While the United States has made promising steps in science diplomacy, including the recent appointment of the first-ever science envoys, the White House, the State Department, and Congress must do far more to expand links between U.S. and foreign scientific communities, according to AAAS President Peter Agre and Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering.
Agre and Pickering, who served as under secretary of state from 1997 to 2000, urge more emphasis on science diplomacy in an op-ed published 9 February in The Baltimore Sun. They are among more than two dozen prominent political and scientific leaders to sign a bipartisan statement by the Partnership for a Secure America that asks the United States to use its scientific and technological strength to deepen international partnerships and tackle global challenges.
Science diplomacy helped open the door for wider cooperation between the United States and China in the 1970s and now offers new opportunities for building trust and understanding between societies where government-to-government contacts may be strained, Agre and Pickering write.
In December, Agre and five other Americans representing leading scientific organizations met with their counterparts in North Korea. In November, Agre led a non-governmental delegation of scientists who visited with counterparts in Cuba. Such visits can encourage more scientific cooperation. At the same time, the values of science—transparency, vigorous inquiry and respectful debate—also can support peaceful conflict resolution and improved international relations.
“The U.S. government is off to a good start in leveraging science diplomacy, with 43 bilateral umbrella science and technology agreements now in force,” Agre and Pickering write. They commend President Barack Obama for his June speech in Cairo that included the announcement of a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries. They also applaud the appointment of three science envoys, including Bruce Alberts, the editor of Science, to foster new partnerships and address common challenges, especially with Muslim-majority countries.
Such steps are commendable, Agre and Pickering write, “but the White House and the State Department need to exercise even greater leadership to build government capacity and partnerships that advance U.S. science diplomacy globally. Congress should lead as well, with greater recognition of science engagement and increased funding for science capacity-building.”