Science, Technology, and Health and U.S. Foreign Policy
Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering
The Secretary and the Department of State take our responsibilities for science and technology very seriously. We are currently pursuing ways to ensure that the United States continues to be the world's preeminent player in this area. I want to describe the degree of attention the Department pays to science by sharing information on our current activities and outlining the varied roles of science in our foreign policy.
First, let me review three key trends that have both reshaped the international system since the end of the Cold War and established a new context for international science and technology.
The first is geopolitical change. The Cold War has yielded to a new, more complicated situation, where relations among major players are defined by cooperation and competition rather than military conflict. Countries once linked to superpower blocs have more autonomy. Old allies are frequently competitors, and old adversaries are frequently cooperative partners. Particularly on global environmental and health issues, we are increasingly likely to advance our goals through coalitions of regional states affected by a common problem, or through a coalition of like-minded nations operating within international forums.
Traditional geopolitics is also being reshaped by the rise of non-state actors. International organizations, such as the Commission on Sustainable Development and the United Nations Environment Programme, have assumed heightened importance. With budgets in the billions of dollars, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) deliver more official development assistance than the United Nations. Their influence has grown from the margins of international politics to seats at the table, as we saw with the Kyoto Protocol and landmine negotiations last year. Concerning global environmental and health issues in particular, we have focused on outreach to the domestic NGO community for support. We are also working with NGOs overseas through the Department's regional environmental hubs.
Traditional concernsthe nation's security and the balance of powerremain critical, but new concerns, especially transnational threats, increasingly affect our work. Environmental degradation, global warming, economic crises, infectious diseases, and population pressures have risen on our agenda. Not coincidentally, these are the issues that require a strong science base and participation from U.S. agencies with scientific expertise.
A second trend is the emergence of a truly global economy. Economic interdependence is changing relationships among states, as it creates mutual and shared areas of interest. This interdependence raises economic stakes associated with international, collaborative R&D. Furthermore, economic crises (like the Asian financial crisis) affect our collaborative S&T relationships. For example, because of currency devaluations, many Asian scientists studying in the United States can no longer afford to live here.
A third key trend is the information revolution. The speed with which information travels and the increase in computing power have profound implications for the conduct of foreign policy and international S&T. The growth of new media and the Internet has exponentially increased our ability to share scientific knowledge, access data, and flesh out ideas based on diverse geographic, cultural, and disciplinary viewpoints. International broadcast news is also a factor. Poor science literacy, suspicion of technological solutions, and difficulties in explaining risk require us to work closely with media professionals to convey accurately our work.
We face today huge opportunities and challenges for American diplomacy. We depend increasingly on preventive diplomacy, multilateral diplomacy, regional security cooperation, and confidence-building regimes.
International S&T policy also is readjusting to the post-Cold War era. In the Cold War, the Department used science as a lever to open closed societies. In terms of our broader foreign policy, science and technology advances were synonymous with world leadership and proved the superiority of a democratic, capitalistic system.
The importance of S&T cooperation to the Department of State today is evident in the number of global, economic, and humanitarian interests we pursue. U.S. international S&T policies must support U.S. national interests, be integrated throughout the U.S. government, and foster mutually beneficial cooperation with key countries. We need to seek out state-of-the-art S&T throughout the world, pursue cooperative endeavors to gain access to foreign research establishments, and provide better intellectual property rights protection for the fruits of collaborative labor.
Science and technology play an important and varied role in our foreign policy. We rely on them, as I said above, to advance U.S. foreign policy objectives related to environmental issues such as global climate change, preservation of biodiversity, and improvements in world health. We also rely on science and technology to improve difficult bilateral relationships and to make good ones better, especially through umbrella S&T agreements. We rely on science and technology to encourage regional stability through information and technical exchange on subjects where dialogue is possible, and to support economic development. Through the way we conduct science, we hope to increase adherence to the values associated with civil society and democratic institutions, namely openness, transparency, ethical conduct, and fair play based on merit.
We both sponsor and participate in science and technology programs that promote science literacy and build good will.
And lastly, we represent U.S. science and technology interests in multilateral organizations and in negotiations, such as the biosafety protocol under the Convention on Biological Diversity (which could affect biotechnology R&D).
The Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) is charged with this responsibility within State. One facet of OES' mission in science and technology is to ensure that federal agencies involved in international science and technology activities do so in a manner consistent with our foreign policy objectives. A second facet of OES' mission is to promote the free flow of scientific knowledge and to facilitate mutually beneficial cooperation. OES also provides U.S. representation at major international meetings and conferences where science matters are discussed.
I believe that in carrying out our S&T mission, we fill an important gap in international S&T endeavors. We can direct investments toward developing countries to help them build capabilities and a support infrastructure for S&T. This will make them stronger economically and more attractive partners for U.S. domestic concerns.
To give a more detailed picture, let me focus on S&T's role on three levels: global, regional, and bilateral.
Climate change is a quintessential example of how scientific discovery and cooperation drive international environmental diplomacy. The consensus of the scientific community that the chemical composition of the atmosphere is being altered by anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases led to consensus at Kyoto on actions to reduce these emissions. U.S. policy on climate change, including our negotiation strategy at Kyoto and now looking forward to Buenos Aires, flows from this analysis, and from the understanding that the risks are too great to ignore.
Health is another global area in which science and foreign policy are inextricably linked. Our role is to develop and coordinate a sustained effort to enlist support from other nations and international bodies, and to raise the level of priority accorded infectious diseases. We raise health research issues in bilateral, regional, and multilateral discussions, and are working to negotiate cooperative agreements with other nations to promote the establishment of a global early warning and response network.
We led discussions on a United States-European Union Task Force on Infectious Diseases, spurring collaborations to develop an international network on food-borne pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli. The scope of this network is being expanded to include antimicrobial resistance and tuberculosis.
At the regional level, the Department uses science to promote regional stability. The most striking example of this role is specific to the Middle East Peace Process, where science and technology projects and activities give purpose to two multilateral working groups. One is the Working Group on Water Resources, a long-standing source of tension and political conflict in this water-scarce region. Here U.S. funding and key technical support is being applied to a regional data bank, a regional desalination center, a wastewater treatment and reuse facility in the West Bank, and a public awareness campaign focusing on water conservation practices. The second is the Working Group on the Environment, which is currently implementing a project to mitigate the environmental health effects of pesticides, increase awareness in the region of the dangers of certain pesticides, and transfer skills in crop production and pest management.
A similar diplomatic effort is now underway in the Nile River Basin. At issue are plans by the Egyptian government to draw water from the Nile to "make the desert bloom." This presents political and practical difficulties among the riparian states that rely on the Nile to support agricultural and potable water needs. And it creates difficulties here at home, where we must balance economic interests of U.S. companies wanting to participate in the project with our environmental concerns over its impact.
I am now overseeing the process through which the U.S. Department of State and other interested agencies and Departments will explore the economic interests at stake and the political ramifications of the project, as well as promote technical cooperation on integrated water resource management. Through this process, environmental concerns have equal standing with the traditionally stronger U.S. economic and political interests. Our efforts will necessarily be based on and closely involve scientific and technical data and information exchanges.
Moving from global to regional to bilateral, we help our bilateral partners address pressing environmental problems such as the need for clean air, clean water, and clean industrial processes. We have foundand it's common sensethat if we help nations improve their environmental conditions and promote sustainable economic growth, they will be more willing to support us on global issues such as climate change, toxic chemicals, and biodiversity negotiations.
The primary vehicle available to us in this regard is the umbrella S&T agreement. We currently manage close to 35 active umbrella agreements. They allow the partner country to participate in setting the agenda for the research to be undertaken with U.S. agencies and to ensure that local environmental and economic needs are addressed through implementing agreements. Ninety percent of all partnerships under the umbrella S&T agreements involve university and government researcher-to-researcher cooperation to advance basic science in areas such as health and the environment. They play a major role in our relations with India, Russia, and China, for example.
To sum up, we rely on science and technology to:
In conclusion, let me reiterate that the Secretary and I, as well as many others in the Department, share your sense of the importance of science in the work of the State Department. I think that we and other federal agencies can do a better job of communicating this sense of priorities to the scientific community. And we can do more to get the word out concerning what we and others are accomplishing through umbrella S&T agreements, binational science foundations, agreements with foreign technical agencies, and participation in international science activities directed by foreign affairs and international political organizations.
We are doing many things to integrate S&T with foreign policy and elevate its role in the Department, within existing resources. For example, we are closely coordinating with the National Foreign Affairs Training Center to improve training for Environment, Science, and Technology Officers heading to posts. And we are enhancing our staff by adding more AAAS Fellows and bringing in detailees from technical agencies. Specific to AAAS, we have obtained Departmental approval to increase the number of AAAS Fellows, bringing the total assigned to OES to five. It is a program I am proud to have played a role in starting. Its many former participants have gone on to distinguished careers in many areas of government, research, and teaching.
We are constantly looking for ways to improve the performance-review process to ensure that Foreign Service Officers are rewarded for taking on multifunctional positions such as those involving S&T.
We are continuing our integration of S&T with foreign policy goals and objectives through the Department's budget and program-planning processes, which are also coordinated with overseas posts. And we are pursuing opportunities, such as January's signing of the space station agreement, to engage the Secretary and Deputy Secretary in the Department's science agenda.
I need to point out, however, that we are burdened with significant constraints, particularly in terms of resources, that limit our ability to take on important challenges. We welcome the support of members of the scientific community in making the case for adequate funding of the Foreign Affairs budget. However, for the foreseeable future we must expect to continue to have to make some hard choices involving resources.
Dr. John Boright, of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) (and formerly Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science in OES), is leading an NAS review of the role of science within the Department. I hope this review will help us make decisions and evaluate options. In conjunction with the NAS review, we are looking at ways to improve our visibility and level of interaction with the scientific community. We are also looking at organizational changes to strengthen S&T within the Department.
I would greatly welcome your best ideas on the appropriate model for the State Department to employ in configuring ourselves to meet the S&T policy challenges of the new century.
We remain firmly committed to international S&T, and I hope that our success in advancing global, economic, and humanitarian interestswith paybacks in the form of more science-based cooperation, a cleaner planet, a healthier world population, regional stability, and global economic growthwill support our efforts to seek additional funding, improve our own organizational structure, and promote and make S&T more valuable to all of us within the foreign policy community.
Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering is under secretary for political affairs, U.S. Department of State. This article is based on remarks delivered at the 23rd Annual AAAS Colloquium on Science and Technology Policy, held April 29May 1, 1998, in Washington, DC.