Leverage Science Diplomacy Now to Boost U.S. Foreign Policy
1979, a science and technology agreement between the United States and
China paved the way for bilateral scientific cooperation that continues
to benefit American science and society more broadly.
science diplomacy may help America open a door toward improved
relations with Pyongyang, too. In December, six Americans representing
leading scientific organizations sat down with their North Korean
counterparts. The meeting took place on the heels of U.S. Special Envoy
Stephen Bosworth's first official bilateral meeting with North Korea.
an international enterprise that relies on a lively exchange of ideas
and data, can help build trust and expand understanding when
government-to-government contacts may be strained. The North Korea
visit, plus the first-ever U.S. science envoys, represent a fine
beginning to a new era of international research cooperation. But the
White House, the State Department and Congress must do far more to
bolster science diplomacy.
In particular, the U.S. government
should quickly and significantly increase the number of H1-B visas
being approved for specialized foreign workers such as doctors,
scientists and engineers. Their contributions are critical to improving
human welfare as well as our economy. Foreign scientists working or
studying in U.S. universities also become informal goodwill ambassadors
for America globally - an important benefit in the developing world,
where senior scientists and engineers often enter national politics.
broadly, we urgently need to expand and deepen links between the U.S.
and foreign scientific communities to advance solutions to common
challenges. Climate change, sustainable development, pandemic disease,
malnutrition, protection for oceans and wildlife, national security and
innovative energy technologies all demand solutions that draw on
science and technology.
Fortunately, U.S. technological
leadership is admired worldwide, suggesting a way to promote dialogue
with countries where we otherwise lack access and leverage. A June 2004
Zogby International poll commissioned by the Arab American Institute
found that only 11 percent of Moroccans surveyed had a favorable
overall view of the United States - but 90 percent had a positive view
of U.S. science and technology. Only 15 percent of Jordanians had a
positive overall view, but 83 percent registered admiration for U.S.
science and technology. Similarly, Pew polling data from 43 countries
show that favorable views of U.S. science and technology exceed overall
views of the United States by an average of 23 points.
recent mission to North Korea exemplified the vast potential of science
for U.S. diplomacy. Within the scientific community, after all,
journals routinely publish articles co-written by scientists from
different nations, and scholars convene frequent conferences to extend
those ties. Science demands an intellectually honest atmosphere, peer
review and a common language for professional discourse. Basic values
of transparency, vigorous inquiry and respectful debate are all
inherent to science.
Nations that cooperate on science
strengthen the same values that support peaceful conflict resolution
and improved public safety. U.S. and Soviet nongovernmental
organizations contributed to a thaw in the Cold War through scientific
exchanges, with little government support other than travel visas.
U.S. government is off to a good start in leveraging science diplomacy,
with 43 bilateral umbrella science and technology agreements now in
force. The Obama administration further elevated science engagement,
beginning with the president's June speech in Cairo. Then, in November,
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed three science envoys to
foster new partnerships and address common challenges, especially
within Muslim-majority countries. She also announced the Global
Technology and Innovation Fund, through which the Overseas Private
Investment Corporation will spur private-sector investments in science
and technology industries abroad.
These steps are commendable,
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. Both chambers must work together to give
the executive branch the resources it needs.
In an era of
complex global challenges, science diplomacy is a critical tool for
U.S. foreign policy. The opportunity to strengthen that tool and
advance our diplomatic goals should not be missed.
Thomas R. Pickering served as under secretary of State from 1997 to
2000 and chairs the advisory council of the Civilian Research and
Development Foundation. Dr. Peter Agre, director of the Johns Hopkins
Malaria Research Institute and president of the American Association
for the Advancement of Science, won the 2003 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
They are among the signers of a bipartisan statement by the Partnership
for a Secure America on the use of science in American diplomacy:
www.psa online.org/ science.