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Influential Diplomats, Lawmakers and S&T Leaders Explore Promise—and Challenge—of Science Diplomacy
U.S. Represenative Brian Baird
At a time of world financial crisis and geopolitical tension, and with the United States deeply unpopular in many parts of the world, some of the nation's top science leaders, diplomats, legislators, and educators met at AAAS to explore the benefits and challenges of expanded U.S. science diplomacy efforts.
After extensive discussions, the consensus was clear: Despite critical unresolved questions over the financing and organization of science diplomacy, the time is ripe for renewed efforts by U.S. scientists and engineers to reach out to colleagues overseas for capacity-building initiatives and collaborations on issues such as climate change, public health, and energy. Already, speakers said, a delegation has traveled to Iran for highly positive meetings, and efforts are underway to initiate S&T relationships with North Korea, Cuba, and other nations.
The conference, organized by the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy, featured a remarkable roster of participants: two members of Congress; past U.S. presidential advisers; science advisers at the U.S. State Department; a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Defense; the leaders of major U.S. science and engineering societies; and scholars who are helping to shape a possible renaissance for science diplomacy.
"The time is right to move things forward in some new and constructive directions," said U.S. Representative Brian Baird (D-Washington), chairman of the House Science Subcommittee on Research and Science Education. For Baird, an immediate goal of science diplomacy is U.S. visa policy; he cited complaints that foreign scientists—even Nobel winners—have felt "roughed up" by immigration officials when they try to visit or work in the United States.
U.S. Represenative Russ Carnahan
U.S. Representative Russ Carnahan (D-Missouri) noted that the reputation of the United States overseas has suffered in recent years, and that the nation thus far has missed an opportunity to take a leadership role in addressing climate change.
"One of the tools we have to repair our image is building on the common ground of science and the culture of innovation," said Carnahan, who serves as both vice chairman of Baird's subcommittee and vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight. He called on the United States to make a dramatic new commitment to developing energy resources for the 21st century, and suggested that scientists and engineers worldwide could join in the effort.
Throughout the conference, Baird, Carnahan, and other speakers suggested that several factors make this a moment of opportunity for science diplomacy: urgent global problems such as climate and energy; abiding respect for U.S. science and technology even in countries that are hostile to the United States; and the political transition now underway at the White House. But several speakers emphasized that such diplomacy must create real partnerships, with collaborations based on sincere and sustained efforts to build research capacity and address problems of common concern. And it will be essential, some said, to communicate the value of joint projects to a broad public audience.
"We are at a time in history when the great challenges we face are global in scale and international in scope," said Vaughan Turekian, AAAS's chief international officer and director of the Center for Science Diplomacy. "Given the central role of science and technology in addressing many of these challenges, there is little doubt that efforts, both governmental and non-governmental, to promote international science cooperation will be critical. Further international science cooperation can go a long way in building trust and relationships between and among societies."
The 28 October conference featured three panel discussions before an audience of about 170 people at AAAS, followed by a closing lecture from John Hamre, president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Among those attending the meeting were Nina Fedoroff, science adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State; Jeff Miotke, deputy assistant secretary for science, space and health of the U.S. Department of State; Bill Colglazier, executive officer at the U.S. National Academies; Glenn Schweitzer, the director of Eurasian Programs at the U.S. National Academies; Larry Webber, director of the office of international science and engineering at the National Science Foundation; and Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of the journal Science.
The conference was underwritten in part by the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, a philanthropic institution based in Washington, D.C., that counts science diplomacy a key part of its mission.
Under Turekian's direction, AAAS in recent years has sought to build relationship with scientific leadership and community in China, Vietnam, the broader Middle East, and Rwanda, as well as the traditional advanced scientific countries among others. The AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy was founded earlier this year, with a goal of using science and technology cooperation to build global prosperity and peace.
Science diplomacy is hardly a new idea—scientists throughout history have served as formal and informal emissaries. But in the second half of the 20th century, it evolved as a tool for building understanding and trust among hostile nations and reinforcing positive relationships between friendly countries. The U.S. and Japan used science cooperation to strengthen their relationship in the 1960s during a period of increasing cultural divide. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) was established in part to bring together former adversaries in post-World War II Europe. During the Cold War, the United States encouraged science engagement with the Soviet Union and China at a time when the governmental relations were profoundly strained.
Eugene C. Skolnikoff
In the United States after the Cold War, while individual organizations and scientists continued to pursue international engagement, it was largely neglected as an instrument of foreign policy. Eugene C. Skolnikoff served on the science advisory staff under Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter, and he's watched the evolution closely.
"It's been almost 50 years since I started working in this field, and we're still talking about the same issues today," Skolnikoff, a professor emeritus at MIT, said at AAAS. "So it's not been as successful as might be thought."
In recent years, however, interest has revived. As U.S. foreign policy has caused deep dissatisfaction in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and other regions, public opinion surveys in some areas revealed a striking trend: Even where U.S. policies are most unpopular, there is persistent respect for the nation's science and technology.
Given an array of critical global issues that have a science component, some experts began to recognize an opportunity for a science diplomacy recalibrated to contemporary conditions.
"Science diplomacy is an underutilized and extremely valuable tool of statecraft," said Kristin Lord, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy. "We need all the tools we can get right now... Science diplomacy is one of those areas where there's just so much more we can do. This is a source of strength and we can leverage that strength. People want to work with us on science and technology."
Lord, who directs the science and technology task force of Brookings' Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, said science diplomacy could create an opportunity in strained bi-lateral relations "to focus on the future and not on the past." The collaborations could address challenges such as climate change, energy, health and food security, she added, and could "do it in a way that's not fraught with political overtones."
"These are incredibly difficult and knotty problems and we need the best and brightest minds to be involved," she said. "We need to engage with foreign scientists because this is where these problems will hit first."
Turekian and others see science diplomacy as an especially important way to build understanding and trust with nations where governmental relations are strained or broken off. That's the model being followed by the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization, for example, and in Pakistani-Indian collaborative research projects.
Some at the meeting noted that the National Academies a year ago organized a delegation of high-level engineers and scientists for a trip to Iran; Iranian scientists and engineers have visited U.S. universities for meetings organized by the Academies. The Association of American Universities is sending a delegation of university presidents to Iran this month.
Constructive talks have been underway with Cuban officials that could lead to visit by a U.S. science delegation to the Caribbean nation in the months ahead, said Patrick Doherty, director of the U.S.-Cuba 21st Century Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation.
Science, and especially medical research, has long been a strength of Cuba, despite a U.S. economic embargo and the loss of financial support after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Cuba's work on dengue fever, malaria, vaccines for lung cancer, and other areas is matching or surpassing that of the United States, Doherty said. The pride Cubans take in their research accomplishments is similar to the pride they feel in their Olympic athletes, he said.
Still, Doherty explained, the possibility of working with U.S. researchers has drawn "great interest" among researchers in Cuba. But U.S. law creates difficult barriers for the nation's researchers to collaborate with colleagues in Cuba. For example, it is illegal for American scientists to co-publish research with a Cuban researcher.
"I believe the Cuba policy issue really presents a challenge," Doherty said, "... but also creates a fascinating opportunity."
Since 2001, Syracuse University has been involved with the only sustained U.S. science engagement with North Korea. The collaboration with Kim Chaek University of Technology in Pyongyang and involving the Korea Society has focused on standards-based information technology, and the collaboration has helped to produce the first digital library in North Korea. The effort has put North Korea scientists in contact with colleagues in Asia, and Syracuse has hosted visits by young North Korean scholars to the United States for a semester of study.
The North Korean scientists "are very interested in working with us," said Stuart Thorson, a professor of political science at Syracuse.
"I always thought of diplomacy as a way of getting countries to do what you want," he told the AAAS audience. But experience has helped him to see that with science diplomacy, the deeper value is in communication and awareness on both sides. With that foundation, he said, "when an issue emerges, there's a common way of dealing with it."
Kristin Lord and Sheldon Himelfarb
There's no shortage of examples, historical and current, that show science diplomacy in action. What's lacking is solid understanding for how effective the efforts are, or how to make them more effective and more systematic, said Sheldon Himelfarb, associate vice president and executive director of the Center of Innovation for Science, Technology and Peacebuilding at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
"You see a lot of varied international projects going on... which is wonderful," Himelfarb said. "And yet, after decades of work and millions of dollars spent, the integration of science and technology into the peacemaking toolkit still eludes us."
Projects discussed during the conference demonstrate that universities, non-governmental organizations and foundations have a crucial role in science diplomacy, apart from the government foreign policy apparatus. But that raises a raises a challenging set of issues on how to organize and fund the nation's science diplomacy efforts.
Under what circumstances and to what degree should the U.S. government be directly involved in science diplomacy efforts? Should the government coordinate the efforts? Finance them? Should independent initiatives support the government's foreign policy objectives?
No consensus emerged on those issues, and they are certain to be key topics in future discussions. But there was general agreement on critical points: International science cooperation is under-used as a positive means of diplomatic engagement. Science diplomacy must be about science—research, capacity-building, education, and communication. And it must be respectful of the interests and needs of foreign scientists.
Himelfarb cited a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) study of Middle East science cooperation efforts over a 15-year period. The conclusion: "If there wasn't a solid base for science cooperation," he said, "then the diplomatic piece didn't follow, and the peace-building didn't happen... There needs to be, at its core, a good piece of research that kick-starts the process."
Added Doherty: "Science diplomacy must be a two-way street."
A number of speakers also expressed concern with how a new push in science diplomacy would be funded.
"The funding is really an issue—and I think a major issue—as to whether we're going to go ahead with a truly significant initiative in this area," said Norman Neureiter, a veteran of Cold War science diplomacy who now serves as director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy and also as senior advisor to the AAAS Diplomacy Center. "Are we really going to find a source for solid funding, or stagger along without it?"
Given the U.S. financial crisis, many speakers were doubtful that an infusion of funding is forthcoming. "Life is going to be difficult," said John Boright, executive director for international affairs at the National Academy of Sciences. "We're going to need serious institution-building around these issues."
In the lecture that closed the first day of the conference, veteran defense and security specialist John Hamre acknowledged that he had not heard the term "science diplomacy" until recently. Through his 50-minute talk, he viewed science diplomacy in the larger context of foreign relations and national security, and he weighed the potential values against the possible limitations.
Hamre is the president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. He has served as deputy assistant director for national security and international affairs at the Congressional Budget Office, on the staff of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, as under secretary/comptroller for the Department of Defense, and as deputy secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton. He described himself as a "child of the Cold War."
"We didn't win the Cold War because we fielded a bigger army," Hamre told the AAAS audience. While military force was important, he added, "we won because of the power of ideas we held out to the world." But when the war was over, he noted, there were "mountains" of conventional, biological, and nuclear weapons and widespread knowledge of how to make more. In an era of terrorism—an era of rogue nations, failed states and easy international travel and shipping—there's a genuine risk that terrorists would use weapons of mass destruction or a nuclear device, he said, and the consequences could undermine the foundation of democracy.
Those factors combine to make a world that's "terribly complicated" and "terribly frightening," Hamre said. The risks appeared to make him cautious of expecting too much of science and technology cooperation and other forms of soft power. Indeed, he even seemed skeptical of the term "soft power;" he preferred "smart power," which features both "powers of intimidation" and "powers of inspiration."
And yet science diplomacy is "a really very interesting idea... [and] quite a natural element to a broad national strategy," Hamre said. "I think it is widely felt that we've neglected our powers of inspiration in these last few years, and we have to bring them back."
24 November 2008