community is only just beginning to explore. That will grow as funds become increasingly available. DHS has recognized the importance of involving university researchers in these issues, and has already created three centers of excellence on specific topics. Obviously the threat of a biological attack is receiving intense attention.
How does the AAAS center differ from the congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which closed down in 1995?
We're not replacing OTA; they did major, high-quality studies that generally stretched over several months. We're not going to do studies; our role is to be an intermediary to help Congress and the executive branch obtain scientific information. The right source can be very helpful to a staffer who needs a quick answer on a technical subject that he or she is not familiar with. In fact I have already had one inquiry on nuclear waste disposal, for which I was able to find a very knowledgeable source of information.
Scientists are developing technologies for detecting explosives, monitoring cities for biological threats, and similar means of deterring terrorism. Is that enough?
Hard science of that type will certainly continue to play a role in the struggle against terrorism. The technical support work group co-chaired by the Department of State and the Defense Department has a list of technologies that it wants to see developed. But this is not just a technical problem. As we used to say in Texas Instruments, you have to market your invention in order to have a business. Technical innovation in the laboratory is easy; converting it into a product for fighting terrorism that you can make and deploy throughout the country at an affordable cost is much more difficult. In addition, we hope that social science will also contribute to finding a solution. In the end, social science, which looks at motivation and behavior, may be a very important element in helping us to counter terrorism.
Do modern scientists have as much engagement with policy matters as their predecessors who attended the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs during the Cold War?
The early generation of Pugwash people who contributed to keeping the world from blowing itself up is rapidly thinning. Interestingly, a senior State Department person said that he felt the policy makers and the scientists are growing ever farther apart now. One of the MacArthur Foundation's special interests is building cadres for the future who start from the science side and then become policy experts who understand the technical dimensions of security. To do that, the foundation is helping universities to create tenured professorships in that area. At present, Carnegie Mellon University is one of the few universities to offer that sort of training leading to an interdisciplinary degree.
What stimulated your own interest in science's role in policy?
I spent the 1955-1956 academic year in Germany, on a Fulbright fellowship at the University for Munich's Institute of Organic Chemistry. Munich was partly in ruins. I saw communist East Berlin and the residue of terrible conflict in Yugoslavia. I thought: We've got to find a better way for humanity to solve its problems rather than destroy each other. It really intrigued me. So I looked for a way to combine my scientific background with the challenge of international affairs.
When did you act on that interest?
I joined Humble Oil and Refining after I received my Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1957, and left to join the National Science Foundation's International Affairs Office in 1963. My big decision was accepting a position in the Foreign Service as deputy science attaché at the U.S. embassy in Bonn, Germany, in 1965. It represented a permanent break with the research bench and a long-term commitment to the area of international scientific and technical affairs. That led to a job in the White House Office of Science and Technology (OST) in 1969.
You went back into industry in 1973 as an international business executive for Texas Instruments. Why?
First of all, because President Nixon disbanded OST. But also, I wanted to participate in the international movement of high technology in the private sector rather than through government. I sought a company at the cutting edge of technical development and also very active internationally. I came out of government with a strong background in Eastern Europe and Russia, and TI was interested in exploring new relations with those countries.
How well did that work?
In fact, my activities were most successful much further to the east. I led the company's first delegation to China in 1976 - a visit which after several years led to very large sales of TI's seismic oil exploration equipment and exploration services. And starting in 1989 I spent five years in Japan as vice president of TI Asia. I was chair of the Japan chapter of the U.S. Semiconductor Industry Association at a time of very serious trade friction between the U.S. and Japan with the allegations of unfair protection of the Japanese market by Japanese industry and government. During my tenure, the goal of 20 percent foreign share of the Japan market was achieved, and many U.S.-Japan industry partnerships were created.
In 2000 you returned to the State Department as science and technology adviser to Secretary Madeleine Albright (and later her successor, Colin Powell). How much had changed?
Thirty years ago, the State Department had a very strong scientific operation, but all that has pretty much gone. Only one of the science officers in our embassies abroad is now a professional scientist. That was the reason why Secretary Albright requested a study by the National Academy of Sciences on the condition of science in the department. The result was a series of recommendations for strengthening science at State and hiring a science adviser to drive the process. I was lucky enough to get the job, and one of my major emphases was to bring more professional scientists into the department as fellows. As a result, some 45 Ph.D. scientists now have positions in various parts of the State Department. We also made a special effort to build partnerships with professional scientific societies and other new contacts with the scientific community.
What else surprised you about science at State?
They were still working on the same problems as when I had left in 1973. The setting had changed and the Cold War was over. But in the scientific dimension many of the issues remained. For example, [British government science adviser] Sir Solly Zuckerman was worried about global warming in 1971and the impact on the United Kingdom of a melting polar ice cap. And science's contribution to development is as hot an issue today as it was then.
Beyond its implications for security issues, what do you regard as the current role of science in international affairs?
Science is an underused instrument of diplomacy. I've always thought that science cooperation is one of the most powerful elements of soft power that we have. But it's massively underfunded. There is so much more that we as a nation could be doing to build cooperative relationships based on our soft power strength in science and technology.
What role can the new AAAS center play in extending that power?
Today, almost everything that happens in domestic security policy in the United States has a large impact on the rest of the world. So although the center's work is largely domestic, it will have strong implications for the rest of the world.
A former science editor of Newsweek, Peter Gwynne (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers science and technology from his base on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
15 September 2004