Science, Technology, and Global Reengagement: In a World in Which Global Concerns Are Becoming More Prominent and the Role of Science and Technology More+ Critical, U.S. Leaders Must Pay More Attention to the Interplay of These Two Domains

Article excerpt

The new administration should move quickly to give science and technology (S&T) a prominent role in foreign policy. Historic shifts are under way in S&T capabilities around the globe. Those shifts create unprecedented opportunities for discovery and innovation, for responding to common challenges, and for U.S. leadership. Yet rather than being poised to lead the way, the United States is in a weak position.

The new administration will probably reformulate U.S. global policies, giving a higher priority to international engagement instead of unilateralism. International links in S&T can play a central role in this global reengagement. But to realize this potential, S&T issues related to foreign policy can no longer just be at the table. They must be in the lead.

A number of studies during the past few decades have stressed the importance of U.S.-international partnerships in S&T. But follow-up actions have been modest at best. Why haven't past recommendations had a significant impact? What can the incoming administration do to achieve better success, leveraging global trends and U.S. S&T capabilities to more fully advance common interests?

To be meaningful, S&T policy changes must reflect power and process in the government. S&T interests must be able to define policies at the highest levels. They must be able to influence budgets, spur action throughout the federal government, and work with partners, both international and domestic.

Science, technology, and diplomacy intertwined at high levels throughout the second half of the 20th century. President Kennedy launched the first bilateral science agreement with Japan after World War II, and it led to one of the nation's strongest international partnerships. President Nixon promoted building scientific links with China as he began normalizing relations, and Chinese universities have become a leading source of graduate students in U.S. science and engineering programs. President Clinton leveraged decades of scientific ties with the former Soviet Union to assist in the safer disposition of hundreds of tons of weapons-grade nuclear material. Today, there are many more possibilities for win-win collaboration.

Asia's investment in R&D is on the verge of surpassing that of North America. China has exceeded Japan in its national S&T investment and now trails only the United States. The World Technology Evaluation Center recently assessed research in China in fields such as nanotechnology, catalysis, and the brain-computer interface. In each case, China is doing research that is defining the state-of-the-art and is developing facilities second to none.

In South Korea, the government elevated the S&T minister to deputy prime minister. Economies from India to Indonesia have devised policies to advance S&T. India has passed South Korea in total R&D expenditures while launching a massive program to expand higher education. Indonesia held its first National Innovation Summit in the summer of 2006. Singapore continues to advance as the world-class biotech hub in Asia while Malaysia continues to be the information technology leader. Vietnam is a hot spot for new ventures.

In 2007, the 22 nations of the Arab League announced a 10-year plan to increase support for scientific research 12-fold, to an average of 2.5% of GDP. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has declared 2007-2017 as Egypt's "Decade of Science," and Qatar--despite a population of less than 1 million--has pledged a $1.5 billion annual allocation to science. In Saudi Arabia, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology is being launched in 2009, with an initial endowment of $10 billion. Private sources are also moving to play a major role. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates has created a pan-Arab educational foundation with an endowment of $10 billion.

In the African Union, nations developed a consolidated S&T action plan with the theme "Science, Technology and Scientific Research and Climate Change" for the 2007 Summit of Heads of State. …